What I Learned in Mexico

Riviera Maya

I have recently returned from Food Blogger Camp 2011, which took place near Cancún at the amazing Grand Velas Riviera Maya all-inclusive resort.  It was my first time to the area and my first time staying in a resort of any kind.  It was also my first Food Blogger Camp.

It’s hard to believe that it actually happened, but there I was in the middle of paradise surrounded by a fantastic group of food bloggers that I respect and admire.  Good people.  Warm people.  The kind of people you want to surround yourself with all the time.  It was so much more than a vacation (though I really needed that, too).  It was an inspiring week filled with learning, sharing, blossoming friendships, and laughter.

I learned about food photography, food styling, business, finding my voice, and finding myself.

When I first read about Food Blogger Camp 2011 and learned who the seminar leaders would be, I knew I had to go.  I’ve been a food blogger for almost five years, but recent changes in my life have left me floundering, not sure which direction to turn, not confident in my ability to continue this as a career.  I knew that if anything could help me find my path, this “camp” would be it.

The seminar leaders were Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, David Lebovitz, Todd Porter and Diane Cu of White on Rice Couple, Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites, and amazing food stylist Adam Pearson.  You see?  I just had to go.

Our Fabulous Seminar Leaders

Left to right: Elise, Todd, Jaden, Matt, Adam, David, and Diane.

The problem is that I have a tendency to talk myself out of things like this.  I am extremely shy in groups of more than a few people, and get so nervous about the thought of blogging conferences that I usually come up with excuses to keep myself from going.  Luckily I told my Aunt Kathy about Food Blog Camp before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, so once I did start making excuses, I had my aunt pushing me to go.  Not only did she make me go, she sent my cousin Corinne along with me.

Corinne and I have both had a rough year.  My marriage ended and I moved back to my hometown to be near my family and get some help picking up the pieces of my life and figuring out a new way to put them back together.  Almost immediately after I arrived, my Uncle Jim (Corinne’s father) passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  Looking back, most of 2010 is a blur.

I needed some direction in my life while Corinne, I knew, needed some time away from the life that doesn’t slow down to help you deal with the loss of a parent.  I knew the kind of people who would be at Food Blogger Camp.  I knew that it would be good for me and good for her, even as a non-blogger.  I was right.


The Food Blogger Camp sessions were so inspiring that Corinne attended every single one of them with me.  She loves photography and was blown away by Todd and Diane’s food photography session.  So was I.  In fact, I was blown away by every session.

But it wasn’t just the classroom learning that made this trip so meaningful.  It was once again finding the sense of community that first made me fall in love with food blogging all those years ago when I was a military spouse living in Sicily searching for others around the world who understood why I was so excited about the food.

Being around this wonderful bunch of people, new friends and old, made everything come into sharp focus.  Somewhere between a quick but meaningful pre-session conversation with the lovely Brooke of Food Woolf and an afternoon margarita with David Lebovitz at the swim-up pool bar, something hit me.

I am a food blogger.

I cook.  I bake.  I write.  I develop recipes.  I photograph food.  I share.  This is what I do.

This is my future.

I am so grateful to have spent that week in Mexico.  I am grateful to my family for helping me get there and I am grateful for each and every person who took the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome in this community that I need so much to be a part of.

And thank you, Corinne, for going on this adventure with me and for the daily text messages since, reminding me to stay focused and keep working.


To any food blogger who has considered attending Food Blogger Camp 2012 and is wondering whether the experience is worth the time and expense.  Just go.

And to anyone who is in need of the ultimate, luxurious, relaxing vacation, I can’t say enough about Grand Velas Riviera Maya.  I have never felt so pampered in my life.  One of my new goals in life is to be able to return to the resort for a week-long vacation with my sister, who I wish could have joined us on this trip.

Enjoy the photos!

  1. Nicole

    I really wanted to go this year, but it didn’t work out. It looks so beautiful. Sounds like it took some work for you to get there. I’m glad you were able to make it happen. Hope this year is a good one for you.

    3:29 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  2. Phil

    This is awesome. I’m so glad you got to do this, and I’m so glad for your direction becoming clear. Congratulations, Nicole. May your life and hard work bring you everything you deserve!

    3:29 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  3. susan

    great slide show, Nicole. Yet, even better story. I am so sorry for all your loses. I hope you have given yourself permission to grieve all of it. I could spend a day with you talking about loss, grief, finding ones identity, and then, ultimately – rebirth. This will have to wait until we meet again. So glad I got a chance the chat with you on that final breakfast, although brief, you made an impression!xx

    3:35 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  4. Corinne

    Nicole, what a wonderful, honest, and inspiring post. Thank you for taking me with you! I think it was a much needed “vacation” for both of us! I will do my part and keep *nag nag nag*’ing you!

    3:36 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  5. Angela Hemauer

    What a great post – beautiful! Inspiration to many going through life changes. So cool to read you were a military spouse. I am too and am would love to know if you’d ever be interested in talking to a group of us about how you developed your career with the transient nature of the military. Let me know what you think.

    3:51 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  6. louise

    beautifully written nicole, thank you for standing out- 2011 is going to be a great year for you i know it! think you might bet interested in coming down this summer to judge something at the fair? send me a note

    4:19 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  7. Steph

    What a wonderful experience for you! I think 2011 is your year. I am really looking forward to more Pinch My Salt!

    4:50 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  8. Kathy

    well that was worth waiting for !!!

    5:01 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  9. Phoo-d

    I’m so glad that you were able to go and get away to such a beautiful place for a break from it all. Your photos are gorgeous and what a fun group of people! Here is to onward and upward in 2011!

    5:08 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  10. Jodi


    I am so happy were able to attend this conference. Your words brought tears to my eyes. Your strength, passion, and conviction always shine through in your posts but even more so when you spoke of them outwardly. Thanks for sharing with all of us! I am looking forward to reading and seeing all the amazing and wonderful things you will be doing in 2011! And I hope one of those ambitions leads you to my kitchen!

    5:27 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  11. Marsha @ Green Mountain at Fox Run

    And what a wonderful food blogger you are, Nicole. Thanks for doing what you do. Here’s to a great 2011 for you!

    5:39 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  12. Ang

    I am extremely moved. What a testimony and inspiration you are. Sounds like your journey last year was a challenge, but it’s really measured by the ability to pick back up, have courage and keep on going. Thanks for sharing this great adventure and all the wonderful photos:)

    5:46 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  13. patsy

    It sounds like an amazing experience and just what you needed to recharge your blogging batteries. I’ve wondered about the food blogger camp and always read the posts of those who have gone afterwards… and wish I had gone. I may have to save my pennies and try to go to the next one after reading about your experience there.

    7:20 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  14. marla

    Nicole, it was so awesome to meet you! Wish we had more time to get to know each other, but it sounds like we both need to attend this again next year. I am with you girl – a life changing & amazing experience we all shared together. I am so happy to be a part of this vibrant community. xo

    7:51 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  15. Jane

    Thank you for sharing your experience at food blogger camp, I too hope to go in the future. I enjoy following your blog. Wishing you sweet sucess in the coming year!

    8:12 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  16. Margie

    Thank you for your beautifully written post and blog, but most of all, thank you for your inspiration.
    (One of these days I’ll finish my posts on the BBA, Nicole. I really, really will.)

    10:06 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  17. Nadia

    This surely sounds like great experience!

    Good luck with the blog and the food as a profession, and never give up 🙂
    We will be here to back you up, your readers…

    11:35 pm  Jan 18th, 2011
  18. Gluten Free Diva

    Thank you for your honesty. I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog. It’s nice to get to know you a little better. And as for the Food Blogger Camp, if it was anything like Blogher ’10 in San Francisco, I need to go. I had such a wonderful experience at Blogher’s conference in SF (not to mention that I won a kitchenaid mixer!) that I look forward to attending similar events!

    8:07 am  Jan 19th, 2011
  19. Renee

    Awesome post. Your pictures are stunning! I am so glad that it was a good experience for both you and Corrine- and that it was cathartic for both of you. It was really great to meet you and I hope we stay in touch! Thank your aunt for “making” you come! 🙂

    8:35 am  Jan 19th, 2011
  20. Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    Your post came at the perfect time for me. At a crossroads myself, it’s sometimes difficult to take the next step when you can’t see the whole staircase. But, your afternoon margarita revelation really spoke to me.

    New to food blogging, I often find myself confused as to what to do next, how to build my readership and, some days, lacking motivation when things don’t seem to be progressing as quickly as I’d like. I’ve learned, and am reminded by your post, that this is my future. It’s not always easy, but it sure is fun and I’m so excited to see where this road leads me.

    Wishing you much luck (and happiness) with your blog this year. I hope to meet you myself at a swim-up pool bar over margaritas one of these days!

    9:11 am  Jan 19th, 2011
  21. Anne

    Wonderful, inspiring post! I know Todd and Diane and they have a gift for embracing people and just saying, “Here, let me teach you, let me show you!” and the world would be a better place if we had more people like them! I am so glad you went and even happier that you came to the self-realization that yes, you are a food blogger and it’s your future. I love your blog, have always read it and you don’t need to tell me twice- you’re like, the Uber-Food Blogger! Congratulations on your amazing work on this site, the friends and lessons made on the trip, and to a bright future.

    Much respect and love!

    10:20 am  Jan 19th, 2011
  22. Lucy Lean

    Thank you for this wonderful round-up of the week – I regret not making more time to chat with other food bloggers in Mexico – including you – I guess there’s always next year! If you are ever in LA come to a reunion. Carry on Blogging – even without the swim-up bar LL

    10:27 am  Jan 19th, 2011
  23. Cookin' Canuck

    What a heartfelt post about your life and finding your way again. I, for one, am looking forward to many more years of reading your blog.

    12:00 pm  Jan 19th, 2011
  24. Daniel

    What an amazing post. I am eternally grateful that you pulled me into the BBA Challenge, and that I am able to read your posts. I have always thought of you as a food blogger since I began reading your blog. Thank you. Thank you and thank you for all of your writings.

    2:20 pm  Jan 19th, 2011
  25. Jennifer @ A Busy Nest

    I didn’t know there was a food blogger camp! Thanks for sharing!

    9:06 pm  Jan 19th, 2011
  26. Mairi @ Toast

    What a beautiful, heartfelt posting. Food Blog Camp sounds amazing and most definitely want to try & make it in 2012 it just looks like such an unforgettable experience. Thank you for sharing and here’s to you having a wonderful 2011.

    12:06 am  Jan 20th, 2011
  27. Kari

    What a lovely post. I’ve always enjoyed your blog, but this post especially. Best wishes to you.

    11:03 am  Jan 20th, 2011
  28. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Looks like a magical trip!!! Wonderful people all gathered around in such a beautiful setting!

    12:26 pm  Jan 20th, 2011
  29. angela

    This was such a beautifully written piece, I wish I’d written it! (and taken the photos) Your blog is very inspiring.
    Reading everyone’s pieces on Food Blogger Camp I’m realising that more and more people were there to heal the wounds of 2010, as I was, my mother died in 2010, but I didn’t realise that that was why I was there, until I read other people’s posts and realised that that was why they were there as well. Hope its not too hot in Fresno! The cold Mistral wind is blowing where I am!

    2:53 am  Jan 21st, 2011
  30. Sally

    Nicole, I loved reading this post and meeting you at “camp.” If I regret anything it is that I did not get to know you better. I agree with Angela, there was a whole lot of healing going on for a lot of people. I wrote about the event without having reflected very long, but now, looking back, I see that it was instrumental in helping me take another look at what I am doing and why I am doing it. I may not even have a blog at the end of the day! I am definitely in transition in my life and camp helped me identify some of the changes I might make. I am still mulling it all over. I was impressed and inspired by the genuine generosity of the “counselors.” I hope these next few months find you able to process all that has happened and I have no doubt that you will come out on the other side a stronger and happier person. Keep in touch! (p.s., I’ll be following you!) xxoo, Sally

    9:41 am  Jan 21st, 2011
  31. Lisa@ButteryBooks

    I cannot express how much I wish I had gone…I will definitely be there next year!

    12:07 pm  Jan 21st, 2011
  32. kirsten

    great post! You have a great “blog voice” and it’s one of the reasons I love your blog! Glad to hear you’re going to keep it up!

    6:43 pm  Jan 22nd, 2011
  33. Diana

    Wow, you really had a rough year. I’m so glad you were able to get away and be inspired, and so sad I didn’t get to talk to you more! I’m thrilled you’re continuing to blog because you’re brilliant at it. Hope to see you again soon and actually get a chance to know each other better.

    10:41 pm  Jan 22nd, 2011
  34. Diann

    There are camps for food bloggers? That seems awesome! I’ll have to see about a future one!

    7:42 am  Jan 25th, 2011
  35. Shiela Marvel

    Oh! Just how I wish I could go to Mexico and soak in the sun! Thanks for this post!

    1:34 pm  Jan 26th, 2011
  36. Kristy

    Love this! Seemed like it was a blast!

    4:50 pm  Jan 26th, 2011
  37. Barbara

    What a super experience! I would love a lesson in food styling and photography!

    5:48 am  Jan 29th, 2011
  38. Steph

    Loved this post so much. I was moved to tears when reading it. I wanted to tell you on our last visit how much i loved it but was distracted with all the kiddos:p Chris recently read it and wanted me to write that he continues to be very proud of you. And he felt like a proud brother reading your post:) So glad you took the leap to go on that trip with Corinne…sounds like it was a meant to be trip for the both of you.

    2:37 pm  Jan 29th, 2011
  39. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    Nicole, so glad you had a good time 🙂 For some reason the box under “Enjoy the photos” isn’t working – I look forward to seeing more pics!

    4:38 am  Jan 31st, 2011
  40. Trish

    Great re-cap. Looks like a worthwhile time. Would love to go next year. Thanks for your input and beautiful photos!

    2:57 pm  Jan 31st, 2011
  41. Caitlin from vietfoodrecipes.com

    Fantastic! seems like you had a great time!

    9:06 pm  Jan 31st, 2011
  42. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes)

    Looks like you had an awesome time! And it sure paid off, since now you know that blogging is the thing for you 🙂

    6:34 am  Feb 11th, 2011
  43. David

    Am just catching up on my blog reading and finally landed on one of the best posts (from one of the best “campers”, at least in the swim-up bar margarita-drinking category!) So glad you had a great time, as did I meeting you and everyone else.

    And am especially happy that you found your blogging groove all over again. It’s invigorating and refreshing to sometimes just do something different that makes you see your blog and life in a new perspective. You have a great blog and after meeting you, now I see why! : )

    1:32 pm  Feb 16th, 2011
  44. barbara

    Fabulous post. Really pleased you got so much from it. Good luck in 2011.

    8:55 pm  Feb 16th, 2011
  45. Mary

    Very inspirational post! How good that you went to the camp and found the enthusiasm you needed. And what a great group of people to be with in such beautiful surroundings. My horrible year was 2009 when my beloved father got very sick and died — it was awful. But the good news is that the piercing hurt and sadness does lift. Things have a way of piecing back together. I found a new passion around that time of my dad’s demise — I started canning tuna, then fruits and veges, soups – if it could be canned, I probably did it — that lit a fire for cooking in general. I’ve always liked to cook but never like this. I feel good these days and have so much to look forward to. Maybe that’s just how life is. If you just let it happen. Glad it’s working for you and your cousin!

    7:20 am  Feb 17th, 2011
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