hustle.

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I come home every day feeling worn down with good and bad words. It makes me the most tired. It’s rewarding and hard, but I am too ripped up, sometimes.

I was half way through making our day’s batch of grits when I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death. Truly truly truly, beloved by millions — conflicted and misunderstood by many as well, I assume — but each person having their own relationship with him, his stories and his active pursuit of good in the world.

There are always words. Even when I can’t come up with any. I owe him some of mine, because of all he gave me.

I’ve read so many pieces from others, explaining why it hurts so much — that Bourdain was the best and worst in all of us — the realest — the guy we all wanted to drink a beer with.

When I lived in Portland, it was his book Kitchen Confidential that inspired me to take my first knife skills class with a bunch of 60 year old women at a fancy kitchen supply store in the Pearl District. I was way too timid to start in a kitchen anywhere, but was working in coffee shops, so I had the spark of a good hustle.

And I started to like the hustle.

He became my person. Like everyone else who loved him, we saw him as one of our own — somehow able to keep one foot in a different universe and the other sitting across from us, talking about our love for cheap hotdogs and steamy hot noodle bowls.

He made us all feel cooler, and perhaps more sane, by liking him.

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I was so angry. It was ripping me up. I was getting texts from friends, asking if I was okay, because they all knew he was an important figure to me and one if not the biggest influencing factors of my career.

I resonated with his bittersweet homesickness. To be everywhere and to be home at the same time. That there’s nothing like leaving home, and nothing better than coming back to your place.

The part time writer and cook side of my own world loved it all. His constant humility to the working class, blue collar side of humanity. The way he talked about kitchen life made it seem respectable — and maybe the first time in a long time, the brutality and passion and anger of kitchen and restaurant work was getting the attention it was never allowed to get.

He made the table a sacred place. To feel secure and learn about other people, even if you didn’t agree.

He made the kitchen a place where it didn’t matter what language you spoke or where you came from…but that you showed up and did the work and did it well.

The traveling and writing was work, too. Just like cooking. From everything I’ve read, he took everything seriously, and professionally. He hustled. He showed up early and never left anything for the swim back.

Bourdain may have brought me to cooking, but it’s been the people sitting at our tables that keep me coming back to it.

The food on those plates is, in a way, a testament to his life’s work: inspiring us to be open minded, hard working and kind.

I am so sad you are gone, Tony.

Thank you for helping me not feel so alone.
That it’s okay to be a cook. That it’s okay to question yourself, daily, on what it is to be good in this world.

Thank you.

thank you for everything.

 

 

 

 

 

welcome to the freak show

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I really don’t know why I wrote that title.

I think maybe kitchen life has shown me more about myself than almost anything. Not that I am a freak (okay maybe a little), but that it is all a show and this show is the most wild thing I’ve been a part of in a really long time.

I woke up this morning feeling bone tired. Nervous. Weary. Wanting nothing more than to just sink back into my bed and not think about the day I was about to have.

I even prayed. I asked God to help me, even though it’s been a while because I am stubborn and burnt and mostly lost in all of those things. Lost in them is not a bad place to be, if I’m being honest. I just need to be into something, and the chaos of my day to day is becoming something of a norm.

Embrace it, I say. It makes things easier. Like exploring the vast cosmos trying to make sense of all the galactic chaos. Explosions and gravity and how time is such a big weirdo.

I believe that the chaos will settle and we will begin to take strong steps towards something sustainable. After all, that is at the top of my list. Right underneath “Learn how to make fried chicken taste like Popeyes.”

anger

I have been an angry chef. Pissy and short tempered. Apologetically exhausted. Not only dealing with the complexities of time and fire and plating, but the ooey gooey’ness of the people around me and their ability, unknowingly, to sink deep into my skin when I’m spiraling.

They see me tired. Stressed. Overly-apologetic because I know this isn’t the me I want to see, but it has been the me that survives. Maybe flailing around online and after a few beers isn’t the best idea, but life is too short not get a little ridiculous from time to time.

Overall, I am in awe of everything, and everyone — of seeing people eat and absorb the things I’ve had in my head since forever ago, it seems. I know I will be able to absorb it some day soon, and it will probably be in the midst of some mundane thing. But all I can see is people, and I see in them the good and the bad.

It hurts to hear the bad things, and praise feels like good water pressure.

Still, you move forward into the great and wild unknown.

A freak show in its own time.

An island of misfit toys,

a hard and heavy day,

a broken hallelujah.

Yes.

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“Why Hattiesburg?”

This was a question about four years ago that found me in a totally different place as I was freshly back to Mississippi from my life in Oregon. I had changed and so had this place. I needed work. And I had been out of the kitchen for a few months, which made me feel antsy and a little unhinged.

My answer then was something along the lines of, “I love this city. It’s done a lot for me and I think it has the potential to have really great food.”

The first year back in this city, I was running around everywhere trying to make my life work. I was saying yes to everything. EVERYTHING.

“Can you work this event?” YES.

“Would you like to cook for me and some friends, WE WILL PAY YOU.” YES.

“Will you watch our dogs. WE’LL PAY YOU.” YES. (Hi Pyper and Zoe I miss you a lot.)

“I have a client that wants a five course upscale southern style meal in the middle of a park for 50 guests. Can you do this without a real kitchen??” YES. (I mean, I have no #$^&ing clue, but YES.)

I did all of it. Some of it with a partially cracked foot (don’t ask…) and with no money to buy the food I’d hopefully be paid for. That’s what credit cards are for, right?

It is hustle. It is always hustle, for better or worse. It’s because you’re hungry for it and you have something to prove. Where this beast of a thing came from, is beyond me. In the back of my mind I felt that there was no limit to what I could do with the people I worked with. I wasn’t finding the food I wanted here, so I told myself I would make it, and that people would like if they had it the right way.

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In a year, I put my name on that kitchen, along with the folks who have worked right alongside me, crunching it out day after day. Our backs on fire, but a new hope in our bones that more would be revealed.

In three years, we have built up to a new restaurant.

With this comes many sleepless nights. A drink more than I should have. A deep and moving, but exciting kind of energy. Ultimately me, staring into space wondering how we are going to do it all.

Today, a friend saw me in a local coffeeshop staring blankly at a pile of books and said, “I know this is probably a lot, and it’s really stressful, but I think you’re going to do great, and I just want to say thank you for making this city a cooler place for all of us.”

It meant the world to me, and maybe I teared up after they left. But as a testament to the hardest days of my life, I feel humbled and also ready to get loud and crazy.

All of this, is a product of the people here believing in something as simple as food on a plate and the thought and hard work that goes into it. Maybe I romanticize it too much, because it’s not for everyone, even if they enjoy cooking.

You have to have something more to believe in,

A deeper water that flows even when it is not being fed, and a fire that grows when nothing else around you seems to be catching.

That is what I want to offer.

The space to not be good, but to be great. And to create and fail and start again something new. Because the people here deserve it and we have to keep pushing forward. That is my challenge.

And from the mushiness of my heart, I say thank you for responding. For giving me work. For letting me be pouty and rage-y from time to time. For giving me space to fail but also to succeed more than I ever thought was possible.

I just hope you’re hungry.

-casper

 

the same as mine.

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Some things fade.
They feel like my dreams, like each corner I turn is unfamiliar.

“I know this place.” I say to myself.
But sometimes, time is a lead pencil with a cheap eraser.

Places leave us, as we leave them. My heart bursts from all its creases, and at times, it still finds a way to save itself from ruin. If you’re still here, your heart is the same way — the same as mine.

I sat at a table and saw your ghosts. How you used to drink your coffee. I saw where I buried my pain and where I discovered my greatest joy. Yes it was in between walls but it was also in those creases of my heart.

It was where I discovered the truths of humanity shared — that people are the truest way to presentness.

That is rich. Like dark chocolate and butter and heavy cream — drizzled and smoothed over something that is already just too much.

I was heart sick for so much. To connect. To discover again. But mostly, to be back home where it is becoming more and more evident that my world exists in a tiny corner, of a tiny city in a state no one understands.

I find whatever all of this is, to be the sum of its parts. Maybe this is the beautiful stuff I will think about when I’m dying — when I’m wondering how life moved so quickly and how I became so stiff and filled with old memory.

What a story, I already claim. To have loved greatly and given so much of my heart — to know what it is like to watch it shatter and gather it, along with all the other broken things. I get to sit around with these people and watch them eat things I cook.

I get to watch them grow older with their person and I get to see their babies get peanut butter stuck in their hair or blow kisses to me as I say goodbye.

Your heart is the same as mine. Blubbering and wonderful. Our heavily flawed muscle.

You may not remember where the streets go, or what they turn into.
But I can tell you that it’s not forever lost.

And you are forever, a ghost, a place at my table

— a love with the heart that is the same as mine.

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crawfish.

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it’s starting to feel like spring, here —

warm with dreams of hot crawfish dumped on a table and

I smell it heavy in the air driving home past the big vats of them,

soaking in that spicy water:

garlic, cayenne, celery (and loads and loads of salt)

a hell broth that reminds of the times I learned about Jesus.

 

It is far away, sometimes.

Everything lately has been LOUD.

With the sounds of guns,

with the sadness of losing my uncle to cancer.

But I’ve planted some seeds, didn’t you know?

I’m watching them grow. They are wispy like the hairs

on the tip-top of my head.

 

Every season is renewal.

Of dying and growing.

Of being thankful,

and often times full of sorrow.

You meet us there, in that field.

I read that once in a poem.

I imagine you there always,

some great peace in the midst of all the grinding

and working wheels and decaying dark things.

 

Yep.

I see the seeds I’ve planted starting to burst out of the ground,

because the conditions were just right.

I can’t help but feel so green and raw with them,

hanging on for dear life because it is always so new!

Whatever it is we feel, it’s always something new.

 

But honestly, what I really want right now?

Hmm.

Peace, mostly. In my heart and for everything,

but actually, if I’m being true to this one moment,

I want to rip open a flimsy brown bag full of steamy hot crawfish

and wipe the sweat from my forehead.

 

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you will.

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I think I often straddle the line of what I see as heartbreaking and what is beautiful.

Maybe I can dip my toes into both lakes because I know they always meet somewhere down the line. We are always in that meeting place. Of heaviness and both light that swirls infinitely between all of us.

We are the beautiful and heartbroken things. I see it more so, all of the time. The truth is I’ve been raw to it my whole life. Inflamed and swollen and exposed like a nerve. It’s taken me a lot of time to wrap myself in them good things. I keep them tight against my chest so I can feel them when I breathe; up and down.

Being single, officially, longer than I was in a relationship weighs heavy. Why I often weigh things in time is something I’ve developed over the years. All in all, I am so thankful for what I’ve learned in the chaos and in the calm.

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I think I wanted to write this to one person. It might actually be more than one. But they say to write to one person. So here it goes.

I have this card on my fridge from a friend that says ‘Your heart is the size of an ocean” — which seems like something that you’d get stitched on a pillow from the Hallmark store, but actually is a quote from Rumi. He’s probably one of your favorites, too.

But it is. And it is what I often want to grab you by the face and scream so that it finds its way into your heart so you know and so that you’ll know forever. The world is not always angry and misunderstanding. And that so much is birthed from pain. The world was created by melting rocks and hell and only became something beautiful because of time and pressure.

It’s geology. That’s really how we tell things are ground down with different pressures like winds and rains and the inevitable meeting of two souls who have moved and changed.

Your life is in fact valuable and grows more valuable by the day!

Your wounds won’t heal all the way. Most don’t. But don’t let it stop you from moving forward and living your days with intention and love and the power that rumbles in your belly.

It is the hardest thing you will do.

But like the earth you will moan and heat and cool. You will expand and host a world of thoughts and adventure:

5Ks and stiff drinks. Cheese fries and kids falling asleep sweaty on your lap.

You will wake up and breathe again.

And the knot in your stomach will dissolve.

I know it will.

And I know you will.

You will wake up and breathe again.

 

heat.

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It is cold and dark when I leave the house.

Achey cold. It is so hard to unwrap myself from my blanket and take the short ride to work. But I do it early this morning because I have to work a little harder on this day.

I open the kitchen door and turn on the oven and warmers. It’s a welcoming sound as I know heat is on the way. I kick the heater on in our dining room and try to organize my brain. It’s hard to organize yourself that early. That 6am sleepy dreamy scattered thing.

I work on the quiche and the grits and the soup. I decide I need music and for some reason Grimes is on repeat for an hour and a half. But I am by myself and she is fun and wakes me up. I put on a pot of coffee and I can smell it brewing through the kitchen.

A million things run through my mind (as they always do). What if we are too busy on this already busy and hectic day? I put it aside because the older I become the more I learn worrying is the art of suffering twice. I will still do everything I can to make a thing run smoothly, but I know as the day moves forward, so do more people. People are chaos, always.

And maybe it was a little bit of chaos. But I slip into it like a warm bath.

At the end of the day, I take out the trash and look at the new building we are moving into in a few months. I find it equal parts daunting and beautiful. Some days more beautiful, though. I am in a constant state of wonder how it ended up this way. How I pushed myself a little harder to be good at something, and it magically turned out to be my thing.

There is a certain level of luck and chance. I know the risks of this kind of work. Burn out and margins and hazards. I got it. I hear you. But I don’t often have the luxury to think too much about it. Unfortunately it has affected my writing and I miss it!

And I miss you.

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It has always been about cooking and writing. And I don’t seem to be growing out of it, but I am also a person who knows how to shed a skin and feel raw and stingy.

It all feels too big, sometimes. Like there is a version of me out there that is prepared to do it all beautifully and that version is so not me right now.

I guess maybe that’s how it always feels. But eventually, you do become that person.

I don’t know.

I feel as though I’m about to shed something heavy. I know because something big is on the horizon and I am steady on it and I know I cannot carry both.

It all feels so good right now. Showered and warm and about to crawl back into the blanket I will have to peel off in about six hours again. But it feels good, and I feel strong.

Ready to open the doors,
flip on the oven,

and do it all over again.

 

sparks.

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everything has changed me.

I sit around and chase my mind through every corner of every space. I question everything, and I question everything’s deepest meaning. A friend told me I will do that because I’m a Sagittarius — but I really don’t know anymore.

I wonder how much a person can change as they become older. Maybe you have a problem with a certain race or a certain kind of person. You live your life surrounding yourself with people that make sense and believe the same thing. There is no going against the grain unless you must.

But, the part of me that is questioning everything wants to respond with, “But you have to!”

I am a fool, most times. Thinking too much of things, when the reality is quite underwhelming.

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Sparks. I like them. I like feeling ragey about some things. Especially if I feel like those things make me a better person. Of course I wake up the next day with a hangover of anger mixed with embarrassment. I think to myself, “Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?”

I get shakey when people try to push me down. I feel angry when I’m misunderstood. I suppose angry isn’t the right word. I do believe anger is in a lot of things though. More so I feel hurt. It hurts a lot, doesn’t it? That is the worst loneliness. Feeling hurt because it is the most personal thing you can feel about yourself. It is the deepest and most hidden wound.

Lately it has been doubt. Doubt that I can run a restaurant. Doubt that I am not nearly talented enough as a cook to ever make something big happen. But something big is already happening! I don’t know how, but it is.

It is scary and it makes me nervous. I’ve known those two things since I was a little kid. Those two feelings that have probably led up to me having internal meltdowns, but have also pushed me into places I will never regret.

The overwhelming voice I hear is that it will be okay — that more will be revealed. I am asking the higher things above me to give me patience and grace because as I become older, I feel like my tolerance for others lowers by the day. But I’m also aware that true community comes with radical acceptance and understanding.

Most of my days are spent asking myself if I’m good enough. Am I being fair enough? Loyal enough? Who am I oppressing and what can I do to ease it?

The last thing I need you to do is tell me to take it easy and calm down, though. That’s the equivalent of dropping Mentos into Diet Coke. Why that reaction? I don’t know. Long ago I learned to feel what you need to feel and that most people just want to be heard. I also have learned that things pass. Maybe not as fast as you want them to, but anger subsides.

I promise you that it does.

I know people hurt you. There is not a darker place to sit, wrapping yourself up in your own arms in hopes that the thoughts will fade.

But, they do. And you are strong. So strong in fact you want to laugh and take dance lessons again. Or maybe you want to drive into the horizon for a few hours just to clear your head.

It feels good to lay down your weapons. To start over again, daily — like Ursula K. Leguin says about bread and love, “it has to be made daily.”

Maybe all I ever have is questions, but that’s the desire of my own heart.

Make it new, and do it all over again.

And watch out for the sparks, because they could be the beginning of something bigger than you ever imagined.

dig in.

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I smell the year’s dust burn off the coils and I am immediately put into my place.

The place where I dig even deeper for meaning and someone to share it with. It’s never easy but it’s always necessary. I don’t think it gets easier from here on out, but it certainly becomes more rewarding.

I will dig in, regardless. Another year placing my feet on the ground and putting on enough coffee for one. There is a comfort there that one only has when accepting yourself as loved and cared for because your heart is all yours and you get to indulge in it.

Maybe it is selfish. I don’t give up on other people. I still believe, regardless of how much we hurt one another, that they are the path to the bigger meaning of it all. Feeling selfless is a great feeling, but remembering to also love yourself is even better.

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It’s easy to let it get to you — to gnaw into your jaws and clench tight — but you can’t hold it forever. Forever is an awfully long time to let anyone or anything hold you down from who you really are. We’re all still figuring that part out, and some of us never will.

You know your own truths. The truth that maybe you believe cilantro tastes like soap or that you will inevitably love your pets more than your human most of the time. Love is the quietness and understanding, and also the rage within.

Pull it up from your belly and don’t forget to water it and watch it grow. Give it some sunlight and fresh air.

Cut it fresh so that it soaks it in, thirsty for what gives it life and for the knowledge that you will burst open when the moment is right.

And keep your feet warm.

Wear your favorite sweater.

Invest in a tea pot.

Love yourself, and your pets.

Feed and water and give love to both.

Read a poem.

Hug someone because scientifically it’s good for you.

Crunch some leaves.

Eat really good quality chocolate.

Let go of it all for a few moments a day,
wake up, and do it all over again.

roma

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I wrote in my notebook, “Maybe not all roads lead to Rome anymore” in an attempt to trigger some deeper meaning. Instead I started to think about all the reasons I was heading to Rome and had no idea what to say.

I know I didn’t want to write about it like a travel blog. Yes, the food was amazing. Yes, Rome was absolutely stunning and romantic and clean and welcoming. The people were so friendly and dealt with our lack of understanding at how their world works. Though walking around a place like Rome, you get the idea that when you’re a traveler there, you are walking on a different set of streets.

Here, you don’t just stumble upon the Coliseum. Or the Pantheon. The idea of “New World” enters your mind constantly. Italy is old, and carved up with war and empires. There is a sense, when walking around, that this place has learned to roll with what it’s given.

It is a state of mind. One that we just don’t have here in the states. I found myself at times, missing the hustle of my job. The “always wanting more” person conflicted with the “take only what you need” person.

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We also traveled south to Sicily and never stopped drinking wine.

Dinner parties going well into 3 and 4am.

I remember waking up to use the bathroom at 5am and hearing the loud thump of the speakers next door as a wedding party was still happening and all I could do was smile.

If you’re hungry, go to Italy. Somehow, some way. Meet together the holy and sacred and sacrament.

I thought about the blood of Christ and the broken body.

I thought about war and sex — the reverence and abundance of thanks seen in all of the streets known and unknown.

I am shaken, truly.

I’m trying to put together a lot of pieces and what that means for me here. Wishing again for the moment, a simple plate of food, cooked for me as though whoever put in the work, was doing so to capture my heart forever.