I’ve never been huge on birthdays. As far as I’m concerned, there are only a few that really need to be celebrated as you enter adulthood: 16, 21, 30, 40, 50. After that, you should celebrate every chance you get, since you can never be sure how many you’ll be able to enjoy.
Any reason to take a day off work is great in my book, but being able to spend it with other like-minded blogger-type folks, learning about a handful of the amazing things you can do with Cabot cheeses and yogurt, being fed until you literally cannot take another bite, and just generally being spoiled … those are my favorite kind of days.
Entering East End Market itself is such a neat experience. Imagine living in a really nice apartment complex where all your neighbors always have delicious farm-to-table food, warm cookies, and freshly brewed coffee available. Where you can kick back in the garden with a good book, or peruse an array of cute handmade goods at your leisure. Located in the Audubon Park area of Orlando, East End is essentially a culinary neighborhood hub, perfect for any and every retiree, millennial, child, and anyone in between who likes a good, locally sourced meal served with a smile.
The Audubon Park Exchange (affectionately known as APEX) is where we found Isabel, Candace, and all of our other friends from Cabot as well as the team from Florida Dairy. Immediately after entering the beautiful space, our senses were assaulted by a sensational breakfast spread, complete with a Cabot Greek yogurt parfait bar, Olde Hearth Bread Company muffins, Lineage Coffee Roasting coffee, Divine Chocolate, Florida Milk, and of course – Cabot cheese.
After a warm welcome and short introduction of our exciting day by Isabel, we found out a bit more about Candace, Carolyn, Wendy, and Chef Jimmy, the Cabot folks who took the time to spend the afternoon with us. They told us all about the Department of Gratitude, as well as the benefits of their Reward Volunteer program. Those selfless acts of kindness you show to your community can pay off in cheese!
It wasn’t long before almost two dozen of us crammed into the lovely APEX kitchen with Chef Jimmy, where he showed us his secret to perfect Sweet Potato Cornbread in my favorite Lodge http://www.lodgemfg.com/ cast iron skillet (a little bit of sugar!), then baked up the most incredible Alpine Mac & Cheese I’ve ever had (topped with pancetta and chopped tomatoes, OMG.) And AFTER we all went back for seconds on the mac & cheese, he presented us with his Cheddar Lace Crisp Tacos. Gluten-free and all the cheese you could want? Ooof.
At that point, we got a tiny break from eating just in time for Candace’s afternoon “drum core” exercise, and some tips on staying well and focused in a world where we stare at our phones and laptops on a constant basis. I personally took them to heart, since my day job is hugely stressful, and Candace has an amazing grasp on healthy living. Just thinking about her Crossfit routine exhausts me!
Just as soon as our cheesy bites were starting to settle, we remembered that we’re all food bloggers. No rest for the weary – it was time for lunch!
And What. A. Lunch.
It was comfort food city in the middle of East End’s beautiful Porch Therapy garden shop, all set up for us to relax and enjoy the gorgeous late winter Florida weather. We were treated to grilled (Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar) cheese sandwiches by La Femme du Fromage, Houndstooth Sauce Company’s tomato basil soup, a gorgeous salad with apple slices and crumbled Cabot Alpine cheddar and Skyebird lavender lemonade and iced tea. And, finally, award-winning Gideon’s Bakehouse Pistachio Toffee Dark Chocolate cookies! The businesses of East End really knocked it out of the park … no pun intended.
If I had been at home, my birthday lunch would totally not have been as spectacular. Plus the company was pretty fantastic as well.
Back in APEX, the room had moved around a bit, and we found ourselves standing in front of large picnic baskets full of goodies in five random teams of four. That’s right – as is standard for all #SundaySupper Live events now, a #Hashed competition was our last CookingWithCabot activity of the day!
Fittingly, our theme was a cheeseboard showdown. Each team put up a good fight, building everything from a wine pairing guide (my team “World’s Best was responsible for that one) to an ode to Cabot farmers (Miss Emily Ellyn’s enthusiastic Retro Rad hand-led those ladies.) Ultimately, team “Seriously Sharp,” helmed by Christina Thomas from GoEpicurista, took home the win for their romantic “Hot For Cabot” board for two!
The day capped off with swag for all, plus a generous second swag bag for us to gift to someone we love. Candace made sure to lead everyone in a bloggerific rendition of Happy Birthday for me. Then we all went our separate ways having made new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and in desperate need of a second stomach. Birthdays come and go, but if you’re lucky enough to have friends as I do and a job like this, even an odd one can be a little extra special.