lost in kolkata

Story

It happens in my dreams.

At least once a month, I find myself sitting up in bed, weighed down with whatever this dream is supposed to be telling me about myself — how I can never make it to wherever it is I’m trying to find.

I get lost. I miss a bus. No one can hear me. No one helps me.

It’s an anxiousness — a longing — of trying to remember how to find things again.

Kolkata-city1

Why Kolkata? Well, I spent some time there nearly a decade ago. And while it was intense, I left feeling exhausted, but full of life and life’s unfairness. I left with a bigger (and aching) heart. Everything had changed for me.

A lot happened in that decade. I got married to a girl I met there. We had a wonderful and sometimes shitty marriage that led one of us to shift a bit more than the other. And with that, I decided to shift too. I was too stubborn to fight for something I felt was a lost cause. Maybe we both did.

I found cooking. I found my way back home.

That, I at least have figured out. I know where I am now, and I do know what I’m doing. At least I think.

When I wake up after my dreams, I take a sip of water and attempt to let it leave my brain. I listen to the white noise of the machine next to me drown out anything that might keep me awake. Because when you live by yourself, noise can be safety. It can also be a scarier thing.

There’s not always a way out. Rarely do I discover the destination and mostly end up leaning against a wall, hoping someone will grab me by the arm and take me. Anywhere. Anywhere that isn’t the hopelessness of feeling lost and abandoned.

The relief that is waking up to your own bed. Safe. Warm. That you have a good job to walk into with good people that believe what it is you want to do. That is a thing I never take for granted, and it feels almost dreamlike if I’m being honest with myself.

But I know I will sink back into it. That same dream. Perhaps after I’ve been talking about it with someone over too much wine and food. The reality of life’s intensity, its sadness and its overwhelming ability to make me feel tiny and gigantic.

I suppose I got lost in Kolkata, and I haven’t been able to fully find it again. Maybe it needed to stay there, on the streets with smoking charcoal and exhaust from buses and rickshaws and angry men.

I found a lot more than I lost,

the city of joy,

and that which lives within.

Podcasts with Everything is OK

Food, Story

In the past year I have done TWO super cool podcasts with my friend David.

He and a couple of his friends (who all reign from the OK state) started a podcast to talk about all sorts of things. I reckon’ that’s what they’re for, anyhow.

He asked me a little over a year ago to share my journey from Mississippi to Oregon and back again. (And everything in between.) That podcast you can right here!

And recently, we caught with one another, roughly recapping the year and talking about chicken sandwiches and God and the church. So many things.

You can find the newest episode here!

Okay.

I hope you all have a great week.

See you soon.

-josh

1505705520406

ramen night.

Food, Story

If I can tell you any truth, it is that I had no idea what I was doing.

This goes beyond “Fake it til’ you make it”, because if we’re all being honest, we do know what we’re doing, or at least trying to do. Whether or not it’s the quality you desire, it just takes time and practice.

A few months ago, I had a person on Instagram (Who I’ve actually never met, nor do I know) from Hattiesburg message me about doing a Ramen night at our restaurant. I brushed it off because we do sandwiches and salads mostly. Like most ideas others toss on me to mull over, I rejected almost immediately. But, I let this one marinate and it got under my skin.

The masochistic part of me, which most chefs are to some extent, knew we would be crushed. I laid awake at night trying to figure it out. I also know that in general, if I set my mind to it, I can probably overcome the “drag” part of my brain that really just wants to sit in my chair and play Overwatch all day.

I made a batch at home, inspired by Ivan Ramen. I figured if anyone was going to have an idea how to sell this stuff to a crowd in south Mississippi, it would be him. Technically, it’s very labor intensive. I had to source a lot of ingredients online, as well as a few different asian markets in the south.

After all was said and done (around 11pm) I finally had my composed bowl of ramen and it was insane. There was depth. There was some element of magic. It worked. Afterwards I thought, “Okay. I guess I can do this now.”

So, I set a date and it blew up. I knew it would. People like ramen. It’s cool. It’s fun. If done right, it is so completely satisfying. Like a big hug or a good conversation.

The word kept spreading, and I kept feeling it in my stomach.

“I’m going to have a make an epic shit ton of this.” I kept thinking.

Along with ramen, I wanted a few other fun snacks. We had Okonomiyaki, Tofu Coney Island (our token vegan option) and Chaschu Pork Cubanos, also inspired by Ivan Orkin.

Between working on the line and my usual daily toils, it took me about three days to prep. The day of the event, I spent in the zone. Pacing myself. I was already tired and the event wasn’t for another six hours. I was caught up, so I went home and laid down for thirty minutes. I somehow managed to doze off for ten minutes, but it was enough for my brain to restart. I felt good. I felt excited.

The kitchen crew showed up. I hurriedly ran through each part of our line. They seemed blitzed a bit. It was a lot at once, but I knew way before we began that they would handle it. We made everything once. Let the staff try it and everything got a full mouthed “thumbs up”.

I walked across the dining room to see a line stretched around our building. I figured people would be piling up. But not that many.

I gave the go ahead to our FOH to open the doors.

For the next three hours my head was buried in tickets. Bowls of ripping hot broth burning our hands and steam filling our faces with sweat. We were in the deepest weeds ever, but we were calm. And people were having a great time.

DepotFullRes-27.jpg

About an hour and a half into service, I looked out and the line was still wrapped around the building. I knew I had to cut it off at the door. We were getting to a point where the last person was waiting nearly an hour to get their food, and for the sake of compromising the quality, we had to break some hearts.

I felt awful. But I also still had about 30 tickets hanging for food and knew some time down the road, we would do it again and I would make up for it.

We fired off our last bowl of ramen about 8pm. I looked at my team and we were all running around like crazy, half smiling half exhausted.

To be honest, my head is still buzzing.

We had done something.

I felt a crack in the Earth. People were glowing. Excited. Fed.

It won’t ever feel like that again, or at least in that way. That, was so super special, and my heart is still full.

I don’t know if it’s masochistic. I really just want to give people something good, in hopes that they respond to it.

To those who came out: thank you for standing in line and waiting. Thank you for waiting again and for your response.

To those we had to turn away: know that it crushed my heart to do so, and I hope you understand that sometimes, food runs out and we didn’t want to sell it to you only to take it right back. We will make it up to you.

And to the cosmos and universe for feeding me the energy to try something new, over and over again, I thank you.

let’s do it all over again,

and again

and again.

nothing but love. (and butterfinger cake)

Story

happy birthday mom, I love you.

Nothing but love.

This is what I remember.
Even in the hardest times. When lessons were learned or whenever I was just a confused boy.

There’s this sacred thing. Mother and child. Painted in pictures a thousand years old. When you see it, you feel something. Sometimes that feeling hurts, sometimes it reminds you of where you came from. Sometimes, there is peace.

There is a lot to be said of how we live our lives.
I chose to be safe, most of the time.
I used rules. Embraced them. Never went where I wasn’t supposed to go. (Usually)

And then, I chose to venture outside of that sacred space. I witnessed heartbreak. I experienced a lot. More than I was ready for. But then again, we are never ready for the things that change us.

There are millions of things to say about moms. There are people who can say them better than me, that’s for sure.

Since I can’t be near her on this very important birthday, I will choose to write this. Because I can’t cook for her or be present with her. Which, to a mom, there is nothing like having all of your babies happy under one roof. At least I can assume.

My mom is my connection to this world. In everything I have experienced, and have yet to see, will be processed through what she gave me.

Strong, strong, strong.

For me…she is strong because there are times when she needs to be. When I need her to be.

And also, to mourn with me.

She is the maker of sweets. Chess squares. Pecan pie. Banana puddin’. Butterfinger cake. Oh, butterfinger cake.
Miss Hospitality.
Lover of good company.
Washer of dishes.
Blue collar cook.
Needing something salty after something sweet.
A woman after my own heart.

image: framedcooks.com

image: framedcooks.com

My mom is my connection to this world. In everything I am given, I thank her.
When she shifts because I shift.

Like those belly pains long ago.

I complain about my broad shoulders because it makes me look awkward in shirts, and I apologize for you having to birth them.

You gave them to me. To hold back and be strong when I feel like shutting a door on everything.

Nothing but love.

Even when I am flustered and confused and working it out.
I imagine your fingers washing my hair in the sink as a kid.

I imagine my lack of hair now, and when I first shaved it off and took a look in the mirror and freaked out.

I knew I was safe, there.

You know what’s important. It’s obvious I’m still trying to figure it out.
But I’m well on my way.

Because my mom is my connection to this world.
And in that world,

there ain’t nothin’ but love,

(and sometimes, butterfinger cake.)

Spring (of death and resurrection)

Story

It felt right to talk about Spring.

Yes, the weather is crazy un-Spring like. But when is it ever as it’s supposed to be? As though flowers bloom and bees come awake buzzing while the air smells sweet of azaleas and wisteria. Well it’s not here.

And that’s okay.

It’s this time of year especially that western Oregon feels like an emotional wreck. Its huge wind gusts and sideways rain mixed with the  brightest and most naked sun. It’s odd. It’s messy.

It’s Spring.

Along with it comes the hope of new vegetables (Or should I say “in-season” vegetables). Likely in the form of stinging nettles — which you’ll see on almost every menu in Portland — and the hope of asparagus and watercress and artichokes when you’ve heard enough about all you can do with parsnips and beets.

I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Dwight Schrute says it is one of the main human weaknesses. (Along with the neck.)

Spring to me means the things a’bloom.

We are right to assume there is a lot going on now. Our noses are clogged. Our eyes are itchy. The way things shoot out of the ground like some ancient story. And yet it always feels new.

Along with nostalgia, I’m really into changing seasons and what it means for me. To work against this is exhausting. It’s safe to say we’ve done terrible things by manipulating the seasons. Food loses flavor. You become out of touch with how things are supposed to be. I would like to get back to that.

Spring in the Church means lots of things and is something I’ll always remember growing up in the Bible Belt. Death and Resurrection. I question most things I used to believe in (as we all do from time to time), but I am well aware of what this season brings. And I can still feel it in my bones, shaking the cold off as those furry creatures do waking up to a warmer day.

A season of death.

And also a season of resurrection.

Roots_stock_by_FractalAngel_Stock

I suppose nothing feels more like this than the transition of Winter into Spring.

That great life force sinks into my skin and I am reminded again of why we can’t always have it all. Why some things die, and some things come back brand new.

Let it fill you up.

Mourn the passing of another season.

Because it’s Spring.

And because those old roots are filling with life again.

“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.

 

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.

India 504_filtered

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.

Gumbo Therapy

Food, Story

I work long hours on my feet. Most of the world does, I guess you could say. We work hard and it’s often back breaking, thankless work.

When I was offered the chance to submit my gumbo in Eat: Oyster Bar’s annual gumbo cook-off representing Red Hills Market, I was beyond stoked. I really don’t get to do that much cooking where I work. I act as a manager (which I sometimes feel is a bullsh*t position.) A lot rides on you to make sure everyone is doing their job and being sweet and get pounded on when something goes wrong.

But every now and then, I get to cook something delicious for a lot of people and it thrills me to the point where I have butterflies in my belly.

Between watching this week’s episode of Treme and prepping for the gumbo cook off, I’ve been an emotional wreck.

Gumbo is personal to me. It’s personal to the people I came from and when I make it, I’m usually working through something. (When are we not, really?) It can, and has always been, an all-day process if done right. I am quite sure gumbo derived from people using whatever they had to make something delicious for the masses.

But these days, folks go all over the place with gumbo. It’s a story. It’s memory and smell and an entire region mixed into one pot. While grabbing huge amounts of veggies and such at the store, the lady at the check out counter asked, “You must work at a restaurant or somethin’, uh?” I say, “Well, sort of.”

She asked what I was making. I told her gumbo and she furled her eyebrows, “Hrm…can’t say I’d like it because I don’t care for seafood much..”

“Ah..” I say, “..well my gumbo doesn’t use seafood — I think you’d dig it!”

She responded, “That’ll be 38.45 — you have your rewards card?”

Not all conversations end ultra inspirational.

I called this piece “Gumbo Therapy” because there are lots of things involved. Music. A few spirits of choice. Usually Son House, Mississippi Fred, Professor Longhair and I’ll soften it up with Andrew Bird and Bon Iver and add some harder aspects with Hatebreed and throw in some Lupe Fiasco and Common for added affect.

Beer is always good to have on hand when making roux.

The roux is my guide. My base. My flavor. All of these things are put in at each given time and ordered just as I need it. There is good structure in gumbo, but also there is space to add and change.

I can never eat gumbo the day I cook it. By tasting it over and over again, its flavor and smell overwhelms me and the walls of our tiny apartment. Gumbo tastes best a day or two after you cook it anyways.

So today will go as it has many times before. I will stir roux and chop and stir while imagining where this dish has been.

(And where it might take me next.)

My South (And What You Might Not See)

Food, Health, Story, Vacation

Mississippi washes over you like a wave.

The smell of the grass and tall weeds hit by the hot sun. Crickets.

Moss hanging from them trees that we were told as kids had lice in em’. Well, Me-Maw wasn’t wrong, we found out.

It sounds different than the Pacific Northwest. The way the trees rustle and lose their leaves. Discovering the Battle of Raymond — now just a hay field off the Natchez Trace. A good place to pick up acorns and the occasional mushroom.

It is my home when I’m not in Oregon.

I think y’all know this by now.

But what you don’t know is how that place makes me soft. The mix of family and smells and deep fried carbohydrates puts me into that place that I’m so familiar with. Odd, how a place does that.

I visited home last week and had such a great time. We went to Mississippi State Fair and ate fried alligator and smoked turkey legs. I almost threw up on at least two rides, mostly due to the block of fair cart food sloshing around in my (usually) well balanced belly. I didn’t much mind.

I watched my mom in the kitchen, orchestrating dinner and snacks and realized where I got it from — why it feels so natural — and why we both get it. Someone has to be in charge of that stuff or people get grumpy and hungry. We know, we know.

I got to each lunch with my niece at her school where my sister teaches 1st grade. She’s such a good teacher. I love looking at her classroom and realizing how bad I am at math. God, I miss cubby holes. And naps! And chicken tetrazzini!

It’s also been since last December that I’ve seen my home state. I was not in a great place health wise, as y’all might recall. Having heartburn and stomach pains nearly every day.

I started going to a doctor and 10 months later, have dropped nearly 45lbs. Stomach pains have stopped and I haven’t had heartburn till I made Gran’s chili, but that’s just to be expected, I think.

Southern cuisine is struggling. Fast food has destroyed what made Southern food so good. If you look hard enough, you can find mom and pop storefronts that are making the real stuff. You’ll find T-Beaux’s seafood stand that builds on to its small trailer every year. You’d be surprised to find a lot of gas stations doing their own stuff.

Mostly you’ll notice the fast food. I strolled into Wal-Mart looking for headphones when I noticed nearly everyone walking around with soda in their hand, shopping. And I don’t say this to cast a bad light on my people. Because I’ve come a long way to lose that habit and it’s changed my life.

I mean, to feel how good it is to have folks say, “Whoa, you have lost so much weight!”

Damn straight.

I worked hard for that. Fought back control of my body. Only to see the struggle of the South. To take back what made it so unique. But I will say it again, fast food is killing the South. Cheap, empty calories, sugar highs and temporarily full bellies.

Real southern food is not this. Don’t kid yourself. Vegetables are a HUGE part of Southern foodways. The “meat and three veg” joints. The huge potential of growing amazing food out of the earth. I saw the most beautiful fresh okra from the street fair. It looked like it was still alive and moving. I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy the other stuff again.

I crave this from my South. A place that most of the world is still so curious about. A place where food and hospitality reign over anything else.

You won’t really find any izakayas or Michelin rated restaurants.

You will find my family and friends who are there. Adapting and moving in the way Mississippi lets you. You’ll see that my mom uses real butter now and that my Gran hooks us up with that awesome yellow cheddar from Mississippi State. I love that.

We’re all still moving and adjusting, hardly settling. And that’s okay. We experience growing pains everywhere we plant our roots.

Thankful for the times sitting around the table and getting to spend time with my niece and nephew. Always so sad to leave, but with each trip, learning what it means to have two homes with lots of people who love us. So thankful for all of it that I just eat it up.

Mississippi, as the sign reads, is always like comin’ home.

 

Last Meal

Food, Story

I ask this question to a lot of people.

Cooks I’ve worked with and friends and family.  I love hearing the answers.

I’ve written about this before. The meal that puts you right in your sweet spot. Where indulgence and ingredient and technique form a perfect memory. I’ve had several last meals float around my head — things surely changing as I grow and am introduced to more unique experiences.

At first it was chicken wings and chili cheese fries.

Fried chicken will always find a place in my last meal. As will pecan pie and my mom’s sweet tea.

A fellow cook I work with said “cioppino” which is basically a fish stew. He’s from an Italian-American household in Astoria, Oregon where the weather and closeness to the salty ocean can almost force upon you a need to eat seafood. I can understand that. I loved his answer. Because it was something he associated with more than just food. It was that sense of place. Something I’m sure he loved growing up and can make pretty damn good.

So that led me to think about another part of this complex question.

This food — this “last meal” — this summation of all things good in your life would probably be nothing without the company of others to eat it with.

And that hit me hard. Right in my soft spot that is seemingly getting softer and softer.

To quote Alexander Supertramp, “Happiness is only real when shared”. This saying may or may not be true to you, but it resonates deeply to me.

We eat food alone all the time. But the memory of eating food with others seems to stick out the most. Sharing food has all the elements of what makes us healthy people. There’s a sense of nostalgia. There’s proximity. There’s vulnerability. There’s love and conversation. Food has this ability to break people down into their most human form. Creatures that need to eat to survive.

So I say I like my mom’s sweet tea…which I really do…but bigger than that, I miss and love my mom and what that taste of sweet tea does to me. It brings me back when she used to wash my hair in the sink when I was a kid and it reminds me of the crock pot of red beans and her love of magnolias and that when I think of hospitality, I think of her.

Fried chicken is best when eaten among others. (Or..in a dark room with the doors locked…as I joke.) It reminds me of lunch after church and taking a nap with Bob Ross on TV. The comfort that food brings is powerful.

Sure we all have things we’d love to taste before we die, but more importantly, we’d rather remember the people we loved and loved us back.

My last meal keeps getting bigger and richer.

The table grows each year.

So grab a chair and let’s talk.

There’s plenty to go around.