The Eve of My 30th Birthday

Petey Campbell & his hairline staring down his 30s

On the eve of my 30th year on this Earth I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past few years of my life. For many, the big 3-0 is a scary life event, and I had looked at it that way for the last few months as well, but instead of facing a new decade of my life with fear and dread, I want to face it with honesty and optimism.

Only a handful of you know this, but last year I was let go from an extremely lucrative job which I committed several years of my personal and professional life to. It afforded me an obscene amount of expendable income, an expense account, trips to Las Vegas, luxury watches, clothes, the ability to redecorate my apartment on a whim, and to dine at some of the best restaurants in the country. But after years butting heads over creative, managerial and directional aspects of the company, I was replaced by an individual with considerably less marketing savvy, but considerably more industry experience. I was depressed, bitter, dejected, and lost. I probably lied to many of you about this. Maybe even right to your face. All to save face and protect my pride.

My closest group of friends is extraordinarily successful. To a level that most people will never experience in their entire lives. I’ve constantly felt the

#BaradayX

need to compete with them; via our close-knit, fraternity-style gatherings known as Baraday, fantasy sports, professionally, etc. During my time at the aforementioned company I experienced a level of success and career advancement that I never thought I would achieve, especially after deciding to make the switch from city planning to digital marketing, so losing that level of clout and personal accomplishment was a tremendous blow to my self esteem. Even out of my Baraday crew, I’m pretty sure less than a quarter of them know about this until now.

Over the past year I’ve interviewed at dozens of companies in various industries, but nothing seemed to match up with my experience and goals. I’m great at what I do, working with numerous companies to build their digital presence, grow their brands, and connect with both current and potential customers, but be it a lack of specific skills, under or over-qualification, I never found that perfect fit.

There have been points over the past several years that I have struggled with crippling depression and alcoholism. Points where I could barely get out of bed in the morning. There have been points I’ve had to worry about defaulting on my student loans and being evicted from my apartment. If you follow me on various social media platforms, you’ve only seen what I wanted to portray and put out into the world. The image of a happy, successful individual, regardless of how far it was from the truth. But I never gave in. I took these experiences and focused on what I love and what I do well.

Through these learning experiences, reflections, successes, and failures I have had the opportunity to focus on things I love and am proud of. Closer relationships with my family and friends. A beautiful and healthy relationship with my amazing, successful, loving, and supportive girlfriend, Stephanie. Not being able to find the right professional fit through conventional means, I finally took a leap and started my own business, Engage Social Media Solutions, which as of this week is close to servicing a half dozen clients. Maybe most important to me at this moment (and as most of you are probably tired of hearing about by now), I converted my love of elevated and beautiful food in the New Brunswick and Central NJ area into CougEats, a food blog network highlighting deserving restaurants via Instagram, Facebook, and recently Patreon (in the hopes that those of you who appreciate the dedication to my passion may decide to support me). As you may have seen I’ve even had the opportunity to be published and make crucial industry connections.

It has not been easy. I have leaned on friends and family for support as I get my ventures up and running, but it’s because of you guys that I keep moving forward and continue chasing my dreams.

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Everyone come see how good we look!

2016 was one of the worst years of my life (aside from being lucky enough to meet my girlfriend, be crowned #BaradayXII MVP, and win my very first fantasy football championship). If it weren’t for my incredible family, friends, and girlfriend / best friend, I honestly can’t say where I would be or what I would be doing. As I begin my 30th year, I try to do so with a positive outlook and a renewed sense of accomplishment. I know many of you have also suffered silently, but it’s important to realize that if you’re lucky enough to have a support network, you are never alone. If you don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to, I promise that you do.

The moral of the story (as cliche as it is): Keep following your dreams, and regardless of how down and out you may feel, never ever give up. Thank you to all who have been there for me and had my back, and know that if you ever need it, I have your back too. Here’s to making my 30s the best years of my life. Cheers.


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Holy Guacamole!

Before I dive into this blog post head first, let me just apologize to all my loyal blog post readers. I kind of spoiled everyone while I was unemployed. During my job search I had plenty of time to churn out a post every other day, but since I started working that seems pretty unsustainable. In addition, after sitting in front of two computer screens for 8+ hours a day, the first thing I want to do when I get home doesn’t usually involve a computer. Going forward I might end up posting a blog post every week or two.

If you’re like Dr. Steve, you know a thing or two about shushi sandwiches. And if you don’t then you’ve been seriously missing out. I, like most former non-foodies, was a little skeptical when I first heard about sushi when it became super popular about a decade ago (based on the prevalence of avocado in this cuisine, I’m wondering if sushi was the precursor to the current avocado craze). But then I tried it for the first time. I still remember it. Back in 2005 when I was still at Boston University, my dad took my friend Kyle and I to FuGaKyu in Brookline (I’m still convinced this place is run by the Yakuza). At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was, since it’s been consistently rated as one of the best sushi restaurants in Boston and on the east coast. Very rarely does eating a food change your life. But I truly believe that the moment I tried sushi for the first time my entire palate changed. Prior to that I had been a bit of a finicky eater, but since then I’ve been willing to try just about anything. At first, like most sushi n00bs, I would stick to basic rolls like Shrimp Tempura, California Rolls, Philadephia Rolls, etc. but as my experience with sushi and sashimi has grown, I now opt for the most exotic and intriguing combinations on the menu.

Over the past few years since living in both Hunterdon County and New Brunswick, I have tried to explore the limited but fairly high quality Japanese restaurant options in Central Jersey. Some of my favorites include Hotoke and Sushi Room in New Brunswick, Fujiyama in Hackettstown (really Mansfield, but whatever), Jo Sho in Somerset, and one that I’ve learned most people have never heard about: Wasabi Sushi in Clinton. And you know what? That’s a damn shame, because while it’s not the best sushi I’ve ever had, the experience, atmosphere, specials, and reasonable prices make it one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever frequented.

Photo Credit: Oliver Lopena, 2008 via Flikr

This is Jay, a true sushi master. Together with wife Sue and son Rich, the family has been running Wasabi Sushi at 5 Main Street in Clinton, NJ for over a decade now. According to trusted sushi source, David “Zhangsley” Zhang, Wasabi opened during our freshman year of high school, which would have been either 2001 or 2002. It doesn’t have a big sign or a fancy storefront, but nestled between the Clinton Hallmark and what used to be Dani and Jonny’s (I think it’s a travel agency now? Why the hell would people still use travel agencies anyway? Haven’t they heard of the internet?) you might not look twice at it, even though it’s been there for ten years.

Spicy Calamari Salad

As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice how small it is, which isn’t really a problem. With about eight tables and a sushi bar, I’ve never once had a problem getting seated, regardless of whether I go on a Wednesday or a Saturday. Then you’ll notice the tasteful, Japanese-inspired decor, and while you’re basking in the ambiance Jay and Sue will no doubt greet you with a warm welcome, as they do with every guest (as long as you aren’t being an obnoxious jagaloon). Sue plays both gracious hostess and server, always taking your order with a genuine smile and doing her best to remember your name and favorite rolls. The menu is pretty varied, with a wide selection of fresh sushi, sashimi, creative salads and great (let me stress, GREAT) lunch specials. They have all the familiar rolls for the faint of heart, and for the adventurous they have a long list of house rolls and specials that never disappoint. However, for die-hard fans, such as Zhangsley and myself, you might be rewarded with complimentary edamame, miso soup, or even your own personal roll. Next time you’re there ask for the Zhang Roll (Super Dragon Roll with Spicy Sauce) or the Devin Roll (White Tuna, Cucumber, Eel & Avocado Roll with Spicy Sauce), your taste buds will not be disappointed. I highly recommend the Spicy Calamari Salad, while the tako (baby octopus) appetizer is also pretty scrumptious. Plus you can never go wrong with the Crunch Roll.

Devin Roll

Another huge plus is that it’s BYOB, so definitely bring a bottle of wine or some craft beer to enjoy along with your meal. In addition to a nice compliment to the fresh fish, it really cuts down on the price, which is already pretty low. It’s tough to leave there spending more than $30, plus when you bring a bottle of wine you get to impress your lady with your fancy wine knowledge. But you’ll probably have to end up opening your own bottle if you have Rich as your server, since Rich has yet to successfully open a bottle for me (lolz). One of the reasons I (and I suspect many people) love Japanese cuisine is the beautiful presentation, and as you can see from my “Devin Roll” photo, Wasabi Sushi delivers in that department as well.

If you’re one of those people who simply can’t get behind eating seafood, then I’m so very sorry for you since you’re missing out on, in my opinion, the most decadent, delicious, and flavorful food group. But if that’s the case then I can understand your aversion to sushi. If you’re merely hesitant to try it (maybe the concept seems weird to you) then I would suggest trying some mainstream or tempura options first to ease into it. Shrimp tempura is usually a solid choice for sushi beginners, as I venture to say that’s where most sushi lovers began. Hell, I still order shrimp tempura because it’s so damn delicious. But for me, it’s all about confusing my taste buds with different textures, flavors, and temperatures. That’s what makes sushi so great. When I see a roll that involves some sort of tempura, raw fish, and fruit, I simply can’t pass it up. Those are usually the most delicious, and if you ever venture to Hotoke in New Brunswick, try the Godzilla Roll (think macadamia nuts and strawberries), I assure you it’s worth the $18. Maybe the best roll I’ve ever eaten.

So if you’re thinking about venturing into the sushi world for the first time (or even if you’re a sushi connoisseur) and you’re ever in Central NJ, then I implore you to visit Jay and Sue at Wasabi Sushi in Clinton. They really care about their customers and have a passion for what they do. It’s super apparent and I felt as though more people need to know how great they are. Order the Spicy Calamari Salad, Zhang Roll, Devin Roll, and tell Sue that I sent you. You won’t be disappointed. Oh and I’m sure there are tons of other fabulous sushi places around here that I haven’t had the opportunity to frequent yet. Wasabi 31 in Flemington is pretty good as well, plus its an incredible value. If there are some other spots you think I should know about, don’t hesitate to let me know. Shit, let’s go together! But yeah, make sure Wasabi Sushi is on your to-do list and needless to say, I’m damn proud to be the mayor on foursquare.

Stranger In a Strange Land

First off, Merry Half-Christmas to all you Workaholics fans! I hope the egg nog is flowing and your sweater is nice and festive.

Three weeks ago I had to move back to my parents house for the first time in over two years. I had been a full time grad student with off and on employment in the planning & economic development field, but none of those jobs materialized into something full time. Unfortunately, my apartment lease was up at the end of May (Pro tip: be sure to read through your entire lease just in case your complex throws in some clause like you have to give them 60 days notice that you’re moving out. Otherwise, you’ll probably lose your entire security deposit…Not that it happened to me or anything.) and I’ve been unable to find a full time job in either social media or planning. Not for lack of trying though, since I’ve sent out over 70 applications since the end of April. Out of those seventy I’ve gotten seven phone or in-person interviews (ironically all in social media related positions, none in planning). That works out to a .100 batting average, so if I were playing baseball I’d probably be optioned to AAA, unless I was Adam Dunn. So like the Dunnkey, the idea is for one of those seven hits to be a home run. Maybe I just can’t fake enthusiasm for a planning job, since the prospect of landing a job in a field I’ve grown to dislike depresses me. Plus, I don’t have to fake anything in my social media cover letters or interviews since I’m sincerely passionate about it.

Honestly, I’m very confident in my ability to land a job soon (maybe delusionally so), and I guess you could say that I’m too proud to take any part time job in the mean time (especially if it meant crawling back to TD Bank). Needless to say money is tight. Anyway, being back home I sort of feel like a stranger. Being an only child, but never really spoiled, I have to say that my parents and I don’t always get along. The fact that our house is very small probably doesn’t help either. In addition, the majority of my friends no longer live at home. Most have moved to New York or other far off locations, and the ones that are home I don’t end up seeing all that often. Because of this I spend a lot of my time trying to stay out of my house and keep sane. It’s not easy. For instance, my mom has been teaching art classes out of our house for about ten years now. Normally she teaches several one hour classes a week, which means on any given day there are kids coming in and out of my house. Over the summer it’s even worse, since she teaches week long art camps for 3-4 hours a day. So during these camps, my house is overrun by children. It’s like Lord of the Flies up in here. I’m considering organizing some sort of Hunger Games to weed out the weak ones. To make matters worse, a couple years ago my father found out he could basically work from home, despite our house not having any sort of office. I don’t think he’s been to his actual office in over a year, and instead has taken over our dining room. Because of how small our house is, it has pretty much been monopolized by my mother’s art classes and my father and his conference calls for the majority of the day, driving me into my room or out of the house for some sort of sanctuary. Luckily my friend is letting me use his roommate’s MLB.tv, plus Wimbledon just started (Novak repeat!), so I can fill a lot of the void with sports.

On days I can’t fill with sports, I’ve been shacking up at the local coffee shop (try the Iced Matcha Green Tea) and pretending I’m writing the great American screenplay. Today I’m trying to stay out of the house until at least 4 PM. So until then I’ve been managing my social media, turntabling in the Coug Lounge and following up on some job applications. I actually followed up with some on Friday at around 4:30 PM, as if anyone would be checking their e-mail on a Friday at 4:30 PM. I’m pretty excited to finally be seeing The Avengers tonight, since I haven’t really had anyone to see it with. I might try to watch Thor, Captain America, or both before I go as a refresher. Both of which were much better than I had expected, but I went into both with pretty low expectations.

Banana & Almond Butter Stuffed French Toast

My friend Kenny and I had a delightful, totally hetero, non-bougie brunch at The Garden Gourmet in Clinton. It’s a pretty new breakfast spot/cafe that I’ve been meaning to try out, plus it’s right along the river and you can eat outside. It’s pretty much the most Brooklyn thing we have in Clinton. I ordered french toast stuffed with bananas and almond butter, which obviously I spotted on Foodspotting. It was pretty delicious, minus the fact that the french toast was a little chewier than french toast should probably be, but that might have been the bread they used. Also, the service was pretty slow for only having us and one other table. That wouldn’t have been a problem, other than the fact that my friend only had 45 minutes for his lunch. I’ll definitely be stopping by again though. The menu looked delicious.

That’ll be all for now. I guess I’ll try to get some real work done before my Avengers marathon. Have to pick up a Mike & Gian sticker from Sub Base too.