make a better soup; be a better person

Food

I tell people I have soup anxiety.

I may have touched on this before. It is ridiculous. You don’t have to tell me that.

It’s mostly the lack of substance. The brothy-ness and the fear of being hungry while our dinner companions talk for three more hours about their 8th grade tirades and how ‘nerdy’ we all used to be. (Trust me, if you’re playing soccer in 8th grade, you’re probably NOT a nerd — or at least in my view of the word.)

But I really like soup! I do, I do. I promise. It’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when I think, “Oh, dinner…”

Understanding soup basics was huge in my learning how to cook better. Usually in culinary school they start you at stocks, soups and sauces. Since I haven’t attended culinary school, nor will I ever, I did like most self-taught cooks do — I jumped in it.

I mean I got all up in that sauce talk.

I learned about stock and bones and fat.

I’m not gonna talk like I’m some pro at making soups. But I’ve made some good soups, just like you folks. (Or who at least claim to make the best chicken soup.) I’ve also talked about making different stocks as well. If you’re interested, just hit up that search engine. The world is full of people who can tell you how to make soup. I’m not different. I just thought I could bring a little humor to the conversation.

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First of all, eat roast chickens. Why? For the bones!
Wrap them up tight, and stick em’ in your freezer. Collect about 4-5 carcasses before you want to make a big batch. Your ratio of bones to veggies is so much more than you probably think. Probably equal to the amount of all the veggies, you should have bones, plus more. If they are raw carcasses (sometimes you can buy them like that), roast them in the oven till nice and brown, and then cover them with COLD water. Add your carrots, onions and celery. Maybe a few peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme and garlic. Oh yes, garlic. So good for you and your brothy-obsessed bodily functions.

Do the same with beef bones, if you have em’. But you probably don’t.

If you really want to impress someone with a killer chicken soup, make a double stock. This is when you use an already existing chicken flavored broth and add more bones to it. I mean, decadence.

Huge flavor. That’s what you really want, right? For example, if you’re making a chicken soup, boil your raw chicken in some water. After your chicken is done, throw in your bones and vegetables and crank down on that stock. And then, strain all that stuff out and continue to reduce your liquid. It’ll keep getting better, and better.

This will elevate your soup to another level. And at the risk of sounding even a little close to Guy Fieri, I’m gonna back off. Because that dude is an introverts nightmare.

I love soup that has something extra in it. Meaning, things besides vegetables. For chicken soup, we generally add rice or else ten minutes later, I’m eyeing that bag of Pirate’s Booty white cheddar corn puffs that sit not so far away from my subconscious and comfy brown chair.

Add lentils! Add beans! Add greens! Throw some chopped up kale in there during the last 15 minutes or so of cooking.

Add proper salt. Every time you make bland soup, some one else decides to make a Harlem Shake video. And we don’t want any more.

If your soup turns out to be too rich, add a few dashes of vinegar — either sherry or red wine or something of the like. I usually always add a hit or two of some kind of vinegar. Adds nice balance. And folks, it’s all about balance.

Then there are the flavor and umami boosting agents. Tomato paste, fish and/or mushroom sauce, and worcestershire. At least those are the most common you might have back behind your Sriracha sauce that you might, but shouldn’t, put on everything.

But hey, who am I to judge you and your need to make everything taste spicy.

So there.

Just a few options.

Maybe it was helpful. I know it’s helped me.

And remember: soup du jour

it’s the soup of the day

the sweet spots.

Food

Today, I’d like to talk about good things. (and sweet spots.)

Or at least good things to me. I’m a news junkie, so I’m always on the verge of melting down into a pool of sadness. But don’t let that dramatic picture set in just yet.

My life is also filled with goodness and it’s these days that I find myself becoming keenly aware of contentment and what I feel deep down to be good.

First of all, happiness is vague. It’s a spectrum of thousands of variables. I don’t believe I can ever say I’m truly happy. I mean, there are times when things seem perfect, but it’s always fleeting when the dark recesses of my mind catch up. And no one is as hard on me as I am. I am fully aware of my surroundings. But when the goodness is flowing, I try to soak it up like bread and sauce. Savoring and wishing for just one more bite. 

– – –

I like that first conscious breath of air after you wake up in the morning. That deep, satisfying inhale to know that you’re alive again and did not drift off into the night. You smell of sleep and listen to your bones crack. There’s a great comfort in that.

I love watching Travel shows. I guess as far as being a home-body, I love to get out of my surroundings if not physically, then most definitely visually. I love to see how cheese is made and am obsessed with food cultures around the world. I love watching it work.

I like doing that with a not too hot cup of coffee that’s sweet, not from sugar, but by great roasters and a somewhat tedious brewing method. But it makes all the difference to me.

Slow mornings are a gift, do not take them for granted. Being an industry person, I often get them. They help to center my day. I eat my eggs and sip my coffee and take it all as ritual.

I love spending time in my kitchen after a long, messy day. I know that a spoonful of butter and flour mixed with stock or milk makes a sauce or gravy. I know it’ll thicken and coat whatever it is I want to cover with goodness.

When the cold starts to take you, and the heater kicks on.

Whiskey. Ice cube. Orange peel. Repeat. (Responsibly, of course.)

When a song comes on that hits you in your gut. That makes you feel like life is good and right. Even if it is for 3-4 minutes.

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My buddy Kyle and I talk about eating food and watching a 20 minute TV show. There’s something comforting about a plate of food and something entertaining. I think it’s about stimulation and fixation. Both oral and visual.

There’s also something about sitting at a table with plates and glasses. Family style dining or by means of course. To risk the over-stated phrase “as conversation flows with the wine”, it’s sort of true. Good drink helps.

Good drink is best when that buzz hits right before you eat. When it takes the edge off and the warm and fuzzies come to settle in, if only until the food soaks it all up.

I love that moment from table to couch or chair. When the conversation needs to be moved to another room or another seat. Tea is put on and something sweet arrives at its side.

Shortbread and PG Tips with a dash of milk. Yes, that’s goodness.

Black coffee and pecan pie.

Feeling close and connected to the people you love and spend your life with.

Self-realization is good. The balance of understanding that the world isn’t revolving around you, nor is it healthy to exist without realizing you left your mark, somehow. Hopefully for the better.

Making a good name for yourself.

Feeling tired at the end of the day and having someone scratch your back and to feel thankful.

What is goodness to you?

(the perks of being) a kitchen wallflower.

Food

Where do I go from here?

This question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, especially when there’s not much clarity in these times of transition.

Mardi Gras was wonderful. A room full of people gettin’ happy and full. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Though I usually only have about a good 30-45 minutes of being with people when not having to either cook or clean. But that’s okay. I love watching, more than anything. I love being able to hop around and check in, and then head back to cook more. Or clean my station. Or just take a sip of good whiskey and soak it all in.

These things help hone in on what I want to do. Each year I say to myself that I probably won’t go through it again and each year I get way too jacked up not to.

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The thing is, these parties have shifted through the years. I wrote a bit about it last week, but I learn more from each dinner. I learn about the work and the passion. The idea that some things just don’t make sense. That’s the way it goes, though. I also can’t picture myself sitting in a classroom again, but some people love it. That’s quite alright, ya know?

More so, I have friends and family that root for me. That want to see me succeed in the things I’m passionate about.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

I see things and understand. There are people I love to impress and others I know who won’t get it. And that’s also okay. I never feel pressured either way. I guess this is the part where I feel most independent. When a ‘big deal’ walks in the door, I like to remain myself and hold fast to that. I feel like it’s gotten me to where I am today and I’m proud of that.

I’m stoked that I get to hold my head up and serve people and know that I put in a lot of time. We all have our gifts — and maybe I’m starting to learn what mine is.

I’m the wallflower in a kitchen.

Facilitating.

Adding salt.

Tasting.

Telling people, “It’s all about the mayonnaise…”

Scrubbing.

Turning off the lights.

And I’ll do it over and over again.

hey pocky way!

Food

I moved to Oregon in 2009 from my Beloved South.

Upon doing so, I loaded my car with all of my belongings and 15 bags of Zapps potato chips.

They weren’t all for me, but for the people I was staying with along the way. Sort of like a, “Thanks for letting me crash! Here’s a little piece of my story!” I mean, Zapps are delicious! But they’re funny, ya know? That’s the whole idea.

This Saturday, (yikes, tomorrow!) I will be hosting my 5th Mardi Gras party right down the road.

I have very sentimental memories of my first Mardi Gras here. I didn’t know everyone that well. I was still meeting the people my wife knew and loved and was aching for something familiar.

I made fried chicken, hushpuppies, fried pickles and for good measure, (crab) boiled veggies with shrimp. Zapps were a part of it, as well as our favorite King Cake from Paul’s Pastry in Picayune, MS. — my hometown.

The gumbo I didn’t make until our second year. It wasn’t very good. I was up till 2am stirring the roux, not realizing how long it takes to make a proper gumbo. I used carrots instead of bell pepper for the Trinity — which was okay — but not the Trinity, ya know?

We had about 12 people in our tiny apartment.

A couple of years passed and now we’re nearing 40-45 people in a space not my own.

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Can’t say that it’s not a little over-whelming to know that, but I’m so excited. It’s so fun to pull something like that off — especially when it’s something that means so much to me. Having people experience that part of my culture and eat some good food along the way. It just does my heart good.

Not to mention it comes at a dreary time in the Northwest. It always lifts my spirit to get that twinge of excitement in the middle of January. Knowing that in a few weeks, we will be celebrating and eating and inevitably dancing with another year of Mardi Gras in Portland.

I’ll let y’all know how it goes. Until then,

I got a roux to make!

the way things go

Food

It’s been too long, I know!

I don’t follow blogging rules very well.

Especially the kind where you update consistently and get people to follow you while making a big splash and getting a killer book deal. (Which doesn’t actually exist unless you’re Stephen King.)

But I’m gonna’ take a step back into the real world.
Since the last post, I’ve started to settle into my new job.

I am a barista again. It’s like slipping into a warm bath. This work is familiar and something I’m good at.  Low drama. Low hours. Low pay. The usual. But beggars can’t be choosers when unemployment is on the line. All decisions I made for myself, by the way.

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I cannot whine. I’ve been given some major space to catch up. To take care of things in my home and to be there when my wife is home from school. I’ve been able to cook more — which is kinda funny given I’d spent the past seven months working around food in a kitchen. I’ve worn out my Netflix queue and try desperately not to feel worthless with these six hour work days.

I’m not kidding anyone — it’s hard to make a living like that, unless your partner is bringing in big bucks, which neither of us are. We are lucky to have small living expenses. Somewhat. Our car is sucking the life out of me and the money in our bank account. But other than that, we’re okay and that’s enough to give me lots of good rest at night.

I’m whining because it feels good. I’m in full realization that there is so much goodness in my life, but sometimes, a small breakdown does just fine.

It’s okay to break and come back around. Sort of refreshing. Like the old saying goes, “This too shall pass.”

It always does.

Writing is cheap for me. I don’t have to spend money being better at it. It’s always been a hobby I come back to and feel strong urges to pursue. I feel a lot of writers struggle with themselves as writers. I feel the same about cooking in a lot of ways.

The invisible rule of being a cook is that if you aren’t cooking in a restaurant day in and day out, you’re not really a cook. This goes for caterers and private chefs. I can totally see that.

I don’t call myself a cook because I was on the line very little, and though I know I can handle it, I can’t do that lifestyle at this point. Which, I’m coming to be okay with.

There’s a lot of ways to work and make money with food and to be happy doing it. I guess that’s what I’m working on.

I surely know what I don’t want to do and what kind of cook I don’t want to be.

I guess writing is similar because you want be to read and have people respond. In the same way you cook and know immediately if people like it or not. Words and food are the quickest way to the soul.

It’s a wonder why they go so well together.

Because I’m a words guy.

I’m also a guy who wants to feed people.

And right now, I’m figuring out what those things mean for me and the future of my craft. Who knows, this might not be the thing for me and others may see that already.

But I lie awake at night thinking about it.

It’s the way things have been going for me lately. I’m cherishing this space to learn more about myself.

And I’m glad y’all are here.

Wherever you are. Reading or eating things I put out there, because I’m not even close to being finished.

Somethins’ gonna happen.

And I can feel it movin’ all around.

“Grandmama was the cornbread cookin’ Queen…”

Food, Story

As luck (and perhaps some grace) found me, I was only left with a week of unemployment.

Finding a cheap post-holiday flight deal, I decided to hop a plane and fly home to my Beloved South. I was able to surprise my mom, which truly meant a lot to me.

I flew in to a muggy, foggy New Orleans. The airport as empty as ever, late last Wednesday night. My VERY southern Louisiana grandparents were there to pick me up and whisk me away to their home off Powerline Road in Pearl River.

Waking up the next morning, I had coffee with my Me-Maw and Paw-Paw on the front porch. We caught up and listened to the rain. My eyes catching the glimpse of my favorite tree. Our Magnolia. The one we all climbed as kids and at some point, got too scared to come down.

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I could go on and on about the sentimentality of a place. We all have those places buried beneath the present. On the rare occasions when we can indulge in them, we do. Like waking up in an old familiar bed and partaking in the ritual that used to be.

My drawl slowly forming as I slur my S’s and release syllables like I never learned’em in the first place.

A place where soda is Coke and our mayonnaise of choice is Blue Plate (of which I brought home two bottles). White Lily is the chosen biscuit flour for biscuit afficianados and where shortening is called for instead of butter.

I spent a good amount of time eating and resting. Playing army men and checkers with my niece and nephew. Sweet little independent things they are. I love and miss them all too soon, even when they spill and lock me out of certain rooms. 🙂

My Gran and I traveled to Lorman, Mississippi. Home of the Old Country Store, and about one of the only businesses that resides in Lorman, besides Alcorn State University. My Gran, who is always up for an adventure, drove me down the Natchez trace in the freezing rain for Mr. D’s fried chicken.

We arrived and were the first ones there. It was a big, cold building. You heard someone singing in the kitchen and the waitress getting the buffet set up. We learned that it’s probably best to eat there after 12:30, but we wanted the freshest fried chicken. The first batch of the day.

And it was killer. The meat pulled off the bone as though it had never been attached. The crust was perfect and crispy. Good salt. Not much spice, but it didn’t really matter. The sides were pretty typical. Cole slaw, potato salad, green beans in vinegar, yams and biscuits. But we were here for the chicken. And yes, it is that good.

Arthur “Mr. D” Davis came out and talked to me. I think my Gran had mentioned to him in passing that I was a cook in transition. I got to shake his hand and he showed me all the magazines he was in. He said, “I just cook how my Grandmama taught me, and now I got people from all over the place comin’ to eat my fried chicken!” Lots of belly laughs ensued, and told me, “It’s all about fresh, fresh, fresh.”

He leaned in while shaking my hand as we left, and said, “Keep cookin’. Keep lovin’ what you do. The money is not as important as you think.”

I learned so much in such a short amount of time. One of those life-changing moments, to a certain extent.

And as he sings from time to time,

“Grandmama was the cornbread cookin’ Queen, and she raised me to be the Fried Chicken King…”

 

The ebb and flow of the South is much like it is any other place. After all, it is just a place.

But it’s one of my favorite places — a pride I hold to my heritage,

a pride I hold deep in my breath and belly.

 

My Most Favorite Izakaya – Tanuki!

Food

I am not one to write reviews about bars and restaurants.

I dabbled in Yelp for a second and came to the realization that Yelp was a place for the obsessed (read: borderline psychotic) or the downer of the group that usually says something along the lines of, “Guys, I think we need to go somewhere else — they only have four stars — and it says they don’t serve sushi!”

But there is this one place.

Oh yes — this one tiny place that encompasses more goodness than I can usually handle.

I heard about it from a woman I used to work with. She said something about $20 getting you a huge and fantastic meal that involved a bunch of tiny dishes and good, strong “drank”.

Her name is Janis. She’s the force of nature behind those black curtains at Tanuki – an Izakaya near SE 82nd and Stark. Now, my relationship with Janis is interesting. We are friends on Twitter and have had the occasional run-in while she’s bringing out food and animal hats and shots of delicious Sake and any other thing she might have hidden in the depths of such a place.

Any time I bring in new people, I always say, “It’s just her back there cookin’ — it’s ridiculous!”

I’d hassle Janis to write a blog for me, but I know she’s entirely too busy. I’ve been wanting to write about this place for a while — so here you have it.

And instead of blasting you with pictures of what I eat there (too numerous to describe), I’d like to share why Tanuki hits the spot for me. Because it is, for lack of better explanation, unusual to most. A lot of people don’t get Tanuki. And to be honest, the people who don’t get Tanuki are the people who I’d rather not dine next to in the first place.

Tanuki is first and foremost, a drinking den. It’s dark with loud music and raunchy Korean and Japanese cult films. It offers some serious Sake as well as cocktails and lots-o-good-beer.

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Upon arriving, I go for the shot and sake combo. $4 gets you a freezing cold Hite and a shot of house Sake. It’s a good start to an evening that will most likely involve more, and more drinking. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drink a lot. But here, it works. And as long as the food’s coming, the drinks should as well.

I recommend going Omakase. This is basically setting your price limit and letting Janis throw food at you. From bacon kimchi buns to hamachi wraps to kimchi-marinated hanger steak and that freaking Chinese sausage and nasal-cleansing hot mustard. God. It’s too good.

It’s salty. It’s drinking food. It’s dark. It’s right in my sweet spot.

It’s a place I can go where I don’t have to make many decisions. It’s a place that has rules. No kids. (21+) No sushi. No more than four people. Other than you that, just try not to be an asshole and submit to Janis. That’s not too much to ask, is it? But, I sort of like rules at a restaurant. It gives the customer some structure and to some extent, some submission to the cooks and servers. As a person who has cooked and served, it’s sort of the right amount of freedom and being told what to do. I don’t know, I like it!

Like I said, I don’t know Janis personally, but she’s generous. If there’s one thing I see and hear from her, (besides pushing back on posh food writers and whiny Yelpers), is that she instills in her a hospitality that I strive for. She takes care of people. She gives us a dining experience we usually wouldn’t be able to afford. And at her expense, the massive amount of skill to produce that kind and quality of food for the price and timing, I feel incredibly spoiled.

From posting pictures of horror film classics, and cussing at her purveyors, to quoting C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, Janis gets it.

And each time I find myself about to walk in those doors, I get a little nervous and way too excited because I know, and others know,

you are right where you’re supposed to be.

 

 

Five Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat! (just kidding.)

Food

In and out goes the new year, along with our expectations of a great rapture — whether physical or spiritual.

We are all still here. Nothing cataclysmic happened. At least, not yet. (And not that fast.)

What were we to expect anyways? As I’ve been catching myself saying, we’re not getting out of this world that easy. We are met with an irresponsible fiscal crisis and millions of us desperately trying to keep up. Not to mention the unrest and violence all around the world. Certainly a lot to think about.

I came across an article about the state of our American Dream. That phrase drives me nuts. A seemingly deceptive baby-boomer term that has inevitably helped us get into all this mess.

I had to stand in a massive line at Urban Outfitters yesterday to get a gift card and nearly ran out screaming. Between the group of high school girls in front of me, the brain-rattling-endorphin-driven music, and the intense smell of sweet perfume; I almost lost it. None of their machines worked. I felt so bad for them. I know how it is. She kept apologizing to me. I kept smiling and throwing “No Worries” at her. It really is okay, ya know?

Maybe I’m becoming an old man. Well, little by little I am.

It led me to start thinking about what I wanted for myself this year. I’ll be the first to say that things can get messy in a flash. We all want our years to turn out certain ways, but we all know that just doesn’t happen. We don’t end up losing that belly fat or getting a high-paying dream job.

I don’t want to come off as dismal, but something I’ve been letting sink in. When these intense things keep happening in our lives (and the world that we live in) we can’t process it all. Like the shooting in Newtown and the ever-rising death toll in Syria.

Whew. Take some deep breaths.

I’m leaving a season of being burnt out. The smallest thing seems a bit overwhelming to me. Questions and car troubles and unemployment are all very much heavy on my back.

Take some more deep breaths. Into your belly, breathe it deep because it’s real, but it’s far from who you are as a person. Don’t make it question your goodness and what you have to offer this world.

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You see, that’s where I’m coming back to.

I’m over hearing people say how trendy cooking is. I think people who want to start a restaurant because they’re good home cooks is pushing it. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to dream, though. We are a generation looking for something real again.

Food is a good way to start. Yes, we write about and eat at your restaurants. I’ve waited and served these kind of people and listen to them diagram a roast beef sandwich for 20 minutes. It is what it is.

But don’t let this world fool you. This dream is fading. Feel it. Breathe it in. Accept it. We are changing. We are moving.

Food is changing. We will be shifting from consumers to house cooks. We will have to eat less meat. We will have to learn to suck it up and do the damn dishes.

I, for one, think the US will be better for these humbling things. Where we value sustainability not only in food and materials, but with relationships and the inevitably downtrodden human condition.

So why not start in your kitchen? Blow the dust off your spatula and fry up the perfect egg.

Marvel in its simplicity and complexity.

Let’s find our way back to goodness.

I’m gonna start with that sink full of dishes because somehow,

it makes sense to me.

the inevitable two weeks.

Food, Hospitality Industry

This is an interesting food blog.

From the beginning, I’ve always wanted this to be a space where I get to process my wanderings as a blogger/writer/whatever, but also as a person who cooks at home, at work, and wherever I might be with a good knife and a bag of goods.

A lot has been shifting in my life. For those who keep up with this blog, I’m sort of all over the place. I’ve wrestled with the idea of food carts, meaningful work, customer service and what food really means to me.

I’ve (very) recently put in my two weeks notice at my current place of employment. This is a very scary and liberating thing, for reasons I probably won’t get into on here, unless I chat with you more personally from time to time.

It’s not easy to stand up to your boss. They sign your paychecks and can fire you. They are the people you always want to make happy. And when you don’t, they either talk to you or gnaw at you until you just can’t take it anymore.

The food industry is a weird machine. It works with the hopes of that there will be people willing to work for eight dollars an hour. It exists because of this poverty. It’s a “make it by the skin of your teeth” industry too. Profits are usually low, which is why labor needs to be cheap. People like myself, work hard for that eight or nine dollars an hour, for reasons we can’t really explain. Passion is involved usually. It’s an easy business to get sucked into. It’s fast and the affirmation is quick. (Or disappointment, for that matter.)

Some of us work for it in hopes of having our own place. Some of us work because we are in transition with bigger things upon the horizon. Some of us have no idea where we’re going. The food industry is good for these reasons as well. I think I exist in it for most of these reasons.

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And so I sit here moving my fingers without a place to be in two weeks. I have hopes that something will come my way, but also that it will be something I can grow into.

I’m not afraid of working hard. I am afraid of working without that thing that fills me up. I don’t believe in wasting these experiences. They show me how I don’t want to be, and what I don’t want to do. They show me the kind of person I really am.

I’ve spent this whole year learning how to take care of myself. Though this part of the year has been a low, it has shown me that I’m fierce and passionate about what I do.

And I’m proud of that.

So here’s to the inevitable future and that whatever I end up doing, I do it well and with love…

(…and hopefully, get to use butter.)

Life, death, and dishes

Food, Story

Many of you may not know that I spent some time in India back in 2007.

I don’t talk about it much for the fear of sounding like the average student traveler looking for a foreign buzz.

But I suppose I was, to some extent. I went for many reasons, and came back realizing that my life would be different in all sorts of ways. For someone who grew up in the comforts of North Americana, diving into Kolkata culture for four months left me with many things to process. Many of which I’m still working on.

It’s hard to explain to people what we did with a short conversation, which is why I won’t dive into too much of that here. I can tell you that I did some work with a wonderful group of freedom workers called Sari Bari. (You can hit up their website here.)

It’s hard to truly understand a culture in four months. It’s actually impossible. It’s something one must devote their whole life to understanding and still then, may not get to fully recognize its impact.

So as I find myself on this journey of understanding meaningful work, I’ve been processing my time at Kalighat. Kalighat was where I volunteered while in India. It is Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute. Basically, a hospice center.

It is a place where I saw pain and death, but also peace and joy. And I don’t say those words with the “Christmas-y” tone that you hear so much of right now. There were times of great sadness, but also times where laughter felt like the best thing you could muster up. Most importantly, it was a place for dignity. To hold someone’s hand and to give them peace as they left this physical world.

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I had small jobs. But it was meaningful work for me. We washed their garments by hand. We hung them on the roof to dry. We emptied out salt and pepper packets donated by major airlines. We fed the brothers and emptied their bed pans. We washed dishes.

My first day there, I accidentally stepped around the sink area with my sandals and the southern Chinaman in charge of teaching volunteers on dishes screamed, “No! What the f*ck are you doing?!” I stepped back as he grabbed my arm and explained to me the way. This dude slowly became one of my favorite people. And then I learned how to teach people.

We washed most of the dishes with empty plastic bags, as rags were of scarcity. There was a person scraping off food bits, another at the wash, sanitize, rinse and dry stations. There are no machines at Kalighat. Only the hands of volunteers and Sisters caring for the broken (in many ways, we were the broken ones.)

And in between the dish and the clothes washing station was the morgue. Any time a body would enter in or out of the station, we all stopped. Some of us closed our eyes. Some of us made the sign of the cross on our bodies as we do in Mass.

It was about as solemn of a time as you could have felt. There were only a few times where I had to carry bodies in and out of Kalighat. To unwrap their still warm bodies and throw their clothes in the bin to be cleaned. They were then wrapped tightly in white linen and brought out to the Missionaries of Charity bus to be cremated.

You witnessed humanity in its every facet.

There were times when all I wanted to do was cry.

There were times when I did all the while rinsing fish bones off the metal dishes.

And the sacred tea time where the volunteers would meet upstairs for tea and biscuits leftover lunch chow. Here we would sing songs and laugh and I would vicariously live through the Italian doctor smoking cigarettes and singing little Italian anthems.

As the bell rang, I would leave and grab my things and look over the brothers once more and wonder by the next time around if they’d still be there or off to another place.

There’s always something to be done. Always a person to love. Always a dish to be cleaned.

And all are important things to me, in this life.

To care for another human being.

There is nothing small about that.