Creative Writing Exercises and An Incredible Meal at BTP2

This entry is part 13 of 22 in the series Gourmet Garden
BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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!

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.”

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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 (

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!

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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.

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

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!

BTP Part 2, Potluck, Gourmet Garden; Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

The glorious view from Santa Rosa Plateau

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Herb Marinade
Yields 10
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  1. 2 limes or lemons (or one of each), juiced
  2. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chunky Garlic
  3. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Chili Pepper
  4. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Parsley
  5. 1 tbsp canola oil
  6. 2 green onions, finely sliced
  7. 1 (5 lb) butterflied leg of lamb, all visible fat removed
  1. Combine citrus juice, garlic, chili pepper, parsley, oil, and green onions in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to blend.
  2. Place the trimmed lamb in a resealable bag. Pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and marinate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Remove lamb from the bag; discard marinade. Grill lamb over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once, or until it reaches an internal temperature of about 135F. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The carry over heat will bring it up to a beautiful medium-rare. Slice and serve with the Chermoula sauce (recipe follows).
  1. Yield: about 8 to 10 servings
The Heritage Cook ®
Gourmet Garden Chermoula
Yields 1
This sauce was the perfect complement to the grilled lamb.
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  1. 1 small lemon, washed clean
  2. 3/4 cup olive oil
  3. 1/4 cup Gourmet Garden Parsley
  4. 1/4 cup Gourmet Garden Cilantro
  5. 3 tsp Gourmet Garden Chunky Garlic
  6. 1 tsp Gourmet Garden Chili Pepper
  7. 1 tsp ground cumin
  8. 1 tsp sweet paprika
  1. Use a fine grater (such as a Microplane) to grate the rind (yellow part only) of the lemon into a small bowl. Cut the lemon in half horizontally (across the equator), and squeeze the juice into the bowl, discarding any seeds. Whisk in the oil, parsley, cilantro, garlic, chili pepper, cumin, and paprika until well mixed. If you are sensitive to spicy foods you can reduce the chili pepper or leave it out entirely.
  2. The chermoula will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to 2 or 3 days. When ready to use, set out at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or rewarm over low heat.
  1. Leftover chermoula makes a fantastic dressing for salads made with tossed green, steak, chicken, or shrimp.
  1. Yield: about 1-1/4 cups
The Heritage Cook ®
Italian Grilled Vegetable Skewers
Yields 8
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  1. 4 to 5 slender zucchini, trimmed
  2. 2 red onions, trimmed and peeled
  3. 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  4. 1/2 cup organic olive oil
  5. 1 to 2 tsp Gourmet Garden Italian Herb blend
  6. Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  7. 6 to 8-inch bamboo or metal skewers
  1. Cut the zucchini into 3/4 to 1-inch thick “coins” and the cut each coin in half to create half moons. Cut the onions into small wedges about the same size as the zucchini. Rinse the tomatoes and drain well.
  2. In a small jar with a tight fitting lid (or a bowl), combine the oil with the Gourmet Garden herbs. Put the lid on shake vigorously to blend together. If using a bowl, whisk the two together. Set aside.
  3. Starting with zucchini, gently slide the vegetables onto the skewers, leaving each piece slightly apart so that they will all cook evenly. Suggested order is: zucchini, onion, tomato, zucchini, onion, tomato. See the photo above for an example.
  4. You can use any combination of vegetables you like, but keep the pieces about the same size so they will cook evenly. If you wind up with more of one ingredient, adjust the order of the skewers to use them up. Skewers can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Store, covered tightly with plastic, in the refrigerator. Return to room temperature before cooking.
  5. Preheat your grill to medium-high. Clean the grates and rub lightly with oil.
  6. Use a pastry brush to coat the vegetables with the Italian oil mixture. Sprinkle each side lightly with salt and pepper. Place the skewers on the grill and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, turning occasionally with tongs, until the vegetables are tender and have some grill marks on them, about 5 minutes.
  7. Transfer the skewers to a baking sheet as they are done. Set aside while you assemble and cook the rest of your meal. Reheat in a low oven before serving.
  1. Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
Adapted from Skewers served at Big Traveling Potluck 2
Adapted from Skewers served at Big Traveling Potluck 2
The Heritage Cook ®
Greek-Inspired Oregano Dill Dressing
Yields 1
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  1. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Oregano
  2. 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Garlic
  3. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Dill
  4. 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  5. 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  6. Juice of 1 lemon
  1. Add all ingredients to blender or food processor. Cover and process until emulsified. If too thick, add water to get to desired consistency. Serve.
  2. Can be served with any tossed greens, grains, or as a marinade for meats. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Will last up to 1 week.
  1. Yield: about 1 cup
  2. This accompanied the Roasted Cauliflower by Pam Anderson
The Heritage Cook ®
Greek-Style Lemon Oregano Dressing
Serves 8
This is another version of the dressing we served at BTP - both would be amazing on just about anything. Serve it with crudité for your parties this weekend!
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  1. 1/2 cup vegetable oil or light olive oil
  2. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  3. 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Garlic
  4. 1 tbsp Gourmet Garden Parsley
  5. 2 tbsp Gourmet Garden Oregano
  6. 1 to 2 tbsp water
  1. Add all ingredients to blender or food processor. Cover and process until emulsified. If too thick, add water to get to desired consistency. Serve.
  2. Can be served with any tossed greens, grains, or as a marinade for meats. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Will last up to 1 week.
  1. Yield: 1 cup; about 8 servings
The Heritage Cook ®


Create a New Tradition Today!

A special thank you to Brian Samuels for generously allowing me to share one of his beautiful photographs with you. 

Let’s connect! If you love The Heritage Cook, you can follow me on Pinterest or Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook. If you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, need to alter a recipe for gluten-free, or want recipe suggestions, don’t hesitate to email me. Thanks for reading!

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This site is not intended to provide medical advice. The suggestions here are not intended as dietary advice or as a substitute for consulting a dietician, physician, or other medical professional. It is the reader’s sole responsibility to determine which foods are appropriate and safe for their family to consume. Always consult your doctor. The author makes no claims regarding the presence of food allergens and disclaims all liability in connection with the use of this site.

Disclosure: I write articles and develop recipes for Gourmet Garden and they hosted my trip to this event. As always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thank You!

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  1. says

    Wow, that is an impressive cook. I’m not a huge fan of lamb either but I can eat it when it’s done just right.

    Check out the writing prompts at Reddit:

    They have some cool ideas to force you to be creative. Just started doing them myself. The blog “One minute writing prompts” or something like that is a good exercise as well. Speaking of which, I haven’t done that this weekend.

    • Jane Bonacci says

      Shannon is a remarkable chef Chris and you would love her! Talented, funny, down to earth, our kind of gal :-) I’ll check out those sites – it is always good to have a little push on the creative side!

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