Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Fun

The Sights, Sounds and Smells of Christmas

Our 2018 Christmas Tree
Our 2018 Christmas Tree

Today is Christmas Eve and before the house is engulfed with all the smells that accompany this day, I’m here writing my blog reminiscing about the years gone by. There’s been 50 of these holidays, so the flood of memories is many. The Christmas Eve’s with the entire family at my Aunts, the adults in the kitchen laughing, the teenagers in the basement doing what they did and the rest of us noisily running everywhere else.  As the years have merrily lumbered by, the holiday traditions of old being replaced by new ones as we move and began our own families. But as I look back on our holiday fun the more I realize these new ones aren’t really all that different.

The Sights of Christmas

Growing up we, like everyone else, we had a Christmas tree complete with stings of multi-colored lights along with a few manger scenes scattered about. However, one of our highlights as a kid was when Mom & Dad would take us down Skyline Drive where there was a house decorated up with so many lights and decorations, Clark Griswold would be envious. Nothing has much changed as I’ve gotten older. Our family tree still has multi-colored lights although they are controlled by our phones and we still make the journey to a Griswold style house. However, living in central Florida, we may not have snow or cold weather, but the parks brighten the night skies with Christmas decorations. One of our favorites is SeaWorld’s Sea of Christmas Trees.

The Sounds of Christmas

I remember getting on the old school bus our church owned making our way from house to house of the shut-ins and seniors for Christmas caroling year after year. A couple years Mom even gathered a few of our neighborhood buddies and got us to go neighbor to neighbor to sing, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. In addition to the holiday songs were the laughter of us kids as we romped and played at my grandparents, perhaps we were even a little too rambunctious on occasion. Now days Christmas caroling has been replaced by my iPod as it plays A Rat Pack Christmas, On Demand Christmas channels on TV and the trek to Epcot at Disney World for the Candlelight Processional. This year the sounds of Christmas will harken back to the Christmases of 1995 and 1999 when there were baby sounds around the tree, which is really the best sounds of all this time of year.

The Smells of Christmas

Aromas have a way of inviting people into a home (it’s the holidays so let’s just focus on the inviting aromas, if we can please) or awakening the kids as they waft through the house. The sweetness of pumpkin pies or carrot cakes. The roasting smell of the turkey as it mingles with the season filled stuffing whetting the appetite as we wait for Mom to call us to the table. Although Mom has gone, her memory is still here with the desserts, at least some of them, being prepared by her protégé, my daughter, Rebecca. These various smells of Christmas still permeate each corner of the house as the whole family pitches in to compliment the old aromas with new smells which will soon fall into the lore of Christmas’ gone by.

The sights, sounds and smells of Christmas are what make this season extra special. It brings back the memories of those who’ve gone on to see the King of kings and allows us to retell those stories as we create new traditions. So this Christmas season, spend a moment to take in all the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Stocking hung with care along the wall because I live in Florida and don't need a fireplace
Stocking hung with care along the wall because I live in Florida and don't need a fireplace

The Core of Cooking

Performing while cooking

It wasn’t until Joey and Michele Rusek sent me a pic of Michele cooking a dessert ancillary on her chimney with the caption, “inspired by Vic” and I responded to with #ChimneyCartel and a “LOL” (I would’ve put a laughing emoji but I’m still learning this young hipster stuff). However, this got me to thinking about cooking and the fun one can have doing it. Honestly speaking, this is why I started because it was supposed to be fun, the way it was as kid when I’d stand on a chair to help my mom. So in this spirit the Chimney Cartel was born. So, I’ve come up with three core values which, for me, has become my cooking and comedy mantra and is at the heart of the Chimney Cartel and really, cooking in general.

  1. Cooking should be experimental. Have you ever had a cook make a beeline to you with a fork and a dish as they holler, “Here, try this.” Almost before you have time to swallow they ask, “Whatta think?!” With all the times I’ve had this happen it’s a wonder I’m not the size of a house, good thing I go to the gym (it’s in the same lot as the pizza joint). Experimentation should be what cooking is all about. It’s with these experiments of trial and error you learn to put spices together, expand your skill set and overcome any fears or apprehensions you may have. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but a day without learning is a wasted day. It’s exciting to walk into the mysterious then come out with something amazing. The great example of this is when Thomas Edison was confronted with all the times his lightbulb experiments failed to which he responded, he hadn’t failed, he just learned a bunch of ways it wouldn’t work. Become a student of cooking.
  2. Cooking should be a teaching opportunity. I’m a teacher at heart but not a fan of the traditional classroom which is I never really enjoyed being a college professor. When I’m performing, I enjoy helping the younger new comics with a joke, their stage presence or with some frustrations which come with the business, it’s just what I do. When I’m at a competition or teaching a BBQ class I look at it as an opportunity to instill passion in others then cultivate it to the point the students become the teachers. For this I harken back to the days when I was just a kid, when many of us were just kids, learning from our parents and grandparents. Licking the beater (especially when mom turned it off) was a reward for all of our hard work in baking a cake or making a pie. What was really happening is, Mom was instilling in me and my brother a love for cooking like she had. I watched her encourage my daughter who is now a pastry chef. This occurred because she wasn’t too busy to be a teacher.
  3. Cooking should be fun. This one phrase is at the root of not only the Chimney Cartel but should encompass any cooking endeavor we undertake. You’ve seen them at competitions, haven’t you? Taking it so serious, they alienate themselves from other competitors and fans. It’s my contention that cooking can be done to perfection while having fun doing it. The great thing I’ve learned about fun is, it’s contagious, which can provide for you the opportunities to be a mentor and drive experimentation. When passersby watch you having fun with food, then maybe they’ll give this cooking thing a try. My mantra for the most part is, “If it ain’t fun, then why do it?”

Before you hop on Facebook to join the Chimney Cartel (like all the other cool kids) turn those three pillars in questions to ask yourself. Are you willing to be experimental (learn stuff) when it comes to cooking? Are you willing to be a teacher (mentor) to all those who come to you for knowledge? Are you having loads of fun cooking? If you can answer yes to each of these, then you’re not only ready to become a member of the Chimney Cartel but more importantly, ready to be a great pitmaster, grill master and cook.

Speaking about communication

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