Creative Writing Exercises and An Incredible Meal at BTP2

Creative Writing Exercises and An Incredible Meal at BTP2

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Gourmet Garden

Roasted Whole Cauliflower ready for serving

In my first article about Big Traveling Potluck I shared the story behind the potluck and it’s creators. You saw the beauty that surrounded us and helped inspire us to continue writing and telling you our stories. And I got to share some of the recipes that made our luncheon so delicious. Today I am going to share more recipes, this time from our Gourmet Garden hosted meal on Saturday night and some thoughts from a session … Learn the rules of writing and then throw them out!

Cheryl Sternman Rule is one of our generation’s best creative writers and while in Southern California, we had the opportunity to spend some time learning from her. Just long enough to light a spark and make us all yearn to take more classes from her.

Learning from

Cheryl Sternman Rule

We all get caught up in the rules we were taught in English classes throughout our school years. We know how to spell and use correct grammar. We can construct a sentence, paragraph, and term paper. But how on earth do we write compelling content, day after day, week after week, and year after year for our blogs?

I have never taken any creative writing classes and certainly don’t have the vocabulary of most writers. I just write the way I talk, in a straightforward manner, trying to share hints and secrets I’ve learned so that you will have success in replicating the recipes I share. Cheryl says this is good – it works for me. I don’t need to change!

Cheryl challenged us to do a writing exercise. She gave us the choice of three starter phrases designed to spark a memory. We then had five minutes to write our mini stories. There was no time to rewrite, polish or use spell check. This was creative writing in its purest form.

When I heard the phrase, “The light in the room …” I was instantly taken back to the first time I had dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I had yearned to go there for many years and when I finally go to, it was everything I dreamed it would be and more. This is what I wrote about that experience in Cheryl’s workshop:

“The light in the room was soft, warm, and welcoming. It basted everything in a gentle glow, making each plate softly gleam. The warmth of the wood, the candlelight, the clinking of glassware, soft laughter and conversations. I wanted to be there, to be part of this world; a place where magic happens every day.”

Herbed Flatbreads for dinner

Does that make you want to join me? Have you had a similar experience? I urge you to take the time to do this kind of writing exercise as often as you can. It makes your mind work in amazing ways, twisting phrases into poetry, and creating images with words that you never thought were possible. Writing in quick bursts reignites the spark of creativity in each of us.

After a day filled with heartfelt stories shared by incredibly talented authors and photographers, personal writings read aloud by folks with shaking knees (including me), tears shed and hearts filled, we climbed back on our big yellow school busses and traversed the narrow, snaking roads over the beautiful hills of the Santa Rosa Plateau above the Temecula wine country.

Shannon and Chris enjoying the beautiful weather

Our Saturday evening meal was elegantly bucolic. Long tables were set on the veranda overlooking the lawn and expansive view of valley beyond. Each place setting included multiple wine glasses so we could sample different types of wine. Trying to anticipate people’s preferences, Shannon and I selected three wines to accompany the meal – a crisp and bright Sauvignon Blanc, a lush French red wine (a blend of three different grape varietals), and a surprisingly rich blush wine from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. There were very few bottles left at the end of the evening, showing that our selections we enjoyed by the crowd.

Our dinner was hosted by Gourmet Garden, conceived by Pam Anderson, created by Chef Shannon Kinsella, and featured a menu of Grilled Butterflied Lamb with Lime-Herb Marinade, Chermoula Sauce, Roasted Cauliflower with Greek-Inspired Oregano Dill Dressing, Grilled Vegetable Skewers, and Herbed Flatbreads. Doesn’t that sound heavenly? It was!

I don’t normally like lamb and was a little skeptical, but I know Shannon’s food is always delicious and believed if anyone could sway me it was Shannon. Helping assemble the vegetable skewers, dipping the strawberries, and watching the team prep for dinner gave me a preview of what we would be enjoying later. When we walked into the house with the aromas of cooking foods wafting from the kitchen, we were all anticipating a wonderful meal.

Marinating Lamb / BBQ fire burning down the coals

The lamb was a revelation; rich and succulent without a hint of gaminess. I know, perhaps you are thinking I am going a bit overboard, but in all honesty this was one of the most delicious grilled meats I’ve ever eaten. Marinated overnight in a lime and herb mixture, the acid in the lime cut through the typical gaminess that I normally dislike and the herbs infused it with flavors that complemented both the lamb and the rest of the meal. It was cooked slowly on a grill to add just the right touch of smoke. I truly cannot wait to make this for The Artist and change his mind about lamb too!!

Along with the lamb we had grilled vegetable skewers and the most glorious cauliflower. Served whole and cut into slices tableside (thank you Brooke, the server for our table!) it was a spectacular way to present ordinary vegetables. I loved the simplicity of the seasonings on the vegetables, allowing their beautiful flavors to shine through instead of being overwhelmed. And thanks to Pam and Sabrina, they were all cooked to perfection!

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian Samuels (Brian Samuels Photography)

Shannon prepared two special sauces for the meal. A beautiful Moroccan-inspired chermoula that we drizzled over the lamb (I wanted to lick my plate!) and a piquant Greek-style sauce with lemon, dill, and oregano that gave the cauliflower a touch of brightness. If the lamb weren’t so good, I would have eaten an entire head of cauliflower, LOL. I swear, Shannon should bottle those two sauces and sell them. But you are lucky folks today because she graciously agreed to let me share the recipes with you!

Chermoula sauce on the left; Oregano Dill Dressing on the right

The flatbreads that were served are a derivation of the Sourdough Baguette recipe from Debra and Rod of Smith Bites. There were two versions, a regular and a gluten-free. Keep an eye out for the flatbread recipe to show up on their site soon! Lemongrass Lemon Bars and chocolate-dipped strawberries provided the perfect ending to a remarkable meal. Everyone was relaxed and happy when they returned to the hotel, climbed into their beds and drifted off into a restful sleep.

Shannon proudly displaying her beautiful vegetable skewers

If you have the opportunity to attend either the Big Summer/Harvest Potluck on the East Coast or the Big Traveling Potluck on the West Coast, I heartily encourage you to join the family that Pam, her daughters and Erika create each year. You will walk away arm-in-arm with new friends, with your head held a little higher, and a full heart.

Each day I strive to improve my writing, to get the images out of my head and onto the page; to take better and more inspiring photography. I hope you will continue to join me on this journey as I redefine who I am and what I do. I love writing for you, sharing recipes that thrill me and make my life happier. I appreciate each of you who follow and encourage me. I welcome new readers every day and thank you for somehow finding my little corner of the blogging universe.

Welcome and Enjoy!

The glorious view from Santa Rosa Plateau

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Herb Marinade

© Chef Shannon Kinsella, Gourmet Garden

Yield: about 8 to 10 servings


  • 2 limes or lemons (or one of each), juiced
  • 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chunky Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chili Pepper
  • 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Parsley
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 (5 lb) butterflied leg of lamb, all visible fat removed
Read the whole recipe on The Heritage Cook