happening

I wonder if I can learn to be reckless again.

After something breaks you, you try to be safe so it won’t hurt as bad anymore, but it’s becoming very clear to me that things are always happening to us. Whether they are good or bad. Things are happening.

All of the time.

There are some days, where I can float above my body. Already, I live every day remembering people and places and how they made me feel. It’s a cycle I run through, and I’m not sure I’ve had a day where I don’t think about the moments that sent me onto a different trajectory.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I am a bit afraid to love another person deeply again. I know for a fact that I will give myself up to it. I will lose something in my cooking. I will regret some of that life, I know. Of being obsessed with some form of my occupation and wondering if any person out there would be able to accept the moments where the thing I love to do, competes with their relationship with me.
This absolutely breaks my heart.

I am a stubborn fool, quite often.

Raw feeling, many days. Where I just don’t think I have any more to give, when it’s the thing I love the most.

These days, my cup is so full — I s’pose of everything a human can be full of. Hunger. Fear. Love. Regret. Compassion. Rage. Wonder. Contentment.

And I come home, and push off my shoes and collapse onto some soft surface big enough for my frame. There are times I want to weep with it all — to really just — let the skies have it all. Maybe something up there is listening after all.

constedujour

Today, I am jealous of free weekends. Of an easier love. Sun-burned faces and Sunday naps wrapped tightly with a warm body or animal (or both). And in my head, I wonder if I did good enough today.

If I was fast enough. Or kind enough. Or if I hurt someone’s feelings or whether or not I’ll have the energy to muster up a soft hello at a local church meeting. Truly, I have a lot on my shoulders and a dull pain riding up into my neck.

But, things are always happening to us.
And like the prayer goes: it’s for our healing.

It’s all happening for us to move through and to become so wonderfully and tragically human, with the world and the people of it pulling us in a million different ways.

For now, I will rest my head and give the dull ache in my neck some time to take it easy. I will wrap myself tightly in this brown blanket and probably wake myself up with a snore or two.

I have my own Sunday kinda love, and today, it looks like all of the things that have made me — and have made me goofy and flawed and tenderhearted — and know that all along, everything’s been happening.

 

eating last.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

During my last post and this, a lot has happened y’all!
I moved (into quite possibly the coolest cottage in south Mississippi).

I got an award.
And I got nominated for another award.

In the midst of all of this, we’ve had three monstrous catering events and our little shop is getting busier by the week, it would seem at times. Certainly at times more hectic, at least.

Now, these are all great things. Growing pains and things, perhaps. Things I thought wouldn’t happen for at least another year. Certainly not now. I saw my name mentioned with a few other local chefs who basically run entire restaurant groups and thought to myself,

“Damn. All we have are two hot plates, a sandwich press and an oven that functions well about 70% of the time…”

I feel really proud about that. I feel proud for my crew, as I don’t believe they asked for any of the attention or what becoming busier imposes. Higher expectations. Different crowds. More pressure to perform consistently.

How do you ask that of people? How do I ask that of myself?

I think the answer is why.

Maybe why is the question, as well.

I’ve been reading this book on leadership. Not because it is something I’ve pursued, but somehow something that has always been given to me — and something that I feel proud to take. I walk around knowing that I’m a decently educated, tall, white male — which means I am probably given better opportunities – historically and well, presently.

I say all this because I always want to recognize that privilege before anything else.

Also, I work hard. And work hard to remain kind when I can. And fair. I will also eat last.

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Why is eating last important? I have no idea. But I always find myself, even when I cook for people, the last person in line. Generally by request.

Simon Sinek has a book called, “Start With Why” — and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I eat this stuff up. He interviewed military generals and corporals and came away with a profound truth: Officers eat last.

People feel safe with good leadership. This is something I’m learning. Especially in kitchens where every one is giving it their best for not much reward — they are doing so because they know they are important, and will be cared for in some way. At least that’s the way it should be. Once that is compromised, things begin to fall apart.

It’s also important for people to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. That can be hard.

I’m less likely to give my money to someone who has no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. But if you can show me why — I’m all yours. That in itself makes me feel safe.

In the same way you buy food from us because you know we give a shit about what things look and taste like, you are willing to come back again and again.

When I get days like this, where I am allowed to settle into myself, I feel a lot of things. Definitely being tired is one of them. I haven’t had a real day off in about a month and a half. Therefore, I get to catch up on writing. On purpose. On being better.

I will sit and listen.

Moan and stretch from the weeks toils.

I like being here. I’m still learning how to do this, and I have hopes that we are still working towards something better. That means hustling so my co-workers have jobs and that we continually work to make this city better.

I am happy to be eating last. And as it turns out, it’s made all the difference in the world.

noticed.

There are moments where I miss it. 

Having a good person to come home to is one of them joys of life, I suppose. I never grew up with pets, so I reckon’ it is similar. Though I believe people are a little more complex. Even more so than cats.

When I take some time and settle into myself, I do miss it. And I miss her and I find myself so curious as to how we forgive and move on from hard things. I haven’t cried much at all the past couple of years. I think I got a lot of it out of my system back in that time and to be honest, the waterworks are on hiatus.

I still get sad, for the overwhelming things we see and have to deal with every day. I get angry. I fight. I argue.

I submit, too.

I laugh, and then do this thing where I choke up. Like when I found out I won this really cool award for my work — because it is often times, such thankless work. I laughed because I thought it was funny for a cook to win such a thing, and then I choked up because this work is so hard and I was so thankful to be noticed.

I would like to think she would have been proud. After all, I spent most of our marriage hustling around different cafes and restaurants in hopes that something would stick. And some things did, and sometimes I would lay on her lap exhausted and wake myself up snoring.

When you get noticed, like I find myself from time to time, there is a moment of pure joy where you know you are doing good work — and then the moment comes where you remember all the things you missed getting what you wanted.

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Mississippi, man.

I suppose I find myself thinking about those things. Not much these days. But you always remember your best friends. Best partners. The people who pushed you forward and made sure you got home safe when you accidentally got (hanging out the window at Popeyes) drunk from a work party.

That safety though…is something you will always remember in your belly. The safety of being loved and thought about and cared for. You have those things when you’re single too. It just looks different. And you learn to love yourself in such a different way.

I suppose that is what I miss about companionship — what I crave when the nights get late and I drift away to the sound of my heater.

There are too many frustrations. Things I wished I would’ve done a million times. And then, there is now.

And now is bigger and wilder than I ever imagined. And it’s in Mississippi of all places.

A new home. A platform. A place to grow what my mind has sewn.

Things are never going to be the same. It is all new, all of this that I’m going through and often times it is hard to get out of bed and on to that next thing. But I’m always so thankful that I did…and that I do.

Here’s to our seasons of growth and struggles and lessons — In hopes that you approach them all with goodness deep down in there,

and remember that not everything you lose, you necessarily need back.

 

 

 

moving.

I will be moving in a few weeks.

Not very far, so don’t worry.
Moving up, a bit. I like to say. A little more room. A little more of a quiet space. Not so much because I need my surroundings to always be quiet and still — but because my day to day life contains a thousand moving parts and some of them have voices and all of them are important.

I am happy and sad and weary and full of many things. That is my heart, most days. This is starting off to be a heavy year for me and many of the people I love. Waking up to news about another person I love having to carry an impossible weight — how any human does it is still a mystery to me.

People still help, ya know? This whole adulting thing is tricky. Really, we all have to learn from scratch. We all have to figure out how to handle loss and divorce and sickness and pride. But people are still around, and many of them actually listen to you and are willing to give you some of their time. That is invaluable. That is something I’m learning right now.

Time is that precious resource. Always moving forward, always losing it and wishing somehow that it would go faster and slower. Like kissing soft lips for the first time — or being at a table where things seem to stop.

There is the other side, where we have to keep our mouths open at the dentist or wait for our test results. Sometimes that is agony.

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I stood outside the back door of my apartment and realized I’d outgrown it. Maybe a little came from the new tenant above me who shakes my ceiling when he walks. But I knew this feeling of having to move — slightly familiar, and with it comes some hard stuff. I teared up a bit.

I rebuilt my life in this tiny home.

I fed a lot of people out of it.

I struggled with my craft and almost left a few times.

By some weird luck, and I believe hard work, things have shifted and I am changing again.

Being a chef in the capacity that I am is one of the coolest and hardest things I’ve gotten to do. It is such a blast and can also be so absolutely brutal. But there is a peace to waking up every day and going to a kitchen where people are cooking and laughing and venting.

I’ve built a family too. I love that.

Y’all, I’m on the move again…

and as always, pressing into the horizon.

 

Cooking with Figs

I think often of that Sylvia Plath bit.

About making choices and those damn figs. You know the one.
Well, I sit here in this space, again.

Not due to choices or regret — but the weight of knowing which figs are nearing their fall and the ones that have yet to bloom.

When I am sad — with the things I have in front of me — I think about how lucky I am to have cooking. I suppose I have writing too. But let me know tell you about this thing that I have.

The first thing that brought me back when the Earth cracked beneath me was chopping onions for a dish I’d be serving later that evening.

You see, food is reliable in my eyes. I know that I can add another egg to make something fluffier. I know I can leave a steak in a hot pan to get that crust I love so much or reduce a stock to make a sauce.

I know butter makes mostly everything taste better.

I know that I can dissolve into a recipe like the salt itself.

And I know that when I set it on the table in front of someone, it is generally good.

When I feel my raw self, cooking brings me back. And God do I put so much into it.

fig

Attraction is funny. And moving from there is tricky. People are tricky and mysterious and flaky  And I am one of them. Though I am not good at being mysterious these days. I will say that I am guilty of trying to be too cool. I think it’s called being single, though I’m not sure.

In my head, I just say, “F*ck this, F*ck this — just cook and mop and be a good chef, dude” and move on.

I am just soft enough though to know that I will still put so much trust and hope in people. I will still allow myself and others grace. I will still work so hard at communicating in a way that I hope comes off as helpful, rather than making things more difficult to navigate (than they already are.)

Relationships with people, in my specific circumstance, are tricky. I am just all sorts of  vulnerable by nature and at times can just be plain awful to myself. I feel awful for making people feel awful.

So, I’ll go home and cook.

I will fill my cup with forgiveness because again, I have no idea what I’m doing.

I will throw another tablespoon of butter in the pan because it needs it. Hell, I need it.

Cooking, regardless of the many things I’ve messed up, always brings me back to myself and that I truly love it. Creating. Consuming.

And having it consume me. 

To be honest, that’s how I’ve always looked at cooking. I let it consume me. Sometimes beat me down to a pulp. Sometimes eat something so good I wish I had someone across from me to share it with. I have wept more times at a stove then I care to admit.

Not so much from over-salting the eggs, but because somehow I still have a way to care for myself and others. That makes me feel very lucky.

Relationships are just plain tough. Nitty gritty hurtful stuff. Also full of love and pleasure and sustenance. I am full of all these things.

The figs.

Well, some have fallen and rotted away. Others are getting ripe and some have yet to bud — but I am okay in this space, right now. Because deep in the belly of the tree I do love myself and can feel okay when things are a bit wonky.

I know that when I wake up the next morning, it is a bit holy for me. Like maybe something got washed away in the great depth.
That, I am thankful for.

And for you. And you. And you.

And for my pots and pans and heat and pressure and time.

I am always thankful for you.

 

lessons in enough

I am so hungry.
(And I have been for quite some time.)

Sort of itch-like — that I can’t scratch,
but my belly is growling and howling and
it feels very wild-like.

I see this person and they’re hungry too.
(And have been for quite some time.)

Ferociously moaning for something that will stick
to their bones; or belly; or thighs

It’s okay, ya know.
To be hungry. To know you have a fire there
that needs tending to. Hot, stingy fire stuff.
Some rage. Some longing. Some small relief.

I know hunger well enough.
I know an empty cabinet.
A few bones picked clean,
though they’re not all used up just yet.

Cover em’ with water and let em’ release,

More. There’s always more to give.
Bones know. Perhaps we know too.

And I sit here with the knowledge
that I might be hungry for a while.
I get to taste from time to time,
but I am not satisfied.

Hardly am I satisfied these days.
It’s a damn shame,
this wanting more.

Perhaps lessons in enough.
That’s what I’ll be cooking up soon.
Enough.
Because I am full enough

To be honest
and fair and kind
Pangs of anger and misunderstanding are
also there, rattling around with the
kind things.

And I hope that when the time comes,
they all get along. Because they are
my insides and they are full of bliss and rage!

Tonight, though. I’m cooking and eating.

For a small moment though,
it is enough.

Chicken Bones 2

 

pressure

Man, do I feel it.

I’m sure this comes with the gig of getting older and making bigger decisions. Small moves that put you on bigger trajectories.

But I am telling a story that everyone knows. It’s hard getting more responsibility. The weight, mixed with expectations and unpredictable reality.

You are truly not in control.

This doesn’t mean you can’t find balance. This is where I’m at. In my world, as a cook, it is all about balance.

Not just with food, but with people. It is give and take. Some days, as in this past week, it is a lot of take. Taking what people want and what they give you, instead of what we have. We absorb their needs because it’s our jobs, but I am a stubborn sunuva-gun — and I tell everyone that.

My job isn’t only to cook — but trying my best to control the endless variables of a restaurant. Those of you who’ve worked in restaurants know how big of a machine it really is. And until you know the pressure of being at the top of this machine, there is no adequate way to describe its motion.

I am at a crossroads of trying to figure out what is more important — keeping a restaurant busy or pushing the ball forward. When chefs get itchy to create, they are forced to make that decision on whether or not to change something people love and buy, for the sake of their own pride.

Perhaps I won’t have to choose on this one. Do you give people what they want and expect? Or do you nudge them, bit by bit?

We are a sandwich shop. We’re not doing anything new or innovative. But we try to do them well and it shows, I think. I work hard at keeping my finger down on the kind of quality we can deliver. Then, I go home and watch videos of Daniel Bolud or David Chang or Francis Mallmann and get all panicky that I am not where I should be. In fact, I know that.

So I push forward. I push myself in effort to push others. Being in the state of Mississippi, my boundaries seem endless. It is not a food city, but there are people here who love to eat and love to be challenged.

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Deep in my belly is a fire to move forward, always. With food or emotions or with people — that is what I wake up to do. Be better. Move forward. And to humbly and most likely stubbornly accept the fact that I am so obscenely tiny in this world that it isn’t quite about me.

I want more. Always, from myself and often others. But I cannot control anyone or make them believe something they aren’t interested in. I refuse to have that sort of power — but I think I can show them how it makes me feel and how important it is to me, and I can move with that.

I am far away from being a great chef. I am a pretty good cook who is lucky and learned from watching some really hard working people. I move with that in hopes that I can make even the slightest dent into what I want to accomplish here.

Even if that means one grilled cheese at a time.

green hope.

People are right.

It didn’t feel like Christmas, for the most part.
Then again, a Christmas hasn’t felt like it did when I was a kid since, well, when I was a kid.

But isn’t that the point?

What I want to grab people by the shoulders and say, “This isn’t about you, anymore!”

Let me expand a bit.

It was, to be fair, 80 degrees on Christmas Day where I live. Not exactly close to being a White Christmas, not that I’ve ever had one. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I get the season and joy and cheer.

I spent most of it catering to other people’s parties and emptying garbages in the dumpster at 1am. That is my new festive holiday cheer. Hustling. Working. Feeding people and cleaning up after them. Decembers are now a blur to me. They are so busy with parties and travel and catching up, we all get a little twinge in our stomachs after Thanksgiving. At least I do.

Maybe I’m part of the problem. Maybe I’m the Scrooge and my bah-humbugs come a little quieter — maybe with some passive aggression and disdain towards eggnog.

I think that maybe I have lost chasing that feeling. I don’t think a tree would help, or if I was in another industry. Christmas is changing not just for me, but for everyone.

So what do we do?

More so, what do I do? Where do I start?

six seedlings growing from soil

six seedlings growing from soil

2015 has been one of the biggest years of my life. Which is actually very, very tiny, considering we are a pale blue dot falling endlessly in some galaxy and in some form of space time. In that sense, I am barely atomic.

But I have a little breath and a big heart and am at times angry with little things and often kind and have a lot going on in my head, always.
This year has been a little about rage. Not that I’ve been jumping up and down on top of cars, but of survival and moving forward. It’s knowing that if you don’t care, then your business is going to fail. It’s knowing you are now responsible not only to people, but to a place and its people and its future.

I’ve been taking and taking my young adult life. Learning and figuring out what the hell I wanted to do. Right? Yes. Many of us got that luxury of learning and exploring. Reading Donald Miller or Mere Christianity for the sixth time and talking about God for hours and why this world is so damn difficult. Those were some sweet, luxurious times.

Now, though, we have to start giving back. And I’m not talking about two weeks on a mission trip — I’m talking about loving people fiercely and selflessly and investing your heart into a place and its people.

We aren’t super great at that. I’m not super great at that. But this is the shift that’s happening in my heart.

Let the kids have Christmas. Give them good memories and cherish deeply your own, but it’s not about you anymore. It’s about the little, more innocent people. It always has been because they’ve always been our best hope.

I think about that book “The Giver” and what it would be like on both ends. I do believe our responsibility is to remind our world of its history — of how we fight and kill but also thrive and move forward. A world void any of this would surely bring us to our knees begging to choose to feel again.

It is incredible and it is so absolutely painful at times.

I guess I’m adulting. I’m working to make some changes as I do so, and as we all must do when becoming older. Maybe I’m still naive to say such things, but we gotta a lot of life left. You have so much power in you, and if I knew you personally I would tell you that all the time.

I would tell about all the power you have to do the hard things and come out on the other side and to talk about how being married is really rough sometimes and how having kids puts so many stresses on everything. Everything. Everything requires loads of attention and it is impossible to control everything at the same time.

That is grace and effervescence — the stuff that lifts and refreshes.

You are allowed to think deep about your dark places where maybe only you and another walk, and maybe walk alone. I have been in those places and have lost the people I’ve walked with — but you find others there, too.

That is the best thing to know. People are hitchhikers in this wonky way, you pick them up and they do the same to you — and sometimes you step back and say, “How did I do this without you?”

Though I’ve drifted away from the Christmas theme, I’ve ended up where I’ve wanted in writing this final post for 2015.

Thank God for people.
And thank you for the graces they give and that we give.

Let’s keep it up. And let’s give our new hopes some good things; let’s give them the best of us and show them mercy when they see our worst.

After all, Love is a great Green Hope.

 

cheers!

I stood in a kitchen where only a year and a half ago I was serving nachos and opening beer bottles for a bunch of well-off business people in town.

It was where I met some of the crew I would be working with for the following year. I didn’t know anyone, but I knew how to cook and I knew how to open beer bottles.

I needed the cash, so the chef of the event called me up and said they could use me and would pay me at the end of the night. It was my first job back in Mississippi. I was stationed outside in 90% humidity and was drenched by the first hour. The girl I was working next to sliced her hand open on an attempt to open a stubborn beer bottle.

She gasped and bent over. Blood was dripping from her hand as she whispered to me, “I’ve gotta go…” and off she went to the E.R. for stitches. Even after that, the ‘bros’ waiting for their beer were still adamant on that bottle. So, I smiled and said cheers.

Fast forward to now, standing in that same kitchen as a head chef of a breakfast and lunch spot, and also a catering program with a crew that is equal parts hard working and kind and generous. Granted we have our scuffles like all kitchens do, but it is intense, back-breaking labor. Don’t ever get stuck in this trade unless you love it, or it will eat you alive.

I sit here now, in the sunken part of my bed after a nearly 100hr work week of Christmas parties and drop-offs and busy cafe days. My belly is full of hash browns, poached eggs and coffee.

I kinda felt like crying when it was done. I cook all of our catering food from scratch. Bechamel, marinara, ragu. I break down enough chickens for 150 people and cram their bones full of crushed garlic and thyme.

I intentionally put stress on my clock so the meat isn’t sitting around all day. It’s all about timing and pressure. So much pressure. Imagine waking up knowing that 200 people have to eat in eight hours and you have to cook it all. It’s a lot of f!@#$!@ pressure.

Also it’s a lot of dirty dishes. (And I do those, too.)

So yeah, I am relieved today. Happy, for the most part. Tired and my hands are torn to pieces from tossing around sharp chicken bones and the inside of my arms are burnt from reaching in the oven and being tired and careless.

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I am proud.

Of my crew, and all their hard work and sacrifice. Missing their own Christmas parties and traditions to help uphold others. They are servants at heart and they are the reason these things work. It’s funny, and I think we all sort of think that we wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the other person.

And that’s how this stuff works. Accountability and respect. Getting paid fairly doesn’t hurt either, and when it comes to wealthy southerners, we don’t mind putting in a little extra.

With all that being said, I am filled to the brim with thanks.

I am thankful for this quiet space I have today. Not many people get that luxury.

I’m thinking about a lot of people and a lot of things…and if where I am now is a testament in how to treat others and move forward, then I can only imagine where we’ll be next year.

Until then,

cheers!

twenty-something

Well. I turn 30 this week.

The writer part of me wants to search deeply for some metaphor and marrow.
The cook side of me hopes people will buy me a drink or two and maybe feed me something good — something that I don’t have to cook myself.

How do you sum up your twenties?

Well. You don’t really.
But I’d like to say something here, at least.

If our younger years are as formative as they say, then this decade has been about lessons.
Lessons on humanity and grace. Humility and power. Love and divorce.

It has been about justice and injustice. Spending moments with the poor. Seeing the faces of women who sell their bodies to feed their children; who work off a debt they had no say in.

With that, sprang some sort of well, deep in my heart. An overly-sensitive southern boy living in a world that is bright and loud and sometimes very violent.

Time rounds off the edges like sand blowing against a sharp rock over them years. Some softness gets added. Softness is like learning and understanding that you’re going to keep making mistakes and learning your whole life.

Softness is going easy on one’s self.

Cheeseburgers add to my softness.

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I learned how to be fierce, too. In the kitchen. I found so much in the kitchen. I found a heartbeat, a thicker skin, and something that drives and feels like some engine rumbling in my belly. It gives me confidence and passion. It gives me my own forms of justice and grace and I keep getting to learn what works.

The kitchen saved me from a lot of self-damage, and has given me a life I never thought I’d be able to stomach. But somehow, some way, this sensitive and quiet dude found a life and love for it. Regardless of which way my life turns, I am thankful the kitchen has been a part of it.

There is much growth in your twenties. You are still a baby, really. And then adult stuff hits you hard. Like money and rent and love. Sometimes you get married and you might have a baby or two or three.

Sometimes it works for you.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
And sometimes you’re in between all of that.

Sometimes you want to crawl underneath your bed with all those socks you’ve been missing and stay there until the noise dies down.

Fortunately for humans, we move. And we move forward.

Perhaps the biggest lesson in the past decade of my life is that we aren’t going to feel heartbroken forever.

We are going to be sad. We are going to hurt and see painful things that will change us.
But we also get to move around and squirm and sometimes settle. Like finding that sweet spot at night before you go to bed.

There were times I wish I would have dipped my toes into the sea. Or climbed higher or pushed myself to walk just a little bit further. I think we all feel that way sometimes. At least that’s what I’m learning.

And I’m learning that kindness is a gift. Something for yourself and others.

I learned that maybe the planet with those beautiful rings around it pulled me closer and allowed me to see myself and my life at a different angle. I know it might be silly to think of the planets like that, but I think there was some gravity there — it coming around to me being as close as it was when I came into the world all hot and red and pissed. It pulled the water in my body upwards and out — allowing me to open my heart to this wild and gracious time.

So yes — lessons and learning.

And I’ve cooked so much food and have fed so many people. I am so damn thankful I get to do something I really enjoy, for at least this time in my life — it works. And it might not some day. So, I’m going to live in this and work hard to make things better.

I joke that I have been 30’ish for about 6 years and it’s probably true. I am an old soul, some say. I am not afraid of getting older, only I do like to think about the time that has passed. I like to know what has helped me and what has hurt me. It takes us a while to learn, but we get there.

And I am getting there.

Slowly.

Stubbornly.

Shyly.

Quietly.

Fiercely.

 

Sincerely,

Josh, thirty-something