Saturday, June 13, 2015

How the mother of all cheat days goes awry -- in a way I didn't expect -- at the Big Apple BBQ Festival

I have been doing pretty well on my diet as of late -- I have lost another 12 pounds or so since the "after" picture in this article was taken for the Staten Island Advance last month. I really do try to make good, healthy choices at each meal, with real foods, not frankenfood fake "diet" food. And I am better at portion control. It has gotten easier now that I see real-life results (and also now that pretty much everyone I know is aware of my fitness journey!)

But I still love all kinds of food, both good and bad for me. Which means that I face temptations all of the time. Like the constant amount of free food I am tempted with at work. For example, my office had a "cheese party" the other day, in which we had to taste various high-end cheeses for a work-related reason. Yes, really! Cheese is one of my favorite foods, and I actually have an educated palate on it, plus I want to help out at my job, so I ate some and gave my opinions and enjoyed the cheese. Then I walked from the office to the Staten Island Ferry on the way home to make up for the cheese I ate!

As best friends. Squawker Jon and I have spent way too much time over the years going out to eat. My favorite restaurant is Red Rooster, but I have other faves throughout the city, from food trucks to fancy places. Which is why I have been making an effort to spend more time doing cultural and athletic activities instead of going out to eat all of the time!

And as you can guess, one of my favorite types of food is barbecue. I lived in Texas for 15 years, after all! And Squawker Jon likes BBQ as well. So once we went to the yearly Big Apple BBQ Festival in Manhattan, we were big fans. However, as the event grew in popularity, it became a nightmare due to the long lines.

I can't remember whether the last straw was the port-a-potty I went into at the festival that looked like something out of "Trainspotting,"  -- it was so bad, it caused an immediate reversal of fortune on my part. (Note: do not click on those links if you have a weak stomach!) Or whether or it was when we waited literally two hours in line for City Grocery's crawfish hushpuppies, only to have the stand close up shop due to the heat just before they were about to take our order! At any rate, we finally gave up on going for several years because it was just too crowded, even though I used to work right near it. It just seemed to be a huge hassle.

Squawker Jon and I at the Big Apple BBQ Festival.
  I am wearing the medal I earned in the race.
But earlier this year, we thought we would try the festival again, since the word on the street was that is was better run that in the past. However, I am supposed to be doing this fitness/weight loss journey to change my life. So in order to enjoy the barbecue with no guilt, I decided to sign up for the Oakley Mini 10K in Central Park for earlier in the morning. My thought was that I would make this a cheat day (or at least a cheat meal) and eat whatever I wanted, just for the festival.

So I ran the race today, got a medal, went to my gym to take a shower, and then met up with Squawker Jon. (I kept the medal on, though! That's how I roll!)

We decided to get to the Big Apple BBQ as soon as it opened at 11 to make sure that the lines were at a minimum. We ended up running late and got there at about 11:30 a.m., but even then, the lines were either small, or went very quickly. The plates at the event are small, so that people try multiple things. And we planned to eat a bunch of things.

The first thing we each got was an order of baby back ribs and baked beans from 17th Street Barbecue, Mike Mills' place. Mills, who shares the same name as the bassist from R.E.M., is perhaps the most legendary name in BBQ. So I was very much looking forward to this meal. Then I started eating the ribs, and realized something a few bites in -- the food was awfully greasy. I also noticed all the sugar in the baked beans order.

Was it me or the ribs? Jon loved them, and so did most everybody there. It was me. Have my taste buds or food preferences changed in a way where I don't like baby back ribs anymore? The horror! The horror! as Marlon Brando once said. I had a hard time finishing the ribs, and threw out the beans.

Then I got brisket and sausage from the Salt Lick, one of my Texas favorites. The brisket was great, the way the brisket my brother and I had in Texas last month was fantastic. The sausage, not so much. It was greasy, too! I ended up throwing out half of it! Shocker!

And while Jon went to a third place (Skylight Inn, from North Carolina, where the whole hog sandwich turned out to be his favorite dish of the day), I was more than satisfied with the food I ordered.

Nobody was more surprised by this turn of events than me! Back in the day, we would have been there for hours. Now I was ready to go pretty quickly!

The one real temptation I did have at the festival was the southern-style layer cake varieties from Sugaree's Bakery in Mississippi. Not only was the place named after "Sugaree," the Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead song, but they had a strawberry layer cake! When I was a kid, I always requested either strawberry or cherry cake for my birthday, which my mother would make from a box. And here was a strawberry cake with strawberry buttercream frosting, made in a an authentic Southern way!

I don't have a huge sweet tooth, like others do, but I do have particular things I like. And this was one of them! But I told myself that the new Lisa would channel the Allman Brothers and "eat a peach" (which I did -- a stand sold peaches and watermelon) instead of the cake.

We were literally on our way out of the festival when that "Sugaree" cake called -- or is that sang? -- to me one more time. So I bought a strawberry slice and brought it home.

And you know what? It was fantastic! Much better than what Mom used to make (sorry, Mom!) And I enjoyed every single bite of it.

Now I need to go for a walk to burn off the calories; given how good it tasted, I am going to be walking to Long Island from Staten Island!

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