It has been ages since I really, truly blogged. You know the kind of blogging I’m talking about? Where I share a story about my life, a few lessons learned, and hopefully something that makes your day a bit better, a bit brighter? I do miss writing like that, I’m going to find a way to bring it back. 

I’m writing to you today because of the Fresh Air Retreat! I get to tell you all about the retreat and I’m especially excited to share the few “AH-HA”  lightbulb moments that are having a profound impact on the direction of Fed & Fit.

Nine women standing in front of a large oak tree.

Once upon a time, a lovely lady named Liz Della Croce messaged me on Instagram. She invited me to check out the Fresh Air Retreat’s upcoming destination in Austin, TX for Fall of 2023. I learned that the retreat is a place where about 10-or-so food bloggers come together for 3 full days of business brainstorming and connection with a handful of food brands. I am ALWAYS up for connecting with other bloggers and when it fit into my own calendar, I was a yes. 

My first impression of the retreat: WOW THIS IS SO WELL-DONE. The meals were incredible (I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever eaten that well), the attendees incredible (each in their own right), and the discussions were rich. 

Meet the Food Bloggers

Here’s a quick list of the attendees, all of whom are amazing and I highly encourage you explore their sites and get to know them on social media: 

Liz Della Croce, The Lemon Bowl, @thelemonbowl

Liz is an incredibly successful blogger and one of our retreat co-hosts! Her blog, The Lemon Bowl, is a fabulous destination for healthy, Middle Eastern recipes. I liked her instantly, she’s direct, talented, and kind and we can’t stop talking shop on Voxer. Ha! Here are 3 things from her website that I want you to check out:

  1. Lebanese Baked Fish with Tahini Sauce and Toasted Pine Nuts (she made us this fish and it was SO FREAKING GOOOOOD)
  2. Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves 
  3. Bison and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers

Lauren Grier, The Curious Plate, @thecurious_plate

Lauren, our other co-host of the Fresh Air Retreat, is such a kind, thoughtful, gifted person. She planned all of the incredible tablescapes you’ll see in some of these photos and brings that talent to further life on her food blog. Her recipes are fresh and adventurous! Here are 3 things from her website that I want you to check out:

  1. Grilled Jerk Lamb Loin Chops with Peach Salsa
  2. Cowboy Butter Steak Pizza
  3. Cottage Cheese Blueberry Waffles
A woman setting out a tablescape on a large wood table.

Addison Labonte, Organically Addison, @organicallyaddison

Addison is so incredible! I already loved her approach to recipe development (all gluten-free and all delicious-looking) but I also fell in love with her brilliant mind and kind heart. She’s just lovely and I know you’re going to gobble up her dishes. Here are 3 things from her website that I want you to check out: 

  1. Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
  2. Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread
  3. Instant Pot Chocolate Cake

Christina Shoemaker, The Whole Cook, @thewholecook

Oh my goodness, Christina is a treasure. She’s kind, thoughtful, one of the best listeners, and so freaking smart. Her recipes are crafted with healthy ingredients and she believes that food should be good for you and uncomplicated. I learned a lot from her! Here are 3 things from her website that I want you to check out: 

  1. Easy Sheet Pan Steak Dinner
  2. Sheet Pan Pesto Chicken with Broccoli
  3. Grain Free One Bowl Brownies

Juli Roth, PaleOMG, @paleomg

MY GIRL. Juli and I have been friends for maybe a decade now and I can’t begin to tell you how much I treasure her. She’s the kind of friend who will put her hands on your shoulders, look you right in the eyes, and speak truth into you. She does it so lovingly and with so much belief in YOU. I am a better person because of Juli and am so excited for all that she’s bringing to the world right now. Here are 3 things from her website that I want you to check out: 

  1. The Align Program (it’s amazing!!!)
  2. 8 High Fiber Foods You Should Eat More
  3. Breakfast Burritos  
Seven women sitting on couches laughing and talking.

Madeline Tague, Mad About Food, @mad_about_food

WOW, WOW, WOW. Madeline is incredible and inspiring and lovely. I feel so grateful that I got to spend a few days with her and I hope we stay friends. She creates easy-to-follow recipes that make cooking from home feel fun and exciting. She’s also a new mom and is killing it on Instagram and TikTok, be sure to follow her on both places! Here’s 3 recipes from her website I pinned: 

  1. Sausage White Bean and Kale Skillet
  2. Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
  3. Croissant Breakfast Casserole (must find gluten-free croissants…)

Mary Smith, Mary’s Whole Life, @maryswholelife

Mary is so talented, hard working, and I KNOW you are going to love her recipes (if you don’t follow her already!). She’s strictly gluten-free, which is comforting to folks like me who have to eat that way! She also has a book coming out soon, stay tuned because I’ll share more when I can! Here’s 3 recipes from her website I pinned: 

  1. Instant Pot Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  2. Gluten-Free Crab Cakes
  3. Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

Zainab Storms, A Classic Twist, @aclassictwistblog

Zainab is unbridled amazingness. A Ph. D. in neuroscience, expertise in other industries that blows my mind, working, mom’ing, and a baking pro. She is also one of the most kind and insightful people I’ve ever met. I hope we stay in touch, I adore her. Here’s 3 recipes from her website I pinned: 

  1. No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
  2. Apple Cardamom Crisp
  3. Peppermint White Russian

Meet the Food Brands

We also had the opportunity to connect with a handful of food brands at the retreat! It was a rare opportunity to not only get to know about a brand’s products, but to hear their story DIRECTLY. Here’s a list of the brands present and my biggest takeaways from each: 

Dave’s Killer Bread

So, because I’m strictly gluten-free, I didn’t get to snack on any of the Dave’s Killer Bread goodies at the retreat. That brought me NO joy but what DID bring me joy was hearing about Dave’s story. I didn’t know that Dave served 15 years in prison and that, after released, he poured his all into his family bakery. He wanted to make a positive impact and a bread that was unlike anything else on the market: organic, delicious, and packed with quality seeds and grains.

In addition to becoming America’s #1 organic bread, Dave’s Killer Bread is also a proud Second Chance Employer, hiring the best person for the job, regardless of criminal history. They believe people are capable of greatness and I will forever be a “haven’t tasted it, but I’m a fan” fan. 

Flor de Cana

WOW, never did I ever think I’d fall so deeply in love with a rum company, but that’s where we are. The rum itself was incredible, but the story of Flor de Cana is what really swept me off my feet. We were joined on our retreat by Luis Baez, a local to Nicaragua, the home of Flor de Cana, who walked us through the journey of how they’ve not only elevated the experience of sipping on rum, but also elevated the surrounding community. I can’t help but brag about Flor de Cana for a moment, and I hope this will have you reaching for their bottle the next time you want something special.

First of all, the rum is clean, no junk, of the highest quality, and award winning. No added sugar or other artificial ingredients (like the stuff I sipped on in college). If you like a whiskey neat, you will LOVE their 12 year rum (the youngest of their options).

Flor de Cana has been family-owned for 130 years (5 GENERATIONS!), offers free education for children of their employees (since 1913!!), opened a hospital to provide FREE medical care for employees, opened the Aproquen burn clinic (which has provided over 520,000 free medical services to children), has planted over 1 million trees, is Fair Trade Certified, and got its Carbon Neutral Certification in 2020 (!!!). They up-the-ante further by recycling ALL CO2 emissions during the fermentation process and distill with 100% renewable energy.

Can you tell I’m obsessed? I’m obsessed. I want to visit their plant and get to know this incredible company more. In the meantime, you can support their incredible efforts by adding this phenomenal product to your cabinet during the upcoming holiday season. I know I’ll be gifting it all season long.

A person pouring Flor de Cana rum into a glass.

Envy Apples

Getting to know all about Envy apples was fascinating. The two Envy Apple team members that were there were absolutely lovely and I think I asked them about 27 questions. Envy Apples are incredible, the perfect red skin, a bright white flesh (that stays white longer), a really satisfying crunch, and a not-too-sweet taste. Incredible for snacking or baking, they can be found just about anywhere apples are sold! Keep your eyes out next time you’re in the grocery store. 


Last but not least, Zwilling! My love of Zwilling runs deep and if you’ve been paying attention over the years, you know I use Zwilling products in my kitchen DAILY. We received a knifes skill class, provided by Zwilling’s Executive Chef Bernard Janssen, and I learned so much. The Zwilling brand spans so many of my kitchen staples: Staub and Miyabi to name a few. They’re also the creator of the brilliant Fresh & Save Vacuum Storage System! You may remember, I’ve given you a few demos of this incredible system over on my YouTube: 

A bunch of Zwilling Fresh and Save containers filled with various snacks on a large wood table.

My Takeaways

Now, for my light bulbs …there were several, but I’ve been burning bright ever since those few days in Austin, TX: 

  1. There’s more value than what’s on the agenda. I’ve known this for a long time, but this retreat confirmed my belief. While the agenda for the Fresh Air Retreat was impressive, I’d say that was 20% of the value of attending. The other 80% of the value, meaning the parts that had me skipping home, telling my husband “I am SO GLAD I went!!,” were the friendships I made, the perspective gained, the ideas sparked, and the ability to pour into others. If you’re ever presented with an opportunity to attend a mastermind or a retreat like this, and if the timing works for you, I encourage you go all in. You might be blown away by how much value it adds to your life and your business.
  2. I’m far more interested in brands’ stories than their actual products. YES the product needs to be great, but it’s the story behind the tasty bite or sip or chop (if it’s a knife, for example) that leaves the biggest impression. I’m looking forward to working more closely with brands that have a story I can’t wait to tell.
  3. I love to teach and I especially love pouring into other business owners in an intimate setting. I can’t tell you how much this LIGHTS ME UP. I had some really profound conversations with my fellow retreat attendees and think I’m going to really do something about this, set up a way for me to teach and connect with bloggers who need and want my guidance. I have learned SO MUCH in the last 12 years of blogging, authoring, running a team and really want to share those lessons learned so they can help others. More on this, I hope, soon!

One last mention from the retreat is Executive Chef Trimell Hawkins. Chef Trimell designed and executed all of our meals and my goodness, is he talented. Much like my “ah-ha” about working with brands with incredible stories, this is also true of my admiration for Chef. After serving in the U.S. Military, he embarked on an impressive culinary career and has story and heart woven into every corner of his work. It was an honor to meet him and I hope I get to celebrate his talent and life again soon.

I hope you found this recap helpful, inspiring, and with a few new folks to follow and support.

All of the incredible photos from the retreat were taken by Amanda Kamppinen; @amanda.kamppinen.

About the Author

Cassy Joy Garcia, NC

Cassy Joy Garcia, a New York Times best-selling author, of Cook Once Dinner Fix, Cook Once Eat All Week, and Fed and Fit as well as the creative force behind the popular food blog Fed & Fit.

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