Thursday, December 21, 2017

Unfinished Blog #2 : TOP GOLF

Okay this one was a bit weird.

What was supposed to be a humorous take on a "stranger in a strange land" type of scenario (aka me in an upscale driving range golf concept, say no more) totally backfired. And it was all my fault.

The nice people at TopGolf sent me an invite to their media night for the new one that just opened in Marana and after I had a few free drinks in me I posted on social media calling the whole event a "wank".

What made it worse is that someone I know got a job there and she had a talking to by the higher ups asking what my comment was all about and, yeah... Not good.

So let me apologize to everyone at TopGolf for being a turd that night. If it helps I was also on the cusp of being sick so I was edgy going in. But still.

Thing is, I had a totally good time. Now, I am not much of a golfer...hold up, let me rephrase that: I AM NOT A GOLFER!, so getting the chance to hang out at a place I would probably not go to voluntarily was really cool. The place is huge. Three levels of bars, driving ranges, restaurants, etc - TopGolf is set up to be a destination for corporate events, parties and general sporty mirth. Oh and is equipped with like 500 humongous 3D plasma screens. Again, not my scene but it is for a lot of people who got the cash.

The food was really tasty. We got to sample rare prime rib, charcuterie boards, cheesy meatballs, amouse bouche bites and dessert balls that you get to inject cream into. All of it was good. But this was just media night fare. The regular menu includes chicken and waffle sliders, flatbread pizzas, brisket grilled cheese sandwiches, a kids menu and best of all...tater tots.

How can I insult a place that serves tater tots? Idiot!

Thing is after my gaffe I'm sure I wont be invited back so if I want to eat that food I'm going to have to go in incognito and, sigh, pay for it myself. Oh the humanity!

But I deserve it. What I should have done is just added an S to that word and the whole thing would have been 'swank'. Then things wouldn't have gotten sticky. Or at least as sticky.

Not to mention but we also got free water bottles as we exited. I insult a place after drinking and eating on their tab alongside getting a gift? C'mon man.

For all my smarts, sometimes I am just not that bright.

Anyway, that said here are the pics I took from the media event and I'm sure you'll get an idea of what you are in store for when you visit TopGolf.

Oh and I  removed all of the posts once I got word that the wank hit the fan. So...we/I got that going for us/me.



Can't go wrong with a meat and cheese board

Bacon with a side of sprouts

Bite sized nibbles

There's a lot of balls at this place

You get to inject cream into these balls

Very Metal

S'long Top Golf!

Eating, Drinking and Not Golfing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Early December, 2017

Metal Influence:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Unfinished Blog #1 : BACON FEST

So this is part 1 of 2 blogs that never got, well...blogged. For some reason (oh I don't know, having a full time day job, writing for the Weekly and trying to be a good husband and cat dad) after I uploaded these pics they just sat there until I realized that, wow, I never did anything with it.

The Bacon Fest happened in mid-November and it is now mid-December so the heat from the competition has pretty much cooled off.

As you know when I Homeskillet I try to get content out as soon as possible but this one lingered so apologies to all that were involved.

To break it all down I had a super awesome time judging this one. Although, honestly, it was a little odd having it start at 2pm and not later in the evening, as they traditionally do, which might account for the Tucson Convention Center being not as packed with people as it could have been or how Bacon Fests of the past usually run. Still! The turnout was good and the food was even better.

As a judge, this one was an endurance test. Myself and the four other judges had to sample 23...23!!!...different dishes that were all infused with bacon.

Not to mention we were also sampling beer from the various local breweries that were in attendance, along with tequila and some whiskey. Hoo doggies were we feeling good!

We had bacon mac and cheese, a pork and bacon Cubano sandwich, bacon ice cream, bacon cake, bacon cotton candy ( heard that correct), bacon wrapped hot dogs and sometimes just bacon. By mid judge I was pretty stuffed and I wasn't even finishing what was placed in front of me. Just tasting, getting the gist. I ate a lot of veggies the night before and the day after and only had some fruit for breakfast that morning to get the belly ready but not content. It was a lot to take in but we did it and when all was said and done I had a freakin' blast.

I'm pretty sure that Cubano sandwich won 'Best Of' because that is exactly what it was: the best. So flavorful, juicy and above all so bacon-y.

I love being a part of the Tucson culinary scene and getting tapped to judge events like this just makes me so happy. This was my last one for 2017 and hopefully 2018 will be chock full of competitive local food awesomeness.

No...I know it will.

2018 will also be a year when I take the Homeskillet into a new direction. It's an ambitious endeavor on my part and was easier when I first started it a few years ago because I had the time. Now that the Tucson Weekly keeps me busy, uploading a minimum of 10 pictures and 1,000 words at least once a week is tough when you're trying to manage life and other responsibilities.

For now just enjoy some of the images from the 2017 Bacon Fest. was porking good.


Chef Gary and his prized pig

Let's get this started

Bacon mac n cheese

This hammy Cubano was the best thing all day

About halfway done, getting full

Bacon whipped cheesecake with candied bacon

We were 20 plates down here...insane

The debacle on the judges table

And the winner is!

Camera, Typing and Eating of all the Bacons
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Novembacon, Swiney17

Metal Influence:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Who Brings a Food Blogger to a Knife Fight?

I totally meant to take more photos but, man, I was having so much fun hanging out with my friends and, well, being a judge that my photo duties kind of took a back seat.

So...apologies for the lack of images.

It happens.

High on fire

The Tucson Knife Fight began in September of this year with 16 local chefs competing for a bodacious trophy, $400 cash and total bragging rights. Think of this as a very long episode of Tucson Chopped where each chef brings a secret ingredient to scare off the other while another unknown ingredient is introduced right before the competition. I was lucky enough to be a judge on the 'final 4' slot where two chefs brought the same secret ingredient (duck hearts), which was pretty funny, and the secret secret ingredient was jackfruit, basically a bigger, spikier version of a mango, and totally sticky too. The competition was really close that night but from the ashes of the semi-finals rose two local kitchen heavyweights to make it to the finale:

Gary Hickey of Charro Steak and Tim Marshall from The Parish.

Oh can cut the tension with a knife.

Huh. I just saw what I did there...

The view from the judges table

Just like the final four the finale was held in the back patio at Martin Drug Co. on Congress. It's really a great space but unlike last time, this event was definitely bigger.

First thing I noticed were all of the flashy DJ lights and lasers and such. Looked like a rock concert or rave rather than a cook off. Plus there was a large screen projecting the action live on the side wall. Very cool. The stage was decidedly higher too putting contestants well above normal head level. They were going all out with this one. I was really impressed.

Not to mention the place was packed, like wall to wall people. So far this was going to be a night to remember...

Chef Mike holding the esteemed trophy

To start things off there was a cocktail competition, ironically enough, between bartenders from The Parish and Charro Steak. While this was going on folks continued to stream in as the two competing chefs began prepping for their big moment. It was at this time that I walked up to the stage to take a place at the judges table.

I was joined by Adam Lehrman from Tucson Foodie, Kate Selby of Edible Baja and, once again, Ben Caballero, executive chef for HUB, which Martin Drug Co. is a part of, whom I judged alongside with for the Final 4.

We were way up there and I kept having to make sure that I didn't slip and careen down the metal stairs because, honestly, we were all drinking and I didn't want to look like a total amateur chump in front of a full house.

But, as doing events such as this before, I began to feel cool so maybe taking a head plunge down would calm my ego just a tad.

Although I'm glad I didn't tumble. We were really high up and those stairs looked sharp.

Chef Gary in full action

Before we knew it the competition was underway. The unfortunate secret ingredient was taro root, which is a root vegetable and kind of tough to deal with. Another culinary monkey wrench was the use of Pate a Choux which is a fluffy dough usually used to make eclairs or beignets.

This is going to be tricky.

Huge cut of meat, cooked perfectly

With all of the lights flashing and host Matt Russell of On The Menu, Live! talking in his usual fast candor, when dishes started to arrive on the table I kind of couldn't hear, or see, what was in them (obviously taro root and Pate a Choux) although I do recall a gnocchi dish where the Pate a Choux stood in for the usual potato. The Pate a Choux was really soft but the sauce and other components were very tasty. I thought the dish worked fairly well.

For me, when I judge, its usually very close as far as scoring is concerned. Unless, of course, something blows my mind or something really sucks. Not going to give anything away but when I did the Margarita Competition there was one drink that was so foul that I gave it my first 1 out of 10. Ugh. It was gross and served warm. C'mon now.

Here though, my scoring was pretty darn close. That is until Gary Hickey brought out this pho platter that totally won me over. It was stunning. In the short amount of time that he had Gary pulled out one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever had in a culinary competition. Tim did great with a huge steak but the taro root was a bit buried. That was my only complaint.

After three or four dishes each we all had our fill, we tallied the votes and one winner was announced.

Who would it be?

This is going to be a close one.

Gnocchi out of Pate a Choux dough? Awesome!

And the winner was...

Gary Hickey of Charro Steak!

Tim gave a great performance and delivered delicious delights but Gary took the grand prize. That pho dish though. Ugh. So good.

Everything, all of good.

Thanks again for letting me judge yet another amazing culinary competition and, hey!, keep 'em coming. If you need a food dork like me on your panel I am that guy.

Looking forward to the next big competition.

Bring it on!


And the winner is...

Eating, Drinking & Judging
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Why is it still hot's November!, 2017

Metal Influence:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

More Cool Sh*t in this Amazing Food Town of Ours

This latest edition comes in two parts, so....bear with me!


Man, it's been quite the culinary odyssey for me lately. Not only has the Weekly kept me busy but also trying to get this blog here updated. That and having a full time day job and a wife and cat,'s kind of a wonder I get anything done at all. 

Thing is autumn is here and that means the snowbirds are slowly coming back, students have arrived, the weather is (sort of) cooling down and the Tucson food scene is heating up. Lots of events, lots of fun stuff and lots and lots of delicious food to be eaten. 

Outside of the normal specials and seasonal dishes happening at local restaurants, there are several goings-on to keep our rich culinary culture alive letting the rest of the world we are the little desert city that could, does and always will be. 

The two that I am featuring here are a recent block party out on by the GUT collective (Gastronomic Union of Tucson) and a margarita throwdown at the El Conquistador resort where I got chosen to be one of the judges! Neat right? 

See...they keep on trying to make me feel cool. C'mon now. 

Anyway, let's get to it shall we?

We shall!

GUT Block Party
On a hot day, a great turnout

On Sunday October 1st, from 3pm - 6pm, at the corner of Broadway and 5th, the GUT cooperative came together to throw an epic block party.

Why? Because why not!

20 chefs from all over Tucson gathered to slow roast four whole hogs and do what they do best: Feed us, impress us and make us all proud to be a part of this amazing city.

It was really warm that Sunday and the little plot of land was packed with patrons and those running the event. Each corner was set up with a pig roast station and beer vendors sat by their side. I first grabbed a cold IPA from Barrio Brewing, chatted with some friends I ran into then began to make the rounds to sample the goods.

Sorry buddy but you are delicious

My first stop was to Michael Elefante of Mama Louisa's. His hog was done porchetta style, meaning it was stuffed with all sorts of porky goodness - sort of like southern dressing in a turkey but gone full Italian. It was glorious. Crispy skin, the meat was succulent and the stuffing was delicious and savory. He paired it with some tender baby potatoes and a garlicky broccoli rabe. All of it collected together extremely well.

I then scooted over to where Mat Cable from Fresco Pizza (who is also one of the head GUTters) was set up. Mat slow smoked his pig overnight which harnessed a very distinct, very campfire-y flavor to the beast. It sort of reminded me of a luau where they bury the pig under ground and just let it do its thing for a day. Loved it.

Mike Elefante, just one of the 20 chefs involved with this event

More cold beer was to be had from new kids Crooked Tooth and Dillinger, who are straight killing it in the local brew scene. And one of my favorites, Pueblo Vida, was there serving what I think was a saison, which was lovely, and quite malty, and helped as the late summer sun was setting yet still a bit impending.

By 5pm the block party was in full swing and I still had two more pigs to try out.

We are here to eat all of it

Obie from the Mountain Oyster Club cooked his in a special roasting box called a 'Caja China', which is pretty popular right now. Apparently it cuts cook time in half but...whatever. Obie's hog was awesome, really crispy and juicy. Maybe I should front the $500 and get myself one of those BBQ boxes. But then...where would I put it? The wife would kill me if I did.

Last to try was from Gary Hickey, head chef at Charro Steak. This man churned his pig on a spit over mesquite wood for several hours. To me, this was a distinct "Tucson" delivery of the product as it wafted of southwestern distinction and flavor. Good job man.

Good job everybody!

Devon (L) and Mat (R) two of the organizers and founders of GUT

The best part for me was seeing so many new and old friends at the block party. The chefs, of course, but then there was Devon Sanner (another GUT master), Andi from the Daily Star, Jackie and Adam from Foodie, Rita Connolly, Bianca Ortiz, Mark Aubrey and, of course, the man that provided everyone with sausage, Tucson's own master butcher in residence Ben Forbes.

So good and it was so good seeing you all.

And thank you chefs for doing all of us proper.

You all rule!

Mass destruction, Tucson style

* * *

World Margarita Championship
Wait, there are two Ts in my...oh never mind

It's not so much because of this blog but more of because I am the food and beverage writer for the Tucson Weekly that I get invited to judge culinary competitions now. But when I walked into the judges room my name (which was misspelled) was over the title of this here blog so...I got a bit confused. Didn't matter. If they want me to rep my blog I will rep it so hard!

First off, it has become quite clear rather quickly that events such as the World Margarita Championship (which was held in Tucson and hosted bars and restaurants....from Tucson - so I guess they mean our 'little desert world', or something) are kind of haphazard. There is a lot of running around, confusion as to what or who goes where - which is probably how my last name went missing a T.

I had difficulty at the check in table as the volunteers had no clue who I was or where to send me. Once I finally made it in, I was escorted into a room equipped with a long judges table along with a black clothed stand that was in front of a dark scrim. I only recognized one of the other judge's name, Devon Sanner, from the Carriage House. Once we were all there one of the organizers gave us a quick run down on how things would go:

Competitors have 3 minutes to make the drink, serve, inform and take questions. We then jot down on a pad our opinion of the drink, rating it from 1 - 10 on things like aroma, taste, garnish and presentation with an overall impression at the end. So we weren't part of the event at all, we were sequestered away from it; a secret panel of food folk about to get hammered.

Judges getting prepped

I have learned real quick to pace yourself when doing food or drink competitions. With this one we were to sample 20, 20!!!, margaritas from various restaurants and bars across southern Arizona. A lady to our left had a timer so when a competitor was at the presentation table she would say "Time starts now", then the margarita folk would do their thing and then the timer lady would say "One minute" which instills last minute panic for the margarita people and then timer lady would yell "Time!" and then margarita dudes and dudettes would have to stop.

The judges also had a spit bucket if they needed. Blecch. Yeah, if you want pro drinkers with palettes and opinions you would think that they could handle a bit of hooch coming their way.

We don't need no stinkin' spit bucket!

Anyway, before long the first competitor walked in and the judging had officially started.

So good when it hits your lips

Thing is, one of the other judges who I know, Andi Berlin, from the Star, wasn't there yet. So as some margarita man was doing his spiel I was texting her going "Where you be at?" and "Dude, it started." She would text back "On my way" or "Just parked" but the lady who, apparently, was in charge of things had already removed Andi's placard and said "Six judges is fine...I'm fine with this." She was kind of uppity.

Finally Andi shows up, sits next to me and I tell her we're on our third margarita. Then weirdly tense in-charge lady comes up to Andi and was all "It's just not fair, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."


So Andi just split. I would. There will be plenty of other events like this to judge so...whatever.

But still.

Some of them were spicy, others were really sweet

I'd say about a dozen out of the 20 competitors paired their drink with a small entree, so we were getting fed as well. Drinking/sampling 20 margaritas on an empty stomach would be brutal. Kinda fun but...holy crap.

By the 10th contestant my little area on the table was jammed with snack plates filled with all sorts of tasty nibbles. There was a decent amount of tacos alongside bacon wrapped shrimp, meats, cheeses, rice dishes and such. By margarita 15 I was pretty full, food wise, but still wasn't getting really buzzed.


My strategy was to use the straws they put in front of us, dip it into the drink, plug up the end then extract it before dabbling a bit of drink on my tongue. This way I get to 'taste' the margarita but not really drink it. Even though lately, as I said in my last Homeskillet blog, I've been holding back a bit if not a lot from my usual drinking habits, I still have a mighty tolerance for booze.

By the halftime mark I was feelin' it without really succumbing to the alcohol. If that makes sense.

Although by drink 18 or 19 I realized the judging was coming to an end and I was totally clear headed so I started to sip a bit deeper getting me a bit more buzzed, which was fun.

Hey. I had a ride home. No worries.


The Gourmet Girls gettin' down

The event was held at the El Conquistador resort out in Oro Valley. Luckily my wife always worries about me when I do stuff like this so she drove me to and from. It's a bit of a trek from our place in mid-town Tucson but I got home safe so...thanks She-Ra!

That would be crystalized ginger going in, thank you very much

Once again, there were a lot of friends out there, some competing, some not, but one thing is for sure the ballroom where the public event was being held was wall to wall people. DJs were spinning dance music and drunk people were gyrating uncomfortably to the beat, food and booze was everywhere and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The judges got a 10 minute break around drink 12 so I had a chance to walk around and take it all in. Tickets were $55 in advance and $70 at the door.


Yeah, sure, there was a lot of drinks and food to be had but...I wasn't convinced that it was worth the $70 door price. Although if you can afford to stay at the El Conquistador then I'm sure a paltry $70 isn't going to stop you from attending a food and booze festival.

Just saying.

Elote margarita? Muy bueno!

Some of my pals that were competing consisted of Mat Cable from Fresco, Rocco from Rocco's Chicago Pizzaria, Michael Elefante from Mama Louisa's and Chris from Pastiche.

Other contestants ranged from Le Rendezvous (who did a Thai chili margarita), Rigo's (that had a agave nectar one with smoked orange and lime), Trident (which offered a kiwi inspired drink), Tequila Factory out in Casino del Sol (that did this passionflower number and was easily the most stunning looking), Cielos at Lodge on the Desert (who did a Cadillac version)  and one of my favorites of the night, the Gourmet Girls made a prickly pear margarita that was a satin purple color and was really tasty.

Man, this judging thing is tough. Not too sure who I wanted to win.

So lovely I almost don't want to...forget that, let's drink!

By 8pm the judging was done. I was really full, not only from the food, but from the amount of sugar I just took in. My usual drink is just decent vodka and soda or seltzer water over ice. Not a huge fan of sugary fruit drinks. But all of the entries were awesome and I was really glad to be a part of the event held by SAACA (Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance) and Tucson Originals. Thank you guys for inviting me!

I texted She-Ra to say that I was done. So the 15-20 minutes it would take her to get me, I made my way around the grand ballroom to check out the action one last time before I left.

After running into people like chef Ryan Clark, chef Tim Moore of Pastiche, chef Wendy Gauthier of Chef Chic and doing a shot of Limoncello with Rocco, my phone buzzed and my ride had arrived.

Once home, I had one drink to calm the sugar buzz, drank some water, washed up and crashed out. Thankfully I woke up the next day feeling just fine. See, you gotta pace yourself.

Little advice from your old pal Metal Mark.

Can you imagine if I had actually finished all the tequila laced drinks they placed in front of me?

I'd be dead. 

Packed house

I didn't stick around to see who won but Fresco Pizza was the judges pick and I can see why. They did this sort of boba tea style margarita with lil' balls of tequila goodness floating in it. So yummy. And the people's choice went to Tequila Factory because not only was it delicious but was really nice to look at too.

Apparently the announcers were so wasted that they thanked a Mary Whittaker for being one of the judges.

Mary. That's good. Kinda wish I stuck around to hear that one.

Can't wait to be a part of another food and booze competition. Hopefully this amazing journey will never end because I am having way too much fun. As long as I have this blog and still contribute to the Weekly I'm pretty sure my time as a Tucson culinary judge will continue.

I sure hope so.


And the winner is!

Eating, Drinking, All Of It
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Early October, 2017

Metal Influence:

Friday, September 29, 2017

And Now For A Very "Special" Tucson Homeskillet

I woke up one morning particularly hazy. 

The night before I imbibed in a new found obsession, mesquite smoked whiskey. Dear lord it is so good. Imagine drinking bacon wrapped in a campfire, one that hits all senses making for a heady discourse of whimsy once the coal rapture gullet burn subsides a bit. 

On top of that, I was also drinking my usual, a vodka soda, a cocktail the wife and I began to embrace when we realized that we enjoyed booze but hated the weight it keeps on our aging bodies. "What do skinny people drink?" Clear alcohol and sugar free mixers. Done. 

I was about two cocktails in when I ordered a sipper glass of the whiskey. To say the least I was feeling very good. Luckily I had the next day off so sleeping in was an option. It always was. Even with my day job, showing up bleary does not prevent me from getting work done. It's a a pretty easy job. It's county work. Being slightly hungover actually makes for a more enjoyable work day. That sounded a bit sad didn't it?

Anyway, as we were getting ready to leave some friends showed up at the bar. We decided to stay a little bit longer. Actually we stayed longer than usual. Us old married folk are normally in our jammers by 9pm, deep into some movie or show we are currently obsessed with and either cooking or eating dinner. One more drink, one more shot. I was at that stage where I was nervous to drive home. Fortunately it is a quick straight shot from our hangout and on very familiar territory so I knew how to juggle the current stage of wobble. 

When we finally got home we had a few more drinks. A show we really love (okay, it's goddam 'Game of Thrones', jeesh) was premiering that night and we were in full celebratory mode. The wife didn't have to get up till 10am so if we were asleep by 2am that's a full 8 hours. Thing is she likes to sleep a minimum of 10 hours so when midnight rolled around and we were well over our limit she went straight to bed. 

Me? I was amped up. After taking a shower, with a drink to boot, I got out, fit in some earbuds and started listening to some music. This went on for another hour or so. Another drink. I was okay, pretty drunk, but cognizant. Time to put on a familiar movie. I opted for "Meatballs", this late '70s summer camp comedy starring a very young Bill Murray. Another drink. I was halfway through the movie and still going. Another drink. I was wasted. I finally finished the movie around 3am, slammed a big glass of water and passed out. 

The alarm went off at 10am, apparently, but I was so fuzzy and still drunk that I thought it was all part of some strained dream my liquored brain was attempting. The wife kissed me goodbye, which shook me awake, said I smelled like booze and wished me a fine day of sleeping it off. Then darkness. I awoke again way past noon and remembered that I had an appointment for an upcoming article I had scheduled for the publication I write for. I was so knackered and nauseous that I emailed my contact with some bullshit excuse saying my camera was on the fritz and we'd have to reschedule. The response was part annoyance, part understanding and I told them I'd visit in a few days. 

Eventually I got up, drank some water - a lot of water - choked down some leftover Indian food and decided to go out to the garden and check in on some herbs that were starting to sprout. The late spring sun was out in full force and the current condition my 46 year old body was going through made it feel as if I was in a surreal sweat lodge and I realized that I wasn't feeling too great. Not at all. 

Deciding to power through it, telling myself over and over that "Well, you did this to yourself", I carried on with my amateur gardening duties. As I leaned down to remove some leaves from a bed of up and coming arugula I began to throw up. The Indian food was one factor in taste and texture of the bile but I also got hints of smoked whiskey as well. The yellowish brown belly spew splashed down on a dirt space between the arugula and a succulent plant my wife plucked from a recent visit to San Diego. It just kept coming out. Towards the end I began to retch, enough where I hoped that a neighbor could not hear me. Or perhaps the opposite: If they heard my strained anguish of booze purge perhaps they would come over and help me and by help I mean hit me with a shovel and take me out for good. Once it was all out I started to feel 'better' but I also felt worse than I have in a long time. 

I lay there on the couch, head spinning and body shaking. I then realized that this isn't even that uncommon of a day for me. I did not want to label myself as an alcoholic. But that is what I have somehow spun into. Which began to scare me. 

It was right then and there that I knew something had to be done. 

The chug king in full action

Growing up in the 70s and 80s when a popular TV show, especially comedies, advertised that next week's episode is going to be a 'very special' one, it usually meant that the subject was going to be heavy - like one of the main characters smokes weed or is touched inappropriately by a bicycle shop owner or the kid next door is abused...stuff like that. The Homeskillet is notoriously not heavy, except for the Metal, which is why I decided to call this post 'special'.

Because its a little heavy.

Me admitting to an alcohol dependency, or at least regular habit, is not easy for me. But it has to be said. I need to type this out and get it out there, even if it only hits a few readers...I don't care. This is for me and helping me halt my drinking to at least a manageable level. I don't want to quit, not right now, because my food writing job keeps me tasting beer, wine and spirits on a fairly regular basis. Heck, I just got tagged to judge an upcoming margarita competition. But I do want it to get down to a very dull roar.

If you know me and the history of this blog, I restarted and refurbished the Homeskillet after a very sad and very trying year to help me cope. In 2014 my step dad (my dad's husband) died from complications of Alzheimer's, then a month later my real dad died, literally from a broken heart, soon after She-Ra's grandmother passed a month or so before we had to put our dog down which was almost immediately followed by our cat getting eaten by coyotes.


2014 sucked.

* * *

The first time I got drunk I was almost 22. I started pretty late, comparatively, because of my self professed 'straight edge' lifestyle I embraced in my teens. Doing drugs, getting wasted and smoking cigarettes just seemed dumb to me. A lot of straight edge kids even abstain from sex but...screw that. All I ever wanted to do was hook up with girls and when I lost my virginity at 16 my straight edge-ness only referred to chemical use.

It was a girl, funny enough, that drove me to try booze for the first time and a close friend that had been dabbling in weekly drunk fests with other small town derelicts. When she broke up with me, seemingly out of the blue, I was seriously bummed. My friend suggested getting a bunch of beer and cheap champagne to try to cheer me up and get her off my mind. It sort of worked. As the night progressed other people joined in and before long it turned into a party. A few hours into it most of the visitors either passed out or just left. Not me. I was wide awake. I stayed up all night finishing the beer and champagne listening to hardcore records and punk EPs. I felt great and was having way too much fun. The sun came up and I drove home but not before grabbing some breakfast. I was wasted but I was young and could handle it.

A little more than 20 years later and my body can not handle that kind of abuse.

In 2014 my casual drinking increased ten fold. I couldn't deal with the sadness; it seemed that every other month a family member was dying. I was barely at work that year and when I was I was distant, not including being totally hungover. My booze fog could always be blamed on the fact that someone else had just passed but in 2015 I had had enough and needed a new outlet.

I contacted a popular food website asking if they needed a writer. They said sure. I turned in 3 articles before realizing our styles just didn't match up and we parted amicably. That same week I turned the old funky Homeskillet blog into the website you see today...which is still a blog but, man, the old style was pretty hokey and amateurish. My goal was to post a full article each week; minimum of 1,000 words and at least 10 pictures. This helped me a lot. And when I got hired in 2016 by a big weekly newspaper my food blogging career really took off.

But the drinking? It remained.

I would try things such as 'one drink per hour' or 'no shots on a school night' but that would fall to crap if I had to cover some culinary event or be at a restaurant opening. And if you're drunk one night and feel like poo the next day well, heck, the only way to feel better is to have some more drinks! Sure I felt like garbage most days, my gut had become this bulbous extremity and I was getting absolutely no personal work done but, hey!, that's just how it goes right?

How many mornings did I say to myself in the bathroom "Someday I'll feel good"? Too many. So when the day came and losing donuts in your garden on a beautiful spring afternoon I knew that I had reached my limit.

So to speak.

Just can't get enough, so good when it hits your lips

So far the cutting back in the drinking has proved totally awesome.

We drink enough, like 2-3 cocktails (if that), to relax and get a buzz but then if we start to feel a bit woozy we stop, take a big drink of water and read until we fall sleep. Sounds boring but when you reach a certain age and you've been doing it for a while, and quite furiously, it's nice to just be an old dullard.

Because of my full time day job, part time food writing and having a wife and life I realized that I haven't actually finished a book in over a year. That's dumb for a guy that prides himself on being a bit of a bookworm and, well, a writer, but my new found 'sobriety' has cured that.

My sleep state dreams have gotten back to being full on epic again now that I am not passing out at night. Which I love. If there is anything that I am really addicted to it'd be dreaming. Some mornings I would find myself sleeping way past my normal 8 hours because the more I sleep the crazier my dreams become. And speaking of sleeping, when I wake up now I am not nauseous or murky and when I go check on the garden I do not have the inclination to vomit in it. Which is always a plus.

And this is a big one for me: my morning appetite is back! I haven't made myself a proper breakfast before work in, like...forever. We're talking eggs, toast, maybe a heaping bowl of good oatmeal, a bagel with veggies and cream cheese. It has been a red hot minute since that has happened. And I like breakfast. Nope, scratch that: I fxxking love breakfast!

I find myself to be in a better mood throughout the day and, you know, I always prided myself on being a fairly pleasant person. I'm more focused on my writing and articles and projects get done with clarity and aplomb. Which is great. Plus another positive factor is that I am a cheaper date these days. It doesn't take a flagon of hooch to get me where I need to be. Just a couple here and there and, boom, I'm done. It's honestly not that hard. I just have to keep reminding myself on the days I would wake up and wish that I were dead because I was still drunk or the hangover was seriously settling in. It's just not fun anymore.

All of my friends that I used to get tanked with are all grown up, moved on, married with kids. I'm pretty sure they have quelled the alcohol beast because they have more important things to tend to. Like raising a frikkin' human. The only difference between us and them is that the wife and I do not want kids...and that is probably a factor for our debauchery; its just us. Just us and a cat. The cat doesn't care if we get faced as long as her bowl is full and her litter box is clean. After that she's just "Whatever whatever you want. Idiots."

On top of feeling generally better my stomach feels decidedly less bloated. Sure its still there and firmly middle aged firm but I can at least suck in the gut when I need to and sort of see my rib cage.

Sort of.

Now that the weather is getting less surface of the sun hot I plan on using my trainers to go on nightly walk/runs and even found an online workout program for guys my age and condition. I'm starting to feel good again. All I had to do was just tone it down a bit, show some restraint and grow up just a little more.

It's been too long and I just want to get back to the fairly sane and sober person that I have always been. Sane meaning not blitzed out of his head most nights - it takes a certain self obsessed maniac to want to type furiously about your life and how you feel about food - so I got that going for me. I just like feeling like the old Mark again and this is something I can really get used to.

Although I do crave that mesquite smoked whiskey now and then. But I'll have to save that for a special occasion. And definitely not on a school night. For sure.

Thanks for reading...

This happy kid, many years before taking his first drink

Telling it like it is
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
First Week of Autumn, 2017

Metal Influence: