And so I BBQ

 

Ribs N' Brisket

You know that feeling of not knowing what to do? You get introduced to someone and have no idea what to say. You commit to something and have no plan how you will make it happen. You want to break an old habit–or start a new one–and don’t know where to begin. It’s easy to get lost in the research. We can always wait for the perfect time–when the stars are just aligned. I even hesitate hitting the publish button on this blog at times thinking it’s not quite ready. I heard the story from Dan Miller of a guy he knew who took a job at a bank until he figured out what he really wanted to do with his life. 17 years later, he was still at the bank.

Well, my wife may never accuse me of doing too much research on something to pull the trigger. To take another line from Dan, I am a “ready, fire, aim” kind of guy. It may drive her crazy, yet we now know how to play to each other strengths–she researches and I pull the trigger.

This isn’t a column about the intricacies of how my wife and I communicate. If it were, I’m sure you would have already clicked off the page. It’s about taking a step even if you don’t know where that step will lead.

It has been a relatively short amount of time (29 months) that I have owned a smoker. That very first day I threw on a slab of beef ribs given to us from my in-laws. I don’t even know if I put rub on it. It was turn the heat on, throw them on the smoker, and hope that I would know when they were done. A few hours later they were done alright; and they were nasty! Was it a bad herd of grain-fed cows–sure! Was it also that I had no idea what to do–you bet! Here I had this beautiful smoker and I wasn’t even sure how to really make it sing & dance.

A few months after that first slab of ribs, I joined the Kansas City Barbeque Society; even taking classes on how to judge BBQ competitions. Wait a minute? I was learning how to judge the taste, appearance and tenderness of meat that I didn’t know how to cook myself? Well yes! They say that those who don’t know how–teach; and those who don’t know how to teach–write books for those teachers to use. All these years after college and that line finally makes sense.

Yes I felt hypocritical as I was being trusted with judging people’s competition turn-ins; people who put their whole heart, souls and money into this. But what I was really doing was finding out was fabulous meat looked and tasted like. I was blown away at that first competition. Wow, these BBQ contestants made some stuff that paled in comparison to any restaurant meat that I had ever tasted. From there I knew that I had to learn the fundamentals. It can taste good, but how? I never could have imagined what a process it could be.

From that very first judging class at the Casablanca resort in Mesquite, NV, a door opened. Casinos are built like labryinths to confuse and disorient. That way you spend more money. While looking for the ballroom where the class was to be held, I met a couple who were obviously looking for the same class. We struck up a conversation and ended up sitting next to each other inside. That turned out to be Ira Pupko of Hog Heaven BBQ Co. in Temecula, CA. His help with my ribs and pork shoulder would become invaluable.

The spring after becoming a certified BBQ judge (again, the irony had not left me by this point), I was judging the KCBS Sam’s Club Invitational and heard someone at the table next to me say that Pat from Pat’s BBQ was there. The very next week I was eating lunch at Pat’s, saw him in the hall and 15 minutes into conversation later we had a tentative agreement to BBQ together. He really is an institution around Salt Lake and I learned some valuable insights from him.

For my birthday in summer 2014, my wife got me one of the greatest presents ever–a competition BBQ class. Rub Bagby from Swamp Boys BBQ in Winter Haven, FL was coming to Salt Lake for a competition and he was bringing his Q school with him. Yes it was over 100 degrees (thankfully we were in a covered picnic area) but here was a guy who has won the Jack Daniel’s National–a big deal in the BBQ community. I was the novice there as everyone was part of a team–a team that competed. At first they seemed a little confused as to why I was there; I shared their confusion. By the end of that second day, they were teaching me so much that I could keep up. Now I have standing initiations to come and be part of their BBQ team during competitions. No better way to learn.

I love Rub’s humility. He is a school teacher in Florida and could not buy his way into BBQ like so many try–all the meat, equipment and travel is expensive. If you have loads of money, why not just spend some serious cash and get famous that way? That approach rarely works in life. Rub took a few extra bucks each month, bought meat and practicing cooking. He joined forums–getting involved with like minded individuals. The single best thing he taught me was this: “how bad do you want it?” You can do anything if you want it bad enough. He went to competitions and got his butt kicked for years before his BBQ career really took off.

How many of us are afraid to jump in the ring because we are afraid we will lose or not be perfect? You learn more by getting in the game than you do by researching the same game. I have been guilty of “I’m not quite ready yet” or “I just need more time.” You know what you want, just go for it–you will be delighted at what you will find!

 

I Write for Fun, and for FOOD!

Belgian Waffle Inn Breakfast

The Title of this article might sound a little arrogant or self-serving. That is far from my intent. When I began this journey in 2011, it was to keep an online journal of recipes. From there it morphed into reviewing restaurants. Not for pay but for fun. I remember the looks the waitresses gave me when I would pull out my camera and snap a picture. One even said, “are you trying to make someone jealous.” My reply: “you have no idea.” I was trying to make everyone jealous. Isn’t that the point of social media?

It was when Siam Orchid first contacted me to come in and review their food that I felt the reach of the platform. When I wouldn’t post for a few days, I would get messages wondering where my next review was. And then came City Weekly. What a great experience to write a column for them almost weekly for 2 years. Not every good thing lasts but every good thing does open new doors, it’s just up to us to walk through them.

What I did love about writing for a well-known newspaper in the Salt Lake area, was that I had near instant credibility. When I would contact a restaurant, it was typically a warm welcome, a chance to eat a few entrees, and to hear the owner’s story–oh how I love this–not just writing about the taste and quality of the food, but the journey. Some restaurants never returned my call–I wrote anyway. Some contacted me and thanked me after the column was published. Some even told me the reaction to the article: how one place sold out of food for the few days following the publication (thank you Charlotte Rose’s Carolina BBQ); another had a noticeable uptick in business for 2 months after the article came out (thank you Alice’s Restaurant); another contacted me and said that I must have a lot of followers because they didn’t know where the business was coming from–until someone showed them the article (thank you Bosna); another offered to have me work there for a few days or weeks if I wanted to write a much more in-depth feature (thank you Fiana Bistro).

The highs in life don’t always stay that way forever. It was sad to me when driving through downtown Salt Lake last week that Good Dog was closed. I loved their gourmet hot dogs and getting to know the owner, Josh. In late summer, another personal favorite closed, Charlotte Rose’s Carolina BBQ. Maybe it was road construction, maybe it was a tough location. Maybe it was part of the large percentage of restaurants that don’t stay open for even a year. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to see Trae not have his place anymore.

I love pulling for them, for the little guy, for the food, for the passion. It’s difficult to watch some not make it. I admire that they tried and hope to see their next place again soon. Until then, it’s always interesting to drive with me–i’m always looking around around saying, “what restaurant is that,” or “hey, that place looks good.”

Smokin Chicken N' Ribs

On that note, time to get the brisket and ribs prepped for my growing infatuation with BBQ.

Happy Eating

 

And So I Swim, and Hurt

During the summer of 2013, I hired a swim coach. Improving my aquatic ability was something that I longed for yet didn’t get around to for a while. I wrote about my experience here. It was a lot of work and led me down the path to my primary form of exercise today.

Swimming is quite enjoyable for me now, especially since fine tuning my form with the  coach. I use to try to jog but found that pure misery. About 4 times a week, I am at the Rec Center to get my exercise. The pool is 25 meters long and when I started with the coach, I couldn’t go 100 meters without a break. At the beginning of the lesson, you were afraid that you would drown; by the end, you were afraid you wouldn’t.

As time has gone on, I have continually pushed myself. I started with taking a break every 100 meters. Then I got up to 200 meters. Then 300, 350 and finally 500 without a break. Now I must interject here, these lengths are nothing for some of you on swim teams or performing triathlons, and I understand that. For me, I am a natural sprinter so I am hitting it hard with each stroke to feel accomplished. Plus I am not training for the Olympics. At 36, I kind of think that ship has sailed. For the first time in my life, I actually like exercise.

Now my workout is 1000 meters in approximately 30 minutes. It was 32 minutes a few weeks back but my last time was 27. Now earlier I mentioned how I push myself. I think that this is good for all of us but we need to know our limits. Two weeks ago I went for a swim. We had all been sick as a family and I was just starting to get better. I had not been in the pool for a week and, knowing that my energy was low, I was really trying to pace myself–for a moment. A few hundred meters in however and the demons of self destruction took over.

At 500 meters (my usual rest time), I thought that I didn’t need a break and would be proud of myself if I went further than before without a rest. At 800 meters, I really was starting to feel the wear. Remember, my body was recovering from illness. At 1000 meters I had the crazy thought of why not swim further than I ever have? A few weeks back, I had swam 1100 meters but 1000 was my usual stopping point. At 1150, I thought that I should go 50 more to make it an even 1200. Finally, at 1200 meters I got out of the pool. Was I awesome or what?

Not quite. You know that “it hurts good” feeling after a workout–the one where you pushed your body and got your endorphins going? Yeah, I didn’t have that! I hurt bad. I knew that it wasn’t good the way my joints and overall body felt. It felt foreign to me and was a little scary.

It has taken nearly 2 weeks to feel decent again. It was as if the oil warning light went off in my car and I said, “well, let’s get to our destination quicker and then I will look at the problem.” Bad choice. My wife says that I have a sickness of never feeling like I have done enough. Because of this I run at super high octane and then burn out. And when I am burned out, I can barely get the basics done. There are things to embrace about this cycle, but it can be limiting.

I don’t just do it with swimming, but with work, with writing and with projects. Going at full speed and checking things off my task list is a rush that I love. The problem is that I rush the rush and leave many things out; things that I need to go back and fix later. So many times I have pushed the PUBLISH button on this blog and then read it–oops, should have proofread that sooner.

It’s so foreign to me to actually take things at a decent pace. But for the first time in my life, it feels like I am getting things done right. There are less items being checked off my list and I am also realizing that it’s better to have less on the list, and to make those things remaining count. If you juggle six things, you will do them all poorly.

When on a particular day a couple weeks after my 1200 meter death sprint, I told my wife that I was deciding whether to go swimming or not because my body ached, she replied with this: “If it were anyone but you, I would tell them to go and enjoy, it would be good for them. But since you aren’t capable of that, I would tell you not to go.” Oh I went, maybe to spite her and maybe not (I’ll never say publicly) and I took 8 minutes longer to swim my normal distance. Did I feel like a failure because I took longer? Well yes, at first. But surrendering what doesn’t work, even if it is a lifelong habit, is incredibly relieving.

It’s kind of exhausting rushing through everything. Hopefully a little lesson about pacing myself and enjoying what I do–from an exercise session in the pool–can be applied to all aspects of life.

 

 

The Old Dutch Store: Insulate my Heart for Winter

Old Dutch Store, Sandwiches & Soup 1

In the Netherlands, there’s an old folk belief that a layer of fat around your heart keeps you warm and happy throughout the winter. And though the concept is contrary to current health trends, food that contributes to such a layer certainly tastes good.

The Old Dutch Store on Highland Drive sells traditional foods from the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia that will make you happy. In addition to chocolates and sweets, the shop boasts a deli counter with soups and specialty meats and cheeses.

I ordered turkey, havarti, tomato and lettuce on a wheat roll—and, following Dutch tradition, I passed on all condiments except butter. Americans know that butter is great on toast, and now I know it’s wonderful on sandwiches, too.

Continue Reading Here

And So I Write

The funny thing in life is that we all crave security. We desire everything to progress but with little difficulty. Ironically, the place that has the most security, and that has all your needs taken care of is prison. We all want that dream job but want it to come to us. We want to make a change in some aspect of our life but will start tomorrow. And then many tomorrows later we are still waiting for the right time.

Back in 2011 & 2012 I wrote for Hometown Slop and I mean that I really wrote–3 times a week consistently. There was a lot of reaction as people were noticing the platform. I really loved it and felt in the zone. Restaurant invites came; as did invitations to food shows and cateing events. Never could I have dreamed that simply getting in the game would lead to so much.

And then in February, 2013 something wonderful happened. City Weekly, a local publication in the Salt Lake area, invited me to write for them. The stars did align because a friend of mine, who is a freelance sports writer, had done some work for them and introduced me to the editors. My friend only did that after following my blog  He didn’t just do it because he felt like it. There was a natural show of confidence there and one that I appreciated very much. The editor asked me to pitch some ideas and the pattern of being a regular contributor was born.

Dan Miller, famous Life & Career coach, says that we interview for our jobs everyday whether we realize it or not. There is a joke in the real estate industry that you wake up everyday unemployed. 11 years in that field and I know exactly what that means. The same thing as a contributor–I was not an employee and therefore had no guarantee of consistent work. I had to Pitch them ideas and then was given the green light to write. It would have been great for me for them to say, “here is your column, just write what you want and have it submitted each Thursday at Noon.” But that didn’t happen, I had to prove my value.

When I became a contributor to the Second Helping Column, it started taking a lot of my focus. The 325 word column wasn’t just about sitting down and spending an hour writing. I would research restaurants, write a compelling pitch and if accepted, I would reach out to the restaurant and hope to sit down with the Chef, Owner or both. From there it was getting a draft to my proofer, make the recommended changes and then submit to the editor. Often I was a little worn out by the time I got the final draft submitted at Noon on a Thursday.

I got use to being a contributor and honestly most of the pitches I sent to my editor were approved. It was fun. As life had more demands on it I dropped the regular blog writing and just focused on the column. It wasn’t as regular but I was busy. I missed the consistency of 3 times a week.

We all want change but want it to happen to someone else. Our change should be gradual and when we feel like it so that there is no discomfort right? Not always! Late last week I received an e-mail from City Weekly that as a result of their page count dropping, they will be publishing the Second Helping Column only sporadically; maybe once a month.

What? But I was in the zone. There is the saying, “don’t cry because it’s over, be grateful that it happened. In 2011 I set a goal of becoming a Food Writer. It took a lot of work regularly writing on my blog and in early 2013 I was published; and continued to be so. This has opened the door to many opportunities and will continue to do so.

Thank you for your support. I may be thrown out of my comfort zone some but that is where we grow. If anything, this has shown me what is possible when you get in the game.

Happy Eating and Writing.

Siam Noodle Bar: Hospital food just got a lot better

Siam Noodle Bar Exterior

Rare is the day that anyone enjoys a trip to the hospital. But now there’s a good reason to visit the hospital—specifically, the Intermountain Medical Campus in Murray and its Siam Noodle Bar.

Far from typical hospital fare, this is a Thai noodle restaurant with delicious options, including a build-your-own noodle bar. Before going the DIY route, though, it’s worth trying the restaurant’s signature dishes, like the beef stew noodle soup: rice noodles, bean sprouts, bok choy, celery, green onion, cilantro and fried garlic in a clear broth—was recommended as a signature dish. The beef was falling-apart tender, and the veggies were all al dente and delicious, giving the dish a fresh, authentic taste—as though it had been cooked over a fire in a quiet mountain village.

Siam Noodle Bar Beef Stew Noodle Soup 2

Another recommended dish, the teriyaki pulled pork, was beautiful both in its presentation and in its flavors. It’s more rustic than what you might usually expect from a pulled-pork sandwich, as the food at Siam Noodle Bar is truly Asian, not Americanized Asian.

Continue Reading Here

Happy Eating

Siam Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Cafe Seoul: A Cafe On The Move!

Cafe Seoul Chicken Bulgogi

Tucked among the buildings of the Cedar Park office complex near Interstate 15 and 5300 South lies a cafe on the move. A few years and one owner ago, Café Seoul was located at 4500 South. And prior to that, the Korean barbecue and Japanese restaurant occupied a tiny location by the Century 16 Theaters on 3300 South and State.

Café Seoul does feature sushi, but I tried the entrees, which looked particularly enticing. The bibimbap (say that 10 times fast) and the chicken bulgogi are highly recommended as signature Korean dishes, and cheese tonkatsu as a signature Japanese dish.

Continue Reading Here

Cafe Seoul on Urbanspoon

Tarahumara: Midway Utah’s Finest

Tarahumara Sign

A much-needed long weekend to Midway was in order a couple of weeks ago. Just the 40 minute drive up there was relaxing as life had been hectic. I was looking forward to rest, relaxation, time with family, and definitely food.

We use to visit here regularly but it has been a couple years. Each time we visited, we noticed that some new restaurants are open, and others closed. On this trip we drove down Main Street to find that the former Mountain Line Restaurant, is now a funeral home. The food there was pretty good but I wouldn’t try it now. I was also excited about Fanny’s restaurant at the Homestead Resort where we were staying.

But one thing that excited me most what the chance to find new restaurants. Last year I wrote of meeting the founder of Firehouse Subs when he came to Salt Lake City. He gave each of us five $10 gift cards to promote the store. When I put that on the site, I asked for new restaurant recommendations. One of those was Tarahumara in Midway. Because of our previous challenge of knowing that many restaurants don’t last long, I wondered if it would be there.

Salsa Bar

Salsa Bar

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and played in the pool. Venturing out for dinner, we decided to drive past Tarahumara. There were a few groups outside waiting, and it was a dogfight to park. So we left and decided to come back another day. Monday was our last full day there so it was time.

At 2:00pm, we walked up to the building and there were 3 signs for Tarahumara, all a little different but all having the name. The first door was the bar. Something about “You must be 21 to Enter” and holding a 9 month old doesn’t work well to eat there. So to the next door we went. This was a small grocery store/bakery. Those pastries looked delicious but where do patrons sit down and eat this delicious food I had heard about? The third door had to be it right? Well we entered that and it was even confusing. There was a counter there and someone found us, grabbed some menus and walked us down a hall. There was the restaurant; it looked and smelled wonderful.

Tarahumara Specials Sign

On the way to our table we walked around the salsa bar. It is the same equipment as a salad bar but loaded with about 30 salsas. You help yourself with little plastic cups. Since they bring you nachos, it’s fun to try many of them, which we did. It’s like a PhD level class lab-every concoction you can think of; and some that you can’t.

Being a Mexican Restaurant, the drink menu is larger than the food options; but the food looked good and a plenty. There was a dry erase board with 5 or 6 specials and it being 2:00pm, I wished I could try them all. A neighboring table had a large margarita glass full of ceviche. Mouth watering to the sight but they may have beat me for trying to take a photo.

Avocado Enchiladas

Avocado Enchiladas

My mind was focused on 3 things: Tacos Carnitas, Tacos Barbacoa or one of the specials–Snapper Veracruz. When I asked about the special, he wasn’t sure that they had any left but went back to check. This being America, I immediately craved what I didn’t think I could have so I desperately wanted the Snapper Veracruz. There was one left, I snapped (no pun intended) it up. Well played Mr. Waiter, well played indeed.

At this point I realized something that my wife has known for years-that I ordered it based on the name and didn’t know what was in it. Time to figure out what “Veracruz” meant in the culinary landscape. Veracruz sauce is a spicy and tangy sauce that melds the flavors of old Mexico with flavors imported from Spain: including onions, beans, chilis, peppers, olives and capers. All of this piled onto crispy red snapper. This is the epitome of healthy, exotic and fresh. The flavors were a wild explosion and a see-saw competition with each other. A competition that ended with everyone happy.

Now I realize here that I am reviewing a dish that was a special and not available everyday. But this is indicative of the flavors you will find at Tarahumara. Once, while in Roatan, Honduras, I ate a meal in a bamboo hut right on the beach. It was the fresh catch of the day mixed with local veggies and herbs. I didn’t have a care in the world then and eating here gave me the same relaxed feeling.

Snapper Veracruz

Snapper Veracruz

Good thing that we did not try to go here twice during our three-day vacation. It is popular, it is busy, but it is worth it. The dessert list was long and looked wonderful. I had no room however.

As your favorite sports team knows, it’s not getting to the top that is the hard part, it’s staying there! In the restaurant world it also seems that you can go to hero to zero in no time at all. Just a hunch however that Tarahumara is here to stay and to thrive for a while. Check it out.

Happy Eating
Tarahumara on Urbanspoon

Puro Pero: Sandy eatery dishes up authentic Peruvian cuisine

Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado

It’s nice when a place stays around long enough to make it part of your routine.

Puro Peru in Sandy just celebrated 18 months in business in a rather obscure location where you might not expect to see an eatery. But the restaurant must be doing something right—and that something is a little taste of Peru right here in the Salt Lake Valley.

Puro Peru sports a festive atmosphere with Spanish music, soccer on TV and a stage for weekend entertainment. The restaurant’s atmosphere perfectly complements the authentic cuisine. The waitress recommended the lomo saltado (jumping beef) as a way to try some true Peruvian food. It’s a sautee of sirloin, tomatoes, onions and french fries, cooked in vinegar and spices, then dusted with fresh chopped cilantro and served with rice. The vinegar gives it some mouthwatering tang, while the red onion gives it a delectable sweetness. It’s a beautiful dish, both visually and to the palate.

Continue Reading Here

Puro Peru on Urbanspoon

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