A Look Back at the Minnesota Skinny in 2018 and Some Goals for 2019

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A man drives a Chevy truck up a Minnesota highway

As I’m scribbling the paragraph down, I’m stirring a pot full of lentils on my stovetop while freshly-roasted beets cool off nearby. On a cutting board behind me are two tidy piles, one of chopped carrots and another of chopped onions. I haven’t poured my daily glass of red wine quite yet, but it’s coming.

On January 1st of this year, or even July 31st for that matter, these lentils probably would have been bratwursts on a frying pan. I’d have had sweet Hawaiian hot dog buns on the counter behind me, and a can of some schlobberknocking imperial stout would have been on its way into a glass.

That was before the news came. It was inevitable, but nonetheless jarring.

As far as operations go here at the Skinny, the most influential moment of 2018 came during my annual physical back in August. My doctor squeezed my fingers harder than they’ve ever been squeezed at one point, practically popped them right off. Was she checking for blood flow, or just proving a point? I’m not sure.

That was toward the start of my physical. Toward the end, she told me what healthy cholesterol levels are … and then told me what mine were. She printed off an overview of the Mediterranean diet, thrust it toward my chest with those very same hands that practically squeezed off my fingers, and told me she wanted to see me again in six months.

A cheeseburger leaks juice onto a white plate at a Minnesota restaurant
Dirty French, Bellecour

And with that, the simplicity of just walking into restaurants and judging them based on their cheeseburgers went POOF!

Maybe it’s a good thing. Since then, I’ve become unbeatable at get-togethers with just a few pounds of coho salmon and a bottle of whiskey barrel-aged shoyu. I can tell you whipped goat cheese is better in a beet salad than cream cheese. I can say plopping yogurt on top of your plate of lentils looks weird, and is weird, but tastes good when the right yogurt is used – and I’ve plopped enough yogurt on top of lentils now to have tried with wrong yogurts.

Have I had my last cheeseburger, then? Good Christ, no. I might’ve had my last day eating cheeseburgers for every meal, or my last casual stop at the Hardee’s drive-thru, but I still get my bun-patty-bun reps in. I just approach it differently: before I order a cheeseburger I ask myself, “If this was the last cheeseburger I ever had, would I be happy with that?” If I answer myself “No,” I don’t have it. Simple as that.

SUCCESSES AND FAILURES

Let’s pivot for a second and talk about some successful missions. The first is the blog’s growth itself. Readership for this year will be about 250 percent of what it was last year. I satisfied my goal to focus more on areas outside the Twin Cities, perhaps overly so (more on this later). If readership and feedback are any indication, people seemed to enjoy my Riverside Bookshops tour and the work I did with the St. Croix Valley Tourism Bureau. The Scenic Routes series I did with Chevrolet is still wrapping up but I’ve gotten great feedback from that, too (including from Chevrolet – teaser alert).

My Northfield series was poorly-carried-out and I left a lot of loose ends. Lessons were learned. Speaking of failures, there are a couple of way-overdue projects I’ve yet to finish. I’m going to finish them, but I’ll have some explaining to do to some people. In retrospect, I should have never taken them on to begin with. More lessons learned.

A sign is lit up alongside a Minnesota restaurant and bar
House of Coates

Satisfying my goal was also kind of an over-correction. Did you know, the last restaurant in the metro area that I dedicated an entire article to was published October 1st? Straying from my main coverage base for a quarter of the calendar year was … not ideal.

Back in my kitchen, the recipes I’m working on are imitations of a surprising lentil salad I had one night in Uptown; and a beet salad in St. Paul that’s worked its way into my lunch rotation. I should probably tell you about those, eh?

What should you expect next year? Let’s start with a more user-friendly website. My dude Mel gave me a good talkin’ to about how there’s no central resource on my website where a person can quickly access recommendations. My counter-argument was that you find them by reading the articles. His counter-counter argument was just this look, and then I tried navigating my site, and then the argument ended.

So, FINE. I’ll make a couple more lists and set them down someplace easy to reach.

For what it’s worth, here are my most read blog posts of 2018.
There’s Good Food on my Turf: Where to Eat on Highway 23
Dan’s Bar and Grill: A Cheeseburger Powerhouse in New Trier, Minnesota
Aging Tastefully: Eighty-Five Years in West St. Paul for the Cherokee Tavern
After the Beef: A Twin Cities Burger Battle Recap
A Visual Tour of Minnesota’s Most Famous Toy Store

BEYOND THE BLOG

Two podcasting microphones peer out of a bag next to a pair of Air Jordan shoes and a pair of Converse All-Star shoes
In a dusty corner of the Minnesota Skinny home office, the Blues have been spotted … alive.

Now let’s talk about podcasting.

I don’t know what the word is for quitting your podcast because you didn’t have enough time to produce an overly-ambitious vision, only to eventually discover that producing your vision is actually much more efficient than the method you’d given it up for. The word isn’t “irony,” but everyone else uses that word wrong too so screw it: Pretty ironic, isn’t it?

It’s true: recording an interview and publishing it is actually faster than recording an interview, transcribing the recording, editing the transcription, and then publishing it. The revelation happened during our Scenic Routes trip while we were listening to podcasts. My wife pointed out certain parts of those interviews as evidence that it wasn’t the medium, but my overkeen editing, that encumbered my podcast.

I asked her this, and now I’ll ask you: What would you rather have, a typed-out Q-and-A or the subject’s laughter, stutters, tone, burps, and ‘Will you quiet down over there!?’

So yeah. I’ve got the software on my new laptop and The Blues are raring to get started again.

Beer will come up, but it won’t be About Beer. While we’re on this topic, do you think the Twin Cities beer industry is being well-served by the coverage it’s receiving right now? I don’t. We’ve got a few people doing fantastic work (The Growler, Paige Latham Didora, and Michael Agnew to name a few) but I think we need more stories and less listicles.

I shall acknowledge now that I tried covering the Twin Cities beer industry a few years ago, and wound up mutating into a bulging, mentally unbalanced, borderline-alcoholic mess of a human. It took a while to fix, but I’ve fixed it. I’ve advanced my career, moved into a nice house, and gotten almost back down to my Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon-finishing weight. It’s not so much a matter of “Can I do it right?”. I can. It’s more a matter of “Do people even want me to?”.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

I’d also like to improve how The Brand (Did I really just type that? Barf.) operates. I’m lazy on social media, and my website is optimized for absolutely nothing. Those need to change if I’m going to take the Skinny into the 2020s.

I’m pretty good at Facebook buuuut Facebook isn’t very good at maintaining its users’ confidence. The more people contemplate disconnecting from Facebook, the higher the odds that someone actually will. I should probably tweet more than once every two weeks, and I should probably have more than like 400 Instagram followers. I should probably log into Snapchat.

I’ve got a couple more posts on their way out before year’s end, but this post more or less closes down business for 2018 here at the Skinny. I’ve got some Vanilla Rose Porter to buy up tomorrow, a few holiday feasts to crash Christmas Eve, then I steal away to the dirt roads and dark woods of northern Minnesota ‘til the second week of January. I’ll insist up and down that I won’t be working on anything, but we all know that’s not true. You know now what I’ll be working on, at least the surface of it.

From everyone here in The Kingdom Ruled By a Whippet Dog, have a safe and happy holiday season. Eat your lentils.

A buck head wearing a Santa Claus hat in a Minnesota bar
WATCH FOR DEER!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great summary Frank. I’ve dealt with my share of issues this year too; From being diagnosed with depression to maintaining content on a regular basis, since my depression was making that difficult. Reading your post, I feel that I can get a few takeaways from it and use it for my website going forward.

    Here’s to the New Year!

    P.S. Hope the camera is treating you well!

    • Great to hear, and I’m glad you found some possibly helpful stuff. The camera is great! I’m still figuring it out, but I’ve gotten some great shots with it. Thanks again, and happy holidays!

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