BBQ Inspiration

In some of my previous posts, I mentioned that my husband and I were thinking of opening up a Texas BBQ restaurant in Lone Pine. Well, we are moving forward with our plans and one of the first steps in the process is the purchase of a commercial grade smoker for residential use so I can practice smoking meats and getting our meat recipes perfected. As you can see my smoker is gorgeous. I can smoke six 12-15 lb. briskets or smoke different meats at once for different amounts of time.



In addition to the meats, Lauren and I will be working on perfecting the side dishes. Our BBQ restaurant will have Texas style meats but we must have California sides. So for the next couple of months, we will be testing recipes for Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, BBQ beans and corn bread. Not sure how we are going to minimize our weight gain from this venture but we will try.

There is another inspirational development in our plans that came about from our Austin BBQ crawl a couple of months ago. Mike who lives in Lone Pine and will be our Pit master for the restaurant, contacted Wayne Mueller of Louis Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Texas and asked him if it would be possible to spend some time interning with him to learn how to properly smoke meat. Wayne was very receptive and told him it would probably take about 4 months to become proficient at it and he would definitely take the time to teach him. This is a major coup in our learning curve about cooking Texas BBQ because Louis Mueller BBQ is one of the preeminent
BBQ places in the country. We are going to ship one of the Commercial Smokers we are purchasing for the restaurant to Taylor, Texas so that Mike can learn on that equipment under the expert tutelage of Wayne Mueller. So with Mike’s BBQ education, my meat smoking practice and Lauren’s and my perfection of our side dishes, we should be ready to open the restaurant in early summer.

Having said that, Lauren and I have made the decision to take a short break from writing posts for the blog so we can concentrate on the restaurant needs and also continue to improve the design of our blog to make it more appealing to our readers. So please check back with us in a few months, when Lauren and I will have more cooking, travel and discovery posts to share.

The BBQ Whisperers

During our BBQ crawl in Austin a couple of weeks ago, we came across a couple of individuals who I would categorize as BBQ whisperers. They were passionate about BBQ and both of them took time to speak to us about their product and methods of cooking and gave us some pointers about opening a Texas BBQ place of our own. They also visited the dining rooms in their restaurants to speak to their customers and find out how they were liking what they were eating.

Franklin Barbecue

Franklin-signThe first BBQ expert we came across in our research was Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.


He started his establishment five years ago in a travel trailer turned BBQ stand and focused on producing the best BBQ brisket possible. In 2011 he and his wife moved their operation to a brick and mortar location and have built their BBQ empire into what is considered the best barbecue in the country. They have a cult following and every day have a line of eager customers around the block who wait in line up to five hours to get a taste of Franklin brisket. After my husband and I waited for 3 1/2 hours to eat, Aaron graciously showed us around his smokehouse, introduced us to his Pitmaster and enthusiastically encouraged us to pursue our dream of opening up a Texas BBQ restaurant.


From what I have gathered in my additional research, Aaron Franklin is an expert at using Social Media to grow his business and keep his cult following growing. He said that he currently cooks 85 briskets a day and is adding another custom built smoker to bring that quantity up to 100 briskets. Every day Franklin Barbecue opens at 11:00 am and by 1:30 is sold out of brisket.

Louie Mueller Barbecue


The next most inspiring BBQ master we met in Taylor Texas, was Wayne Mueller. He is one of the Grandsons of Louie Mueller and the most ebullient BBQ master I have ever met.

Louie Mueller

His establishment is where all the great Pitmasters including Aaron Franklin have been trained and after meeting with him and talking with him about barbecue, I can understand why. Louie Mueller is the only Barbecue restaurant included in our research that has won a James Beard award which is proudly hung on a wall by the ordering counter.


While we were eating, Wayne came over to our table and answered all of our questions about his cooking methods and talked to us about learning how to cook brisket. He said that he thinks of each brisket as one of his children and understands that each one has different needs. So he cooks each one according to what that need is. It was entrancing to hear him speak so passionately about barbecue. We were so inspired by Wayne Mueller, our restaurant manager came up with the idea of asking Mr. Mueller if he could intern at his establishment for a month to learn about cooking barbecue. I’ll keep you informed about how that goes.


Whenever I feel I need a dose of inspiration and I have extra time on my hands, I will tune into TED and listen to or watch one of their short audio or video sessions of an expert talking about some world problem and their solution for it or someone presenting a theory about a topic that makes me think. TED is devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). It began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. TED is owned by a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation. Their agenda is to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation.

Here are some of my favorite TED talk gurus and my comments about each:

Amy Cuddy
She is a Social Scientist who has a theory that body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. She demonstrates how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

(I can tell you that I have stood in front of the mirror and practiced this power posing and it works.)

Simon Sinek
He has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” He explores how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change. His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

(I have first hand experience with this kind of leadership, in my former life as a Corporate Marketer.  I had a boss who was a very inspirational person and when he spoke, he had a profound affect on everyone in the company from the top partners of the firm to the mailroom guy.)

Dan Gilbert
He is the author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” a book that is considered to be one of the 50 key books in Psychology. It challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned. Gilbert’s central thesis is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy.

(This concept was powerful to me because I tend to be a pessimist and can let myself imagine the worst scenarios for the future)

Brené Brown
She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
Her talk is about How we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?  Also how we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

(This is a theory worth embracing for us perfectionists who didn’t get a lot of nurturing as children)

I listen to TED talks on NPR while I am driving and also on my iPad.  Even though it is only about 20 minutes, a TED talk helps me think about the bigger problems and issues in the world rather than focusing on my own little world.

Fear Factor

I believe facing your fears makes you a stronger person by building up your self esteem and helping you overcome dealing with the fear of a lack of control. For us control oriented people that is a big one. That is how I became a scuba diver even though water was an element I never felt comfortable in because I never really learned how to swim properly. The other problem I have in the water is I don’t float very well which I believe is due to my inability to feel comfortable in the water. When I was getting certified to scuba dive, one of the things we had to do was tread water in the deep end of the pool for ten minutes which I could not do. As a result I didn’t get my certification until I had made three dives which I was able to accomplish because I wore a buoyancy compensator that helped me stay afloat.

Another one of my fears is of heights. So of course when my Husband asked what I wanted for one of my big birthdays, I said a skydiving lesson. Fortunately he bought me one that didn’t expire because it took me 6 months to build up the nerve to take the lesson. The day of my jump, I was very anxious but I just kept reminding myself how great I was going to feel after it was over. My Sisters met me at the course so they could take pictures and after a short review with the skydive school about what to expect during our jump, we got suited up.


My first jump was a tandem one and I was introduced to my jumping partner, a young man who immediately put me at ease. There were about 10 of us jumping out of the plane and after getting to 14,000 feet in the air, our jumping partners, who wore the parachute, hooked up to our backs with the harness we wore and each of us moved closer to the open plane hatch to get into position to exit the plane. When the jump light turned green, my partner told me to lean my head back and we launched. The feeling as I soared through the air at 120 miles per hour is indescribable.


The instructor tried to do some free fall maneuvers but I was feeling a little nauseous and asked him to stop which he did. I was losing all sense of time during my jump but after only about 60 seconds of a high adrenaline free fall, my instructor tapped me on the shoulder to pull the cord and activate my parachute. The parachute deployment had a big kickback which I wasn’t prepared for but I was able to overcome the discomfort immediately as I looked down and saw the ground coming closer and I just prayed that I was going to land on my feet and it wouldn’t hurt.


I landed on my butt and it was incredibly smooth. After it was over all I could do was just sit on the ground for about 15 minutes and bask in how great the experience was and the incredible accomplishment of facing another fear.

Lone Pine Here We Come

My life is beginning to feel like a Green Acres sitcom.  About 6 months ago, we were thinking of buying another condo in Mammoth to take Grandkids skiing. While looking for properties, my husband came upon a couple of commercial properties in Lone Pine which is about 2 hours south of Mammoth. We went up to look at them and they turned out to be dogs. However while we were driving out of town, we saw a For Sale sign on an empty lot next to McDonalds in Lone Pine that had a fantastic view of Mt. Whitney which is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. It was relatively inexpensive so we bought it with the no idea what we would do with it. At the same time, my husband told the Real Estate agent who was working with us that if other commercial property came available, please call us. About a week later, she calls and says that the owner of the building her office is in came in and wants to sell the whole building which includes 3 commercial spaces and 9 residential units and if we want it, we can avoid the listing fees. We jumped at the offer and became landlords in Lone Pine. Fortunately, we had a good friend who wanted to relocate to a place like Lone Pine and he said he would move up there and manage our properties. About a month later, we heard about another commercial property that might be coming on the market and we talked to the owner and persuaded him not to list it with a broker to save the listing fees and we bought it.

We didn’t have a clue what we were going to do with this building or the lot yet but we soon realized that we would be spending more time in Lone Pine while we were figuring it out and started to look for a place to live in so we wouldn’t have to rent Motel rooms every time we went up there. We also needed a place for our two dogs to roam. My husband heard through the grapevine that there was a unique property for sale that included a two bedroom house on an acre of land and it was for sale by owner. He looked at it and called me and told me about it and I went up the next weekend to see it and fell in love with it as much as he did. We offered the owners full price and closed escrow on it last month. The house sits on an acre of land that is surrounded by a private cattle ranch and there isn’t anything else around. Everywhere you look from the windows of the house is a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. We wake up every morning to the mooing of cows and about 40 of them congregating along our fence for shade.



If this environment isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is. The only thing is, I am considering giving up eating beef and maybe becoming a vegetarian altogether. I just can’t fathom looking at these beautiful animals and eating them. I haven’t given up meat entirely but my desire for beef has definitely waned. In the meantime, my husband and I are considering building a Texas BBQ on the empty lot we bought. I know that sounds contrary to my recent meatless contemplations but just because I don’t want to eat meat doesn’t mean I can’t cook it and serve it to others. So I will keep you posted on the progress of my new BBQ cooking journey.

My Cooking Journey

Chef-pictureI learned to cook at my Aunt Grace’s direction. She was not a gourmand but a pretty good home cook. She loved to bake and she would let me bake my own pies. I remember eating very hearty meals for dinner like pot roast and fried chicken. When I was first married and had children, I liked to cook but didn’t really have the money or time to explore new kinds of cooking techniques and relied on what I had learned as a little girl from my Aunt. Later when my kids were older and I was working full time, our meals were convenience based. Something I could pull together in 30 minutes. It wasn’t until my husband and I became empty nesters and I quit work that I started collecting cookbooks, watching food channels and got inspired to become a better cook and learn more about food. I gravitated to ethnic cuisine and especially loved cooking Indian food. When Lauren and I decided to attend Culinary school, it was a dream come true. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the skills but I was so happy to go to class and learn how to cook things I had only watched someone else prepare. After school ended, Lauren and I toyed with the idea of opening a Gourmet takeout but soon realized that we couldn’t devote the time we needed to get something of that nature started and it would interfere with our dedicated retirement.  Lauren and I practice our cooking skills by getting together whenever we can to cook something out of our comfort zone.

Lauren & I

I also put my gourmet skills to use for my Family Night dinners and any social gatherings I have the opportunity to host. My husband and I are planning to start a Gourmet Hamburger spot in a community we have been making a lot of investments in lately which I will be blogging about in the future. I will detail every step of the process as we start putting the plan in motion to open the restaurant. So my cooking journey, while not exactly linear, continues.

A Miraculous Journey

photo-3A very good friend of mine, Barbara Carole, recently wrote and published a book titled Twelve Stones: Notes on A Miraculous Journey  – A Memoir.  It is an inspiring account of her life and spiritual journey to becoming a Christian.  Now that in itself is not that remarkable, however Barbara was born a Jew.  She details all the events in her life some of them pretty gritty that influenced her decision to change her faith.  I was fascinated to read her story not only because I know her but because it is a good read and an honest and revealing account of my friend’s life much of which I did not know about.  Barbara and I met while I was working in the corporate world and we maintained a friendship after our lives transitioned into other areas.  She has always been a source of support for me and someone I have turned to for advice during troubled times in my life.  After reading her book, I had a deeper understanding of who my friend was and as a result, I felt much closer to her.  Even though we may not speak to each other that often, primarily because of geographic distance and family responsibilities, when we do connect, it feels like we just pick up where we last left off.  Below is a description of Twelve Stones which is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.  I hope you read it and are inspired as I am by my friend’s very interesting life.

Twelve Stones is the story of Barbara Ilaynia, a secular Jew who worships Art and Romance, who tries to unravel the meaning of existence and make every moment a masterpiece. She lives and loves with passion, though not always with wisdom, in Parisian garrets and in Moroccan villages, in the light of Southern France and in sunny California. While embracing the drama of life and inhaling the fragrance of flowers along her path, her search is sometimes misguided by intensity and misled by intellectualism. At the zenith of her quest, Barbara discovers something even more meaningful than truth: She encounters the Source of love. Her life changing confrontation with God transforms a strong willed, sensual, tough minded individualist . . . and then her real journey begins. This book is Barbara’s altar of remembrance, built from the stones she has pocketed along her winding path. She builds this altar to honor the God of miracles.


Doing it Pro Bono

After I retired from the corporate world, I tried to find something interesting to do that utilized my business skills and gave me an opportunity to give back.  I volunteered at various non-profit organizations with missions I believed in.  But invariably my volunteer role was relegated to answering phones, stuffing envelopes and general grunt work that the paid employees didn’t want to do or didn’t have the time to do.  One day over lunch, I was lamenting to a friend about my volunteer void and she suggested an organization that was perfect for using my marketing skills and would certainly be happy to have someone with my work background.  The name of the organization is Taproot and it’s mission is to help non-profit organizations of a certain size conduct and complete marketing and management projects that otherwise would require hiring the services of high priced consultants.   Taproot brings people together who have business marketing and management backgrounds to work on projects such as brochure production, key messaging and identity campaigns, annual reports, board selection and training, human resources projects and logo and website designs.  According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Taproot is one of the top five nonprofit organizations worthy of volunteering for.

I have completed 4 Taproot projects and am working on my fifth.  Each project requires about 100 hours spread out over a 6 month period so it isn’t that stressful or demanding.


The really interesting thing for me is to have the opportunity to work in a team with dedicated and usually young and bright marketing professionals and learning about all the wonderful non-profit organizations in my city that do outstanding and meaningful work.  I have worked with a homeless shelter, pregnancy clinic, community theatre,  a children’s community arts organization and I am currently working on building a WordPress website for a local Boys and Girls Club.

It truly is a wonderful way to keep your skills relevant, meet a new generation of professionals and learn about some organizations in your community that are addressing the needs of people who really need help.

Reinventing Ourselves


Many women whom I have connected with over the last couple of years and are around my age, mid to late 50’s, express a similar desire to do something different in their lives. Essentially they want to reinvent themselves and do something they enjoy and can also make a living from. Many of these women have been in the same careers for 20 years or so and have skills that have become stale and in some cases obsolete. There is a big leap from expressing a desire and actualizing it. One of the first things I ask them is what do they think they would like to transition into and many say they just don’t know. My response is to try different things to see what you like and don’t like and what you think you will become good at. This takes time, money and patience. Time is needed to explore various avenues and resources available, money to learn new skills and take care of yourself and your responsibilities while you are learning and patience to see each new career path through to actually getting started in it and getting paid. It takes about 10,000 hours to become a master at anything so until you have really put in the time and paid your dues, you will just be considered an apprentice rather than a master.

When I retired to travel with my husband, I was ready to give up the corporate world and all of its stresses. After a couple of years though, I became restless and wanted to do something more meaningful. We started an exporting business and purchased furniture and accessories from Southeast Asia, primarily Thailand, Nepal and Burma. We built a warehouse to sell our wares and set up a nice little business buying and selling things. Then the economy went south but fortunately a high-end car dealer leased our warehouse for more money than we could sell furniture for and we were once again left with lots of time on our hands. That is when I decided to get a certification to teach Pilates. My first weekend of class made me realize that I really was out of my comfort zone, having no background in Physiology and Kinesiology. But I persevered, finished and became certified and started working as a Pilates Instructor and gradually became more and more comfortable working with people who wanted to get healthy with exercise. In my past career in corporate marketing, I worked primarily in male dominated environments, but the Pilates industry exposed me daily to women both as clients and as colleagues. That is where I started hearing from women about how they would like to reinvent themselves but they just didn’t know how to go about making the change.

During this career transition, Lauren and I became weekly cooking buddies. We started cooking out of the Professional Chef book which is used in the Culinary Institute of America or CIA and teaching ourselves how to make a demiglace, flambé and bake soufflés. What was missing for us was having an experienced teacher standing over us and giving us their tips and affirming that we were doing something right or wrong. So we decided to go to culinary school. However, our families were not willing to have us spend 2 years, five days a week for 8 hours a day and spend $50,000 on cooking school especially if we did not desire working in a restaurant upon graduation. (Both of our husbands are Accountants and couldn’t see a return on investment) It took us a while to find one but we finally found a cooking school that offered the same curriculum as the CIA but only required one day a week for about a year and a half at substantially less cost. We loved every day of school. Some days were more intense than others especially when we were in the Baking part of the curriculum. We finished in a year and a half and have since tried to think of ways to implement our new skills and create a business. While we are still trying to figure out that piece of the puzzle, we thought a blog was a good way to share our journey and hopefully inspire others to take the leap and explore ways to reinvent themselves.

Anne Smith Interview, CEO Oregon Bark


Anne Smith is CEO of Oregon Bark in Portland, Oregon

What made you decide to open a cooking school?  Well, it’s kind of a complicated story which I could spend way too much time on.  To try to make it a little simple, it’s like this:  All my summer jobs in high school and college were cooking jobs.  I had every intention of pursuing a career as a chef, but when I graduated from college, I had one particularly difficult job at a very large catering company in Denver, Colorado.  They made food on such a tremendous scale that it was no longer the creative outlet that it had been for me for so long.  We’d spend three days in a row doing nothing but assembling egg rolls, for example.   I felt like I was working in a factory.  I didn’t love living in Colorado so I moved back east to Washington, D.C., my hometown.  There I pursued another passion which was art, and a few years later, I was working at a very creative production company called Colossal Pictures in San Francisco, making animated t.v. commercials.  I worked in production for eight years and was very good at it, but I always fantasized about how to get back into food without starting at the bottom again.  Over the years in San Francisco, I became very close to my friend Karen Hillenburg, who was a professional chef who I had made through a mutual friend in the animation world.  Karen moved down to Los Angeles to get married, and worked at a cooking school there.  She loved teaching, but didn’t like the management at that school, and, knowing that I wanted to get back into food, she suggested that we start a cooking school together.  She had the culinary experience and I had the business experience and passion for food, so we started the school together and it just clicked right away.  Karen moved on to other things after about two and a half years, and by then I really had a good understanding of how to put classes together, and the kinds of things that our students were looking for, so from that point on, I was the real leader of the school.
How long did you own it?
I owned the New School of Cooking for eleven and a half years. Are there things about running a cooking school that you would like to pass on to someone contemplating such a career? Well it’s kind of a niche career, don’t you think?  And to that point, because it’s such a unique occupation, so many people I’ve met along the way were so interested in the whole process.  I almost came to dread being asked what I did for a living!  I think the reason I was so successful with the New School was that I had an amazing team of very qualified instructors–there’s no way it would have worked otherwise.  Beyond that, my own passion for food and appreciation for quality ingredients really helped me a lot.  My school was unique in that I would shop at a minimum of two farmers markets a week to make sure that we had seasonal, local ingredients of the highest quality.  The same was true for all of our other food supplies–I really hunted down the most authentic ingredients that I could find.  And another profoundly fundamental part of the job was interacting with people.  I really love people and love creating community, and I think that really helped us stand out.  I think if I had any advice to give someone considering opening a cooking school, it would be to make sure that you are passionate enough about teaching people how to make good food that you are willing to be on call all the time, and that you try to keep the recipes and classes as fresh and as current as you can.
How did you decide to pursue a new venture in producing and selling artisanal chocolates?
The fact that I am now making artisanal chocolates is pretty crazy with a touch of absurd mixed in!  I moved to Portland, Oregon last year because I fell in love with a man who lives here.  (And for the sake of storytelling, I’ll mention that we had met twenty one years ago at that production company in San Francisco and reconnected on Facebook.)  I loved running the school, but it was an enormous amount of work, and I wanted to do something with food on a smaller scale that I could do on my own, for at least a little while.  I had tasted a chocolate bark with sea salt which was delicious when I lived in southern California, but I thought it could be improved upon and that I could use my marketing chops to get it to market.  One day last summer it occurred to me that if I made a great chocolate bark, it would be cool if it were named Oregon Bark, and lo and behold!  The name was available.  So, with a very basic understanding of chocolate making, I set out to make a unique chocolate product.  I have always been crazy about English toffee, and so I worked that into the bark, and from there, have developed  three flavors of bark plus what are really some of the most delicious chocolate covered toffee pieces I’ve tasted.  I am such a perfectionist that I wouldn’t brag about my toffee if it weren’t brag-worthy, and I’m telling you, it’s crisp and crumbly and buttery and rich with vanilla and brown sugar.  But it was a lot of trial and error with an emphasis on error.
What have you learned about the food business?  What have been your biggest challenges?
Well, I’ve learned a lot about the food business, and am learning more every day.  I’m making Oregon Bark and toffee chips out of a great commercial kitchen here in Portland, Oregon called Kitchen Cru.  It’s an incubator for other food producers and manufacturers and it has a wonderful feeling of support and community.  I’ve been able to do a lot of networking and learning through my connections at the kitchen.  I’m so new that it’s hard to address the question of challenges.  Probably the area that I agonized over the most was packaging.  I wanted to use a box that had a deluxe feel to it, that would display well on a shelf, and that would ship in a standard USPS small shipping box.  I wanted something that would show my beautiful product and also protect it.  The first boxes I used were almost 80 cents each and seemed so perfect when I decided on them.  They had a cute little velcro closure.  Well, that velcro closure was held onto the box by glue that was less strong than the velcro itself, so my boxes started popping open on store shelves.  Not exactly what you want to buy as a shopper.  So I pulled the trigger on custom printed boxes which fit all my criteria, but I had to buy 2500 of them in order to be able to make the price per unit reasonable.  It was a big commitment pretty early in my process.  Other challenges have been with making an artisanal candy with a wide fluctuation in climate conditions.  Chocolate and toffee are very temperamental, and neither one likes too much moisture in the air or too much heat.  Long term, I’d love to have my own climate controlled kitchen.  As I grow, I’m sure I’ll continue to learn a lot about how to scale up.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people trying to reinvent themselves?
Yes.  Be fearless.  My ambition has been largely motivated by a powerful aversion to authority.  I’ve been willing to work really hard to be able to be my own boss, and that has helped me a lot.  When I started the cooking school, so many people would ask, “so what will you do if the cooking school fails?”  And it struck me that I had no plan for what to do if the school failed because I believed it would succeed.  I’ve had that same attitude about Oregon Bark–At first, I just acted as though I knew how to make candy, but now I know how to make some really delicious candy.  It’s very important to thoroughly research your competition and to understand the industry you are getting into.  But you MUST be a person who DOES if you want to succeed.  You cannot succeed by fretting and holding back; put another way, you can’t get where you want to go by just putting your toe in the water.  You have to dive in!