Thursday, June 23, 2011

No. 50: A Great Taco and a Milestone



This is Column Number 50.

When I started this column I wasn't sure if I would be able to sustain it or where it would take me. I love telling stories through a mix of graphics and writing. It's been my profession for fifteen years, and I had always used my skills at media organizations to tell news stories. I also love to cook. The column is the combination of the two.

Instead of covering news events and what was happening in the world, I made the decision to cover what was happening in my kitchen. I was sick of the news business. It was time to try something new. I decided to do something radical with my career.

I wanted to create an original dish each week and feature it in a visual food column.

I believed then, as I do now, that there is nothing out there like this. I left my job, cut all my expenses and relocated to my hometown of Churubusco, Indiana.

I started with the hope that I could do it. I had no idea if I could. It was a leap of faith. If I failed, I was going to grad school. That was the plan.

I offered some samples to Dave Crabil, the editor of the Churubusco News. He could have it for free, if he would just run it. He agreed. It would be called "Busco Bites." I did five columns before it launched and then it took another few weeks for it to really sink in. The response from people who read it each week was amazing and more important, the amount of enjoyment that I got out of creating it was incredible. I was (and still am) having the time of my life with it.

It was then that I started telling people my goal is 50 columns and a cookbook.

One recipe a week for one year, that should be enough for a book. That is what I have been telling people. And that has been my mission for the last year. Writing a cookbook.

Well, this is No. 50. (And not the last) I have done enough of these to create a 100-page book. (Each column is redesigned to cover a full two-page spread.)


A sample from the book.



I left a lucrative career that has allowed me to work for some of the most prestigious news organizations in the world. It has taken me to the Olympics in Australia, the shootings at Columbine High School, the rubble at Ground Zero and a front row seat to the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.

This is where my career is now. And I am more proud of this than anything I have ever done professionally.

This one is special to me. Number 50. I now have a book.

A new adventure awaits: Getting it published.

HOW DO YOU DO THAT?!?!?!

Stay tuned.

Eat well, cook often ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Pizza for Warm Weather



This is the fourth pizza featured in my weekly column. I first made (or heard of, for that matter) Hawaiian pizza at my first place of employment: Tubby's Pizza. I had been working there for awhile and the owners decided to offer more varieties. We had a training meeting and as soon as I saw the owner spreading mayo on the dough, I remember thinking: "Wow, that looks gross."

I quickly changed my mind when I tried a slice. The mayo totally works with the pineapple and ham! The recipe here is not the same as the one from Tubby's (which no longer exists) but the trio of pineapple, ham and mayo as the central flavors is. I have to give them credit for that. They didn't invent it, of course, it was just the first time I experienced it.

THE COLUMN
The design of this recipe is the same as previous pizzas. (Check out breakfast pizza – notice the same design format) This is my pizza template. The design has been seen before but the pizza itself is totally different. The use of a template for certain dishes gives a reader familiarity when thumbing through a collection of my recipes. (The grand plan is to take the weekly columns and put them all together in a book). Many graphic artist would frown on me for not reinventing the pizza design each time I featured one. But in a book of recipes, the design will scream "Pizza!" as soon as the reader sees it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I'm still loving my new photo equipment (as I wrote about here). I didn't need to use any photoshop tricks at all to get the smaller pies to rise above the larger finished pie. The photos are so sharp and crisp that they naturally give a rising affect when layered on top one another. This was not the case in my previous pizza efforts. My new photo equipment proves that it's sometimes good to seek out professional help - something I should do more of (at least that's what my girlfriend tells me).

Eat well, cook often ...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Than Just Another Salsa Recipe


My black bean salsa recipe contains several brand new things. It is the first time I have used my new photography equipment and the first time I have talked about my experience in stand up comedy. Both are essential to me in the weekly column.

NEW PHOTO EQUIPMENT
I have had fits getting the lighting and photo quality right since I moved the operation inside last fall. I shot all photos outside in the sunlight last summer, which gave me great lighting. Once I had to come inside, I started to get unnatural shadows and less sharp images. I turned to all different sorts of ways to light the food: flood lamps, flash and then 500-watt halogen lights bought at Wal-mart. The halogens worked best except they gave everything a yellow tint. (Not to mention the intense heat they generated.)

I finally admitted to myself a few weeks ago that it was time get professional help.

I went to Sunny Schick Camera Shop with a collection of my recipes in hand. They helped me get everything I needed to create top-notch photographs with the proper lighting and sharpness at an affordable price.

This recipe contains what I consider to be the first professional-quality photographs I have taken. I think this represents a new era in the creation of my column. The photo quality is that important. I want photographers and food stylists to look at my work and not find any technical fault. The new equipment has helped me achieve that.


Lighting units that replicate sunlight, tripod with extension arm camera-mount and a 14 megapixel camera has helped me significantly upgrade the quality of my photography.




STAND UP COMEDY

Stand up comedy was an essential step for me to write a column. Often I use humor in my column and there is a formula to "writing funny." I learned this through writing jokes for my stand up comedy act. I would more than likely not be doing this column had I not spent three solid years trying to make it as a stand up comic.

I eventually gave it up not because I wasn't funny, but because I didn't have enough hours to commit to being great at it, not with a career as a journalist at the same time. I am one of those people, it's all or nothing. I got into my first comedy club, getting regular spots and believed I had gone far enough, and am very proud that I can say that. It was a TON of work.

I mention the salsa bar at Maui Tacos in the column and the open mic that I attended there. I felt that I should talk more about the stand up because I never went to Maui Tacos for the tacos or salsa. I discovered the food because I went for the comedy. It wasn't until the third or fourth time that I even discovered the salsa bar! I was glad I found it, though, because after I did, I would look forward to scarfing a taco or two after a performance – which were often less than ideal (the performance, not the tacos).

The beginning of stand up comedy is often in downstairs and back-room lounges of bars and restaurants, like Maui Tacos. The first time I attended the open mic at Maui it was run by an old man who literally looked like the living version of the crypt keeper from the Tales from the Crypt TV series -- and fittingly his his jokes were also a horror story. At an open mic there is no club booker putting the best talent on stage. All you needed is five bucks and you get stage time. Often, you had people pretending to do comedy but who were really just doing a cheap therapy session in front of an audience of comedians. There were many comics on the open mic scene in New York who had no interest in a career making people laugh. They were there to relieve the weight of the world by spewing a depressed or often tragic rant about themselves, that quite frankly, wasn't funny at all.

Needless to say, the beginning stages of stand up are not as glamorous as a Comedy Central Presents. Maui Tacos open mic is the true beginning.

THE COLUMN
The recipe was very tasty and could probably as easily be called a relish rather than a salsa. But then I would have no tie to Maui Tacos - and it really is meant to be a salsa and eaten with tortilla chips.

The photography is crisp with great natural colors. I am in awe of what a little professional guidance has produced.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This column represents a lot to me technically and personally. There was a bigger story behind this one, and it has been fun to share.

Eat well, Cook often ...