Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Uncategorized

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 Now days Christmas caroling has been replaced by my iPod as it plays A Rat Pack Christmas, On Demand Christmas channels on TV and the trek to Epcot at Disney World for the Candlelight Processional.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

A Concert of Flavor

Layering flavors on a turkey for a holiday

This is a fun time of year especially if you enjoy wrapping paper, crowded stores and countless cookies to bake. As you sit here reading this, thoughts of what you have yet to accomplish during this final Christmas week race through your mind. You have questions about everything from the dinner menu items to stocking stuffers to the amount of invisible tape you have left. In the midst of all of this there’s the last minute family drop-ins,Christmas parties you “just have to go to,” then add in the Christmas caroling and/or Christmas Concerts to attend, which I go to be present for tonight.

I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my time including everyone from George Jones to Marvin Hamlisch. But tonight’s 10-person choir was at the very least, impressive. The five men had a vocal range of high tenor all the way to bass and the bass singer was a Barber Shop Quartet winner. Then there were the five women singers with ranges of soprano to low alto which I didn’t even know was a thing. If you ever get a chance to hear the Voices of Liberty at Disney’s EPCOT don’t pass it up because they will knock your socks off with their talents.

If you’ve ever listened to a well-trained vocal group whether it is a choir like I heard tonight or a quartet, then you’re probably like me and impressed with how they layer their voices together. Each voice so different from a high soprano to deep bass with everything in between and they sing in a way one voice doesn’t stand out above the other. Just when you think you can hear the baritone its blended in with the others, yet not masking or overwhelming it but rather complimenting it. Apparently this is called harmony and what a great harmony this group had tonight which resulted in a well-deserved standing ovation.

As I sat there listening to what could only be described as remarkable, I began thinking about food, more specifically about how we season our food. With every meal there’s a teaspoon of this and a pinch of that along with a choir full of other great stand-alone spices which, when brought together, should be sweet music to the taste buds. Just like sitting there tonight listening, if I concentrate I can pick out the individual “flavor” but it isn’t long until the collective takes over again which is far more satisfying. This is exactly how layering flavors should be after all, a savory chorus of seasonings coming together for the perfect bite. My buddy, Eric Hodson, a World Champion Steak cook says it this way, “I don’t want my flavors to be offensive to your taste buds.” He works hard at blending the right amount of pepper with the right amount of salt with the right amount of his signature rub, White Lightening, to come up with just the right bite.

With the holidays upon us along with the myriad of cooking we’ll be doing, pay special attention to the seasonings, allow them to bring sweet flavorful music to your tongue. Blend your spices like a well-chosen choir about to perform their greatest concert, because this Christmas (which is only 8 days away, in case you hadn’t thought about it) you will have a spread only rivaled by the one you prepared a month ago for Thanksgiving. Then once the meal is complete and your guests have loosened their pants to take an after meal nap, if you should hear, “WOW, everything sure did taste great!” take your bows because you deserve them for you, my friend, were the director of this concert of flavors.

The Hotter, Longer and Cleaner Burn

My alligator presentation

Recently I was out cooking an alligator (I live in FL and it’s what I do) and decided I needed to do one of my Facebook Live Friday’s. I started off wanting to show everyone what I was up to with this cook while plugging some of the rubs I was using (check out the B&B Rubs as well as the rubs from fellow B&B Ambassadors). In the course of this theatrical masterpiece I recreate each Friday, I began to plug my go-to fuel for such a cook, B&B Charcoal Char-logs and kiln dried wood, when the tag-line hit me, as for the very first time (sounds like a line from a song). It wasn’t the actual first time I’d read it of course, as a matter of fact, I’d used this tag-line as a “selling”point to others when they ask why I use B&B.

Today I was about to load an alligator onto my smoker which was the very first time I’d cooked something like this and when you have such an undertaking you want something you know to be reliable in the fire box. To add more pressure on this first time cook, this meat was to be the main course for the dinner party I was having and it was going to take somewhere between 10-12 hours at a steady 225 to 250 degrees. This is when I understood the B&B Charcoal tag-line was more than just a promotional tool, it was the “why”I rely on this fuel for all my cooks.

The Hotter Burn

Did you know you could cook a top 10 steak on a just a starter chimney and Grill Grates? You can when you have about 25 B&B Charcoal Briquettes in your chimney (this may vary depending on the weather) and yes I’ve counted them. I’ve gotten my cooking surface up to about 700 degrees doing this, which is a great cooking temperature for a perfect steak. Whether it’shot and fast for a steak or low and slow for my alligator, a pitmaster knows it’s about fire control. This requires a hot set of coals which will form the base,especially for a long cook, which brings us to the next part of the tag-line.

The Longer Burn

I remember standing around a couple years ago at the NBBQA celebrity steak cook-off when we marveled at how long the B&B Charcoal was burning.If memory serves correctly, four different cooks used the same set of coals and they were still hot after the awards ceremony. This alligator was going to need a charcoal that would stay hotter longer so B&B is the obvious choice. Having a longer burn tends to help on the attention given to the fire. Although a pitmaster knows to pay attention to the fire, having a coal with a longer burn allows for less feeding of the fire to keep the same temperature and with proper management, it saves money.

The Cleaner Burn

For most outdoor cooks the fire they use is more than just a cooking fuel, it’s another layer of flavor and the choice of what to use is crucial for success. Is it for color or sweetness or just a mild smoky flavor?Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t over power the meat (or veggies) on the cooker and this is where B&B comes in with the all-natural wood. This is a relief because as ever live fire cook knows, whatever is in your fuel makes its way into your food. What this means for you is, your food will taste better, be healthier because there’s no foreign substances and its good for the environment.

The next time you pick up a bag of B&B Charcoal and you read the tag-line hopefully you’ll read it again as more than just a promotional tool, but as a promise. A promise that your cook will have a hotter, longer and cleaner burn. Oh, but how it tastes will be up to you but I’m sure it will be terrific.

The Chimney Cartel – A place of purpose

Like many school age kids, I hated school. At least this is what I told people when the subject came up. But in reality, I enjoyed many aspects of school. I enjoyed going to school although I didn’t appreciate the time I had to get up to get there. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and the fun we had, I even enjoyed some of my teachers along with the classes they taught. I enjoyed English class even when we had to diagram sentences or read a literature piece in front of class. I enjoyed my shop class, small engine repair and auto mechanics classes, where I got my hands on something to work with. I even like the reading assignments where I had to read McBeth, not to mention being introduced to Poe and Hemingway.

However, in school I learned so much more than just the “Three R’s.” I learned to get goals accomplished it begins by rising early. I learned how to interact with my peers as well as my superiors (my teachers). Looking back I can see the course of my career was being laid out early on because what I enjoyed is still what I do today, like writing (thus this blog), reading and speaking. As I’ve gotten order I’ve taken a side road here and there on my life’s journey but it I always find my way back to writing, teaching, and speaking. Which brings me to the Chimney Cartel.

A Place to Teach

I’ve been fortunate learn cooking from the school of Mom’s kitchen as well as hang out with world champion Pitmasters. They have taken me in teaching me tricks and tips elevating my skills to a whole different level. This has allowed me to win more contests (finishing Top 10 at the World Food Championships) and more food fans in my neighborhood when I have a dinner party. So when I began the Chimney Cartel as a joke, I soon began to realize this could be a place where cooks can me a mentor to others. So now days, I take the time to teach others how they can be a better cook in their sphere of influence.

A Place to Learn

A great teacher never knows it all but always seeks to try. What this quote is alluding to is in order to be a better teacher, you never stop being a student. I was watching a buddy of mine the other day teach a class on prepping ribs and just when I thought I was doing ok wit this piece of meat, Eric taught me something new. Sometimes what you learn is small or it can be life changing. Another aspect I decided would be a part of the Chimney Cartel would be learning. Not only are tips and tricks shared but questions can also be asked without feeling stupid. In my years of teaching this is the one constant, students are afraid of asking a stupid question. In the Chimney Cartel, when it comes to wanting to learn, there are no stupid questions.

A Place to Have Fun

The one thing I remember about school is the fun I had being there. Don’t get me wrong, some of the classes where soooo boring and when I would get in trouble, this wasn’t much fun. But overall, I had a blast at school. I enjoyed some of my classes but most of all I enjoyed hanging out with my friends telling stories, skipping an occasional class and the football games. This is the what I am hoping the Chimney Cartel becomes as well. A place where it’s fun when we hang out not only at competitions but even here in the cyber world. If anyone knows anything about me is, if I’m not having fun doing something, I don’t want to do it. This is not the case with the Chimney Cartel, this is the place we all can joke and enjoy our common ground, cooking especially over a live fire.

This once a joke of a title will now have purpose as we seek to teach and learn from one another all while having a blast doing it.

Day Dreamer

Ralph Phillips holding up a submarine in his day dream

Growing up, as most kids, I loved cartoons. Bugs Bunny was and still is my favorite but there was another series of cartoons I always enjoyed staring a character named, Ralph Phillips. Are you familiar with him? Perhaps you aren’t by name but if you’re my age and looking him up on YouTube then you’ll surely remember. He was the “Day Dreamer.” Through each of his day dreams, even while in math class, his dreams focused Ralph being a heroic adventurer. Ralph dreamed of being a boxer, a sailor and a pilot who captures aliens wishing to take over the world. He even saved his parents from cannibals. Indiana Jones wishes he was Ralph Phillips.

Many people identify with Ralph in the day dreaming aspect. They sit in math class and dream of sword fighting the number 5 (this isn’t one of your dreams?). Perhaps you sit around dreaming about what you would do with the millions you would get if you won the lottery. Maybe you look at the person or people you admire and dream about being as successful as them. In Ralph’s dreams, they seemed so real, they were real, to him at least. How many of you husbands have awaken next to your wife who was because of something you did in her dream? Dreams are so amazing because they seem so real, authentic and you can be anyone you want to be in your dreams.

I like to think Ralph grew up and became a great adventurer in Toon Town but this is when dreams meet reality. This is often when the dreams stop however and punching the proverbial clock enters the picture. Your dreams have produced great ideas which often have you excited when you awake but then you shower drive to the job you hate and once again the dream is lost. A lot of factors go into this lost world and I believe once we discover what those areas are then changes, positive changes, can be made and dreams can become a reality.

Passion is a big part of turning a day dream into a day job. This is how I feel about communication and cooking. These days I get to combine the two passions into one big dream. I’ve been speaking, teaching and writing for years but now I add in the cooking aspect, specifically outdoor cooking. However, if you lack passion then your dream will surely stay just that, a dream.

Preparation is the first step in bringing any dream from the subconscious world into the real world.  When I was in college all I could think about was standing in front of an audience to impart knowledge and motivation. But I don’t give any speech without studying the subject, the company and making a list of everything I may need for any given presentation. This, however, takes effort and if you’re not willing to put in the time then your dream will stay on the pillow.

Patience is one of the most important aspects of taking your dream from the fantasy to the fantastic. This is also the most frustrating part of moving forward with this great idea you’ve got. I’ll be honest with you, this is my least favorite but I’ve come to learn this is when the I begin to see the big picture of my dreams. This is hard for some people because many just want the success now or faster. If you don’t learn to pace your dreams with patience, then they will be doomed to the dreamland of your mind.

I hope our star, Ralph Phillips, learned these three prongs of turning a dream to reality because I would just hate to think he left those adventures for someone else to have. The same is what I hope for you, make your dreams come true and live your adventure.

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