beliefs.

Everything is just, happening.

I feel like the days zoom by and I am the roadside jetsam and flotsam, getting picked up in the current of a passing 18-wheeler.

Up and down, left and right.
I’m thinking it’s a pace I’m going to have to get used to.

I am in a comparing season of my life. I suppose we all are, at many times in our lives. Meaning, I’m comparing myself with other things. Like cooking. I’m thinking I could do better and that I am better, or I’m thinking I’ll never be that good.

I’m comparing myself to my friends who are uncles, and I’m thinking I’m not a great uncle because I’m always late on giving gifts.

I feel a bit on edge at times. Dodgy and picky and stubborn.
I feel apologetic.

For my generation. For me, really. My inability to not check my phone every five to ten minutes. My fear to choose in a world of choices. My need to feel authentic but to not stick out.

I feel sad for our recent losses. I think there is a gaping wound there. It hit us again. We are knee jerking and moving forward quickly and it’s just a lot. I’m okay with everything, but really, it’s not about me or what I think is right.

I used to really want my beliefs. I wanted my certainties. They made me feel important and unique. Edgy.

That’s what I want to come back to, each day. How much this world is not about me.

I am in a luxurious, though sometimes lonely, season in life where I have so many freedoms. It is addictive. It is so fun. I’m not sure how healthy it is to have it all, but I’m close to feeling content with where I am at.

That is okay. I am still removing the ideals of being a gypsy of some sort. Some of that still resonates within me. The idea that the world is meant to be traveled and understood by me.

But I am not so much that guy anymore.

I am the guy conflicted and pulled by gravity.

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The guy who is scared that the Bible is not quite making its way back into my world like I thought it would, being back in the South. That is not to say that I think it is stupid or unintellectual. It is just not a framework that I live my life through anymore, and haven’t for quite some time. I think that is scary, sometimes. I wish I had faith like my friends and family.

Deep down, where the waters are still, I find it there. A small glow, but a glow indeed. My peace. My ability to show grace and absorb pain.

But nearing the surface — that is where the waters are tumultuous. Pulled in by the moon and sent crashing into rocks as though it is in my nature to break and form back together.

So while I do my comparing and floating and crashing, I am still drawn to whatever it is that gives me peace every day. At least for a moment, and then I go on surviving and bumping into people and colliding with their thoughts and their own wars.

Luckily grace exists outside of the Bible. As does love and mercy and forgiveness. All of which I learned from Jesus, but I also learned from my momma, and Mother Teresa, and my chef.

Today, I will be carrying everyone with me.

chef

I just jolted awake from one of my small coma-like naps because I thought my air conditioning was the sound of the kitchen printer at work.

Rattle rattle rattle.
My heart was racing. I’ll admit, I’m a hardcore napper. A solid thirty minutes of what I like to call “baby sleep”, when they get all sweaty and all their weight falls on you like a sack of potatoes. And just like that, I am back in the game.

Well. I am a head chef now. Due to a switch in ownership and being in the right place at the right time, I have fulfilled one of my short term goals of being a “chef” before turning thirty. This isn’t unusual. Many chefs are under 30. Though it’s come at me fast, I have no doubt in my heart that I’ve earned the title.

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But this isn’t about being a chef.

Maybe it is a little.

More so the hurricane of my brain. Fed only more so by the fact that my shop is doing brunch on Sundays, which any cook will tell you, is a slur of hecticness and eggs. Eggticness.

Alas, it is my job to do this. To feed you hungry people. Lately I have cursed the gods more than I have praised them and for that, I hope they have mercy on me.

My days seem short.

I wake up in an attempt to find another black shirt to wear with some jeans and my old Nikes that I’ve tried to replace twice, and it just hasn’t worked out.

I walk into the kitchen and turn everything on. Slowly, people start showing up. But for that first hour, it is just me in the kitchen. Stirring grits. Cooking off loads and loads of bacon.

Sipping on that first pot of coffee that I get to marvel in. I stare into its blackness and know that in due time, it will find its way through my veins like the chemical it is. I will shake off morning creaks and dust and start working on my prep list.

Cooking is never ending. There is no project that is done that doesn’t have to be re done almost every week, if not every day. There is no council or board members to tell me if I did a good job and that I’ve earned my hearty salary.

Only today, I will be judged for what goes on the plate. I will most likely clean that plate too, and do it again and again. I will be judged on quickness and taste and delivery. Hundreds of times a week. I wake up knowing that I will not please everyone and that I will inevitably let someone down. But I do my best to be as healthy as I can in this industry.

Before everyone shows up, I try to repeat this mantra in my head that it is all out of my control. Only that mostly it is in my control. At least the things that I can have a say in.

Also, there is tomorrow.

Regardless of how stressful and insane and impossible some days are, there is that presence of time. We will move forward and no, this won’t last forever.

So yeah, I guess you can call me a chef now, though it’s a funny word. I won’t be weird about it.

Because sometimes being a chef means you’re reaching your hand down a flooded floor drain to unclog it before it hits the dining room. (Like maybe I did yesterday.)

Or it means going out and buying your co-worker a drink, who’s having a hard season. Or keeping everyone cool when sh*t inevitably hits the fan.

I know your job is stressful too. And you probably get paid way more than me, but I am so super proud of what I’ve become. I may not have a big house to show of my labors. But I have my day to day. My baby naps. The occasional diner telling me that what they had was perfect.

It is enough to make my eyes water, and enough to wake up again tomorrow and do it all over.

If this is what it means to be a chef, then I think I’m going to be okay.

heaven and ivy

I think about ruin.

Some form of hell, my frame leaning against the walls.

A depth of hell, I imagined.
In church they told me it was separation from God.

Though hell feels more like separation from Love.
Maybe there’s truth in that.

I think about ruin.

War. Metal piercing through flesh.
Swords are bullets now.

Echoing in the halls of ruin.

Then there grows ivy,
almost as though it had no idea of that wall’s previous
function.

That wall, hiding from an enemy.
The next day’s light,
Or the way my face looks now.

The ivy is climbing. More so, every day.
Sometimes I remember my frame,
sitting in that depth of hell
gnashing my own teeth.

How can heaven and hell exist in the same place?

I suppose it always has.
That is being human, after all.

I think about ruin.

Instead I see life.
Imagination.
Birth.
Big ocean.

I see ivy.
Slowly climbing. Twisting around knots and
threading itself through holes like wounds.

Tighter, it grabs.
Reclaiming.
Without a single care,
only that it is in its nature to climb and grow.

Like us.

I think about ruin.

And my hell has turned into my salvation.
I run my hands down the walls.
I feel the cracks.
The pain.
Remnants of hell on earth.

And then I see green.
Green ivy, pulsing. Thriving.

Because it is in its nature to climb and grow.

Like us.

Ruins.
Filled with dark and light.

Pulsing, thriving.

Onward
and upward.

wrapping ourselves through our wounds,
as though we had no idea of our wall’s previous function.

I think about ruin.

And all I can see is heaven,
and ivy.

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a cook’s life.

I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

saved.

When I was a kid, my dad was Jesus.

Not in the way you might think.

He was actually Jesus.
For the Easter Cantata at church.

He could sing pretty well. I think that’s why, and he generally had a knack for theatrics.
In fact, the church used my Indiana Jones whip to push him down our red carpeted aisles. Fake blood and wounds lined his back.

I saw him there, hanging on the cross, too.
He was hanging between a hippie computer technician and another man.
I’m not sure what he did.

I saw him hang his head.
He was put into a tomb and he came back alive.
(Two’ish days compiled into two’ish minutes.)

I don’t remember feeling very sad. Because I knew my dad was really alive.
Other things made me sad.

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I always say it is unusual to process your childhood as an adult.
Adults seemed more like adults back then and you realize now that your parents were actually trying to do the best they could with what they had.

Mostly, because I watch my friends and family with kids and see how books and articles will never actually describe or explain to them what it will be like to be a parent.

I am a person who recognizes how difficult things will be. That’s not to say that I find the path of least resistance. But knowing things will be hard, at least in my own head, lessens the blow.

A lot of people in my world are going through some really icky shit.

There is no other way to describe it only that it is like accidentally sticking your hands in pine tar.
You’re in it for the long haul.

And this is what it is like, after all. To be human. To feed yourself. To conflict with other peoples’ well beings. To maybe leave them and this place better than when you found it.

Sometimes, you see your actual father hanging on a cross and it makes you think.

Maybe not when you were nine years old.

But maybe 20 years later when you’re frying eggs on the line,

and you pause and remember,

all of the things,

that have saved you.

apple cobbler

Anne Lamott always talks about life not having a manual.

I have a hard time knowing that regardless of what I read, what movies I watch, or which people I connect with, there will always be a curve and incline.

We are all feeling it, thinking it.

The Earth keeps moaning and we are feeling its wrath.
I think people are getting tired and weary, and all the weight that gravity lays on our shoulders is wearing us thin.

Two police officers were killed in my city this weekend. A senseless act of violence, among so many, fed with fear.
My community is heartbroken. Not just because they were cops, but because they were people in our community.

Southerners are emotional people.

They probably won’t admit it, but that’s just being Southern.

I feel their weight, not because I’m also a Southerner but because they are my people. We all mourn together. I take an active part in feeding this community, so in a sense, I worry for them and take their burdens as I hope they take mine.

It is a tough season for so many. My family. My friends. Moving. Change. Fear of the inevitable unknown.

Time is so uncertain and it is so precious of a thing.

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So I settle into myself, for at least a moment. I let sadness in and I let it out. I do the same with all of those things. I become vulnerable with the people I work with, and it’s hard. It’s hard to lead and to also be vulnerable, though I think the best leaders are. We confuse vulnerability with weakness, when it is the opposite. It is strength. And it is your immeasurable power as a human being.

I grew up keeping so much in. A fist clenched tight with worry and anger and doubt.

I’ve certainly had my growing seasons, and also months where I wilt a bit.
But I have also learned that exposing your wounds to air helps to heal.

Sure, there are others things that heal. Time and a bit of care.

Okay. A lot of care. Self-care. Other-people-care.
Ice cream-and-warm apple cobbler-care.

These words are the sound of settling, of embracing my humanness and I want to crumble and dissolve into something bigger. Something, somewhere that knows me and places its palm on my arm to say, “Broken world, son.”

I hear those three words more often than not, floating around in my subconscious, reminding me that we are beyond fixing.

But we are not beyond healing.
And we are not beyond changing and growing and shifting. We are all okay to do that.
We are okay to open.
We are okay to bloom when the sun shines brightly and we have just enough water in our veins to be a gift to others.

We are…okay.

In these seasons, we are not asking anything but to be loved and heard.
To be set free and to live as wounded healers.

To be fierce sons and daughters of the Beloved.

I am okay today.
And though I wish I had that manual for tomorrow, or the day after that, but I do not. Neither do you.

That’s okay.
If you need me, I will be in my summer-warm kitchen, shoo’ing off a few fruit flies and washing dishes.
I will offer you a place at my table.
We will both dissolve into that something bigger and embrace our humanness.
And maybe, just maybe,

there will be apple cobbler.

An Evening with French Broad Chocolates

Chocolate.

What can I say that hasn’t been said.

To avoid the common lusty language, let me say that I do not eat desserts that often.

“Oh, I’ll just have one or two bites..” Which leads to me eating at least four or five.
When my friend Sarajane over at French Broad Chocolates asked me if I wanted some chocolate, it was a resounding, “Hell yeah I want some chocolate!”

In exchange for a recipe and a few words, I was happy to welcome these luscious chocolate drops into my Mississippi home.

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The weather is a bit warm here, already. But I wanted to make something that would showcase the chocolate more than anything.

Sipping chocolate. This isn’t something I often do, as it is rich but so deeply satisfying.

It also inspired me to create some homemade marshmallows which turned out pretty sweet! (And were really easy to make!)

So, let’s get started.

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Ingredients:
6oz of incredible chocolate
For this recipe, I used a 68% cacao chocolate from Matagalpa, Nicaragua
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 TB packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, but I like a tiny bit of heat)
**I also added a tiny pinch of fleur de sel after pouring, because I like a little salt to cut the richness**

This chocolate already had a profile of brown sugar, so I kept it going in that direction, but surely you can use another kind of sugar and also another kind of milk. (I’d recommend substituting milk for coconut milk, and coconut cream for heavy cream.)

Bring your milk and cream up to steam on a low flame. You don’t want to scald the milk or simmer it, just enough till you see wisps of steam. This is when you add your chocolate, salt, sugar and *optional* cayenne. Whisk continuously until it is all dissolved and luscious looking.

Kinda like this:

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Since I got the wild idea to make marshmallows, I decided to use my new sweet blow torch attachment (also known as a Searzall), to add a little char.

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I don’t really have to tell you that it came out amazing.

Oh man.

It was so simple and delicious and rich. You could get at least six 3oz. servings out of this recipe.

So call up some friends. Melt some chocolate, toast some marshmallows and bliss out for a while.

You deserve it.

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Thank you to my friends over at French Broad Chocolates in Asheville, North Carolina. It was such a pleasure to work with your product and I believe you are making the world a better place. Next time I’m up your way, I’d love to pop in, say hello, and maybe poke my head around your kitchen.

Cheers!

saints and salt.

I’ve been watching this new series on Netflix called, “Chef’s Table”.

Of course, as a cook, I am drawn to things that shed a little light on my world and why we are driven to do what we do.
For one, the series is beautifully produced.
The music is dreamy.
The food is just. Humph.

I sit in my chair, squirmy and restless.

In the back of my mind, I say “Can I do that here??!!”

Can I become great?
To be honest, I don’t think that’s the right question.

In all of these stories, there are extraordinary highs and gut-wrenching lows. From physical exhaustion and breakdowns to having your biggest client tell you that your food was terrible. There are the empty dining rooms, and being booked solid for a year.

The ebb and flow of being a chef is like this: Response. No response. Doubt. Certainty. And I think that it changes daily.

Each chef has this desire to create and change the world they live in.
I am so drawn to their worlds. It makes sense to me. Deep deep down I will always have a need to create and change.

And I have been so challenged this past week.
Frustrated with the industry. Letting my tired and restless soul get the best of me on numerous occasions.

It is so hard to translate your life’s passion to someone who doesn’t care like you do. It feels a little like being a kid and having the grown ups discourage you from being wild. I think we lose so much of our wildness. We lose our ability to say what we need to say and to communicate it well.

I’ve found myself as a leader. I think maybe because I try not to be an asshole. I try to not set up my people to fail. I try to be good and I try to do good things. It is hard keeping your patience and to not blow up on the occasional (or frequent) slip up.

And I am so hard on myself. And I am so stubborn, even more so in a kitchen.

I am learning what kind of chef I want to be. This has been a season of learning what kind of chef I don’t want to be. At the cost of losing sleep and burning a bridge or two, I am learning still.

I am not here to feel justified.

I’ve been a jerk too many times for that.
But I have a lot in common with these people and the fires that reside in their bellies and their kitchens.

Their love of feeding people and doing it well.
Their passion for life in all its complexity.
Truly, they are the saints that salt the earth.

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Today I rest my legs and my back, getting ready for another week where I hope to make good decisions. I also hope that I have the courage to speak my mind when I feel something is right and to fight for and with the people I work for, and this way of life.

Because I’m not sure what cooking is without conviction and trials,

or the weight that I carry that comes with feeding people.

All I know is that there will be huge highs and lows, and the things I might sacrifice to get there.

I don’t know if I will ever arrive.

I don’t think it is about arriving. It is about the road and pit stops and randomly jumping into an ice cold river,

That is what makes this journey personal,

and I’m excited to see where and for how long the road takes me.

hands lifting

I like being imperfect around other imperfect people.
Or at least the ones who submit to the fact that this world is hard and unruly and unpredictable.

I like hearing parents tell me how hard it is to be a parent. How their kids cry because sometimes kids just cry and that they are exhausted beyond any thing they’ve ever imagined.
I want the world to know that I love those little hamburgers from Wendy’s and that’s the stuff I won’t put on Instagram with a fancy filter.

We like real. At least I do. I think we are meant to struggle with each other. Sometimes we get to celebrate with each other too. Like anniversaries and new jobs.

I like that with each hard thing, I learn a tiny lesson. A gift in the form of a small train wreck.

I move forward with more confidence. I absorb it and I let it run through my system — the one that has felt this way before and can somehow manage to feel it though again and again.

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In and out, I think about the people in Nepal. I remember walking through their streets and I remember their people and their food. I remember playing guitar and singing with their kids. My heart is breaking all over because I know they are not built for such a thing. Who is, really?

I see rubble and pain. I also see hands lifting them both.

The Earth keeps spinning and moaning. Friction and heat and release.

I am saturated in it.
I mourn, with the rest of the world.
I pray and I remember how beautiful the stars were.

Somehow though, I am spared, and I am allowed to keep moving, each day.
Lucky is a word I use a lot. I’m not sure why. I wouldn’t consider myself a person of great luck, but I have become accustomed to feeling the good when it is good, because I know how bad things can get.

I’ve seen how deep and dark depression can be.
It feels a little like being at the bottom of a well, hoping you become the water that someone will just scoop up and save you from being in the dark.

Some days you feel a little bit like dying and it becomes less so. You just have to keep waking up and keep opening your heart to other people. I know that sounds cheesy and redundant, especially on this blog.

But I could never hear it enough.
I have written on my left arm, “These things take time”, and it’s surrounding a big pot, inspired by my friend Callie. Another friend of mine actually gave me the tattoo. I think I knew then that time was a gift. I wanted to remember that. I wanted to remember them. My people, the ones actually placing their hands on wounds.

They were my own wounded healers.

It carries over into cooking. I find myself cutting corners and knowing deep down, that is not who I am and it is not who I want to be. Time is nitty gritty. It is tiring and always pushing you forward, like your friends helping you to jump off the high dive.

You will plunge deep into the water, and it will sting your eyes and burn your nose, but you will rise up to the top and take in a deep breath.

That breath is a small victory.

So celebrate and throw up your hands,
eat a piece of cheesecake,
buy some new curtains,
hold tightly to your love,

and celebrate our healers as we are the hands,

lifting.

moaning.

mourning.

singing.

cooking.

cleaning.

tickling.

feeding.

rebuilding what is broken.

gargantua

I couldn’t fall asleep last night.

Maybe it was a mixture of my day’s lump sum.
Drinking. And crawfish. Eating. Taking a nap.
Drinking a little again. Eating a bit more.

These are days that I try to smooth over a bit.
Sort of like trying to fix the frosting on a cake,
and getting it all over my fingers in the process.

I felt it all too.
And I missed her deeply, especially on this day.

Somehow I was given the space to deal with it all. I’m not always that lucky.
I began watching “Interstellar” and tried to make it through the whole movie, but it was late.

My heart had been beating so fast. I think because of Saturn again. And its beauty. And its symbol to me, at this point in my life. People may think I’m crazy, but it stirs something deep inside my own swirling galaxy.

My head wouldn’t stop spinning. Not because of alcohol or blood sugar, but because of outcomes. Because of time.

I couldn’t let it go. At least not last night.
The subtle shift of life’s forward motion. A small bump into a new trajectory.

It became so bright and sparkly. Maybe some pieces were engulfed in flames, like rock or metal skipping off the atmosphere.

I told myself to take deep breaths.

In between my steady stream of thoughts and worries. I squirmed and tossed and turned.
I punched my pillow a few times to get it positioned just so.

It was one of those nights where I think I got some sleep. Enough to wake up, at least.

vdofmDc

I woke up yesterday with a burn in my belly. Restless from the get-go. Those are the days I walk through carefully.

I think about every single thing. What would happen if I would have stepped left instead of right. Embracing my world like an old friend I haven’t seen in quite some time. I think that’s maybe what feeling small does to me. My tiny world, hanging so delicately on some sort of tilted bias, occasionally in darkness, but always coming to light.

I heard a young poet yesterday say that ‘wonder is the inevitable conclusion to fear.’ And that ‘someone, somewhere has already cracked open its beauty’.

This is truth.
These pains and these joys have already been felt and explored. But we are all so new to everything. We are allowed the opportunity to explore these frontiers for ourselves, as scary as they are. And we get to see each new day, when we open our hearts to it.

Like I open my heart to the universe and its pull.
Or when I want to hide in my own darkness, gravity and time still find their ways to fill me with wonder.

Cracking open what is infinitely human,

again and again.