wobbly shelves.

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I look down my tiny hallway to see my bookshelf, buckling under the pressure of heavy cookbooks.

All of my shelves are like this.

Hand me down furniture, mixed with a few new things.
I never knew I could get so attached to these odd bits.

I tell people often, when my car lost a tire on the side of a mountain in Colorado, I had to put all my belongings on the side of the road to retrieve my spare. It was a little humbling to see the things I cared so much about.

My pots and pans. Boxes full of cookbooks and an old writer’s shelf where I keep the things that will become my heirlooms.

I live a life that is hard to explain. Why I don’t want certain things or why I might put myself through certain trials, seen or unseen. The truth of the matter is that being alone makes those hard life things a little harder. Not having a person to bounce your thoughts off of, or maybe giggle at because they bumped their head on a wall while trying to understand.

I am an unusual person.

And it is as natural as breathing is to me.
Having to explain why I do things the way I do…or why I am obsessive about particular things is like having to explain why you do things a certain way that no one understands.

It is exhausting to be different people.

I was driving a few days ago and thought, “I wonder if it’s possible to be the same person to everyone…”
I figured it sounded ridiculous, but I thought about it a little more. It might be impossible to be one person unless you’d like to go about your life offending and alienating 30-40% of the world’s population. But we have to be different to different people. I’d like to, somehow, remain mostly me in the midst of it all.

We live in a world where you can’t just be one person. You have to be fierce to own a business and to lead. You have to be gentle and compassionate with those who need extra help. You have to be wise and loving and other worldly-patient with your children. You also have to grow more patient and understanding with your parents, if they are still with you. We grow older and imagine we have seen a thing or two which gives us some power over our lives. And it does. But also, if you value wisdom and age, and like me, are stubborn, it is important to let it in.

And your siblings? Well, I think you can be whoever you want to be with your siblings.

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I say all of this because these cookbooks and pots and pans, they mean a lot to me.

I look through them and remember who I was cooking for. Where I was. What it was for. I remember the conversation I had with her which made us both sit across from each other and talk about really difficult things.

I see another that I got for Christmas from my mom. Another from a friend who thought it reminded her of me.

They are more than references to a dish.

They are me, slowly becoming.

And they sit on my wobbly shelves, with stories to tell just as much as any ingredient or dish will allow them to spill.

Sometimes, I think about a stock reducing, becoming more concentrated and flavorful. I see life doing something similar. Things get added, things evaporate, and it gets stronger and stronger with a bit of time. Richer. More full of depth. And what it gets added to, makes it better.

I suddenly find myself thankful for everything, and everyone who makes my life what it is.

While I lean my head over the steam and breathe in deeply,
I see the lines on the side of the pot of where I used to be, to where I am now.

And this,
right here,
right now,
is who I’m supposed to be.

balancing.

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I love cooking so, so much.

In fact, I am defensive of my love for it. I guard it fiercely because it is one of my main love languages and I get to use it every day. It is how I get to love on you.

Unfortunately, I am in a season of doubt. I’m sure most industry people go through this. Some sooner than others who know this type of work truly isn’t for them. Personally, I am glad they find out sooner than later, because there’s nothing harder than watching someone burnt out clock in and clock out wishing they were somewhere else, doing something that makes them feel alive.

I am lucky, in that I found something that I love. I walk this balance beam, holding on to a lot of what I am. That big softy who wants nothing more than to live in Vermont in a cabin under a few maple trees. Perhaps submitting my award winning cheddar in the state fair. All of this, with a wonderful person who may, from time to time, spoil me with a back scratch. Maybe a kid. Maybe two. Probably an herb garden, because my mom thinks they’re fancy.

The other side of this balance beam is standing behind a stove (or anything hot, really) listening to my colleagues moan about a horrid customer or that they’re hungover or that they just burned a two inch line in their arm from the convection oven. The hot and brutal rush of making food and feeding people. The clean up. The decompression. Doing it all over again. It’s addicting. It’s fun. It’s hard. Hard. Hard work.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had numerous people (not directly) advise against opening their own place. There’s the stress on all accounts. The long hours. The constant worry about your business. The strain on relationships. The idea of business itself is a little overwhelming, and I realize one needs to be tough tough tough.

I’ve worked for chefs who inspire me to work harder and cleaner and other chefs who insult their own profession.

I work in an industry that is slowly gaining some sort of weight in our country. Less so, in a smaller Mississippi community. I do not live in an industry city. We are best described as a retirement community. A college town with a struggling downtown scene. One that I wish to invest in.

It has been so hard, as a person who loves to eat and to cook, to not have the things that brought me to cooking in the first place.

This, is the nitty gritty part.

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Being single, and closer to more friends and family has been so good for me. I’ve been taken care of so much and I’m also busier than ever. Which is weird. I don’t remember being too busy. I remember having a lot of time to learn how to cook. I suppose this is the hustle. In between the calm and the storm.

What I want to say, is that food will always be the way I take care of you.

Sure, I have my words. My eyes that struggle to make contact with yours.

I’m trying really f*cking hard to make eye contact. To stand straighter.

To talk louder. To not mumble so much.

I am Josh, the quiet kid who once upon a time, hid behind the legs of his mother and another time forgot his lines in the church play when he was eight, even though there were only three I had to remember.

I am also 6 foot 2 inches and carry a belly. I’m pretty bald and wear a brown beanie because my head gets so cold.

But in that kitchen,

I am present.

I dissolve, like salt in water.

Leaning slightly, wanting more color, more heat.

Tasting and observing the changing of water into air.

I can be both, I say deep in my belly. I have room for both.

Because I love to cook,

and it will always bring me closer to you.

balance.

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Cooking is about balance.

And you already know that I’m going to compare this to my life. Because this is what I do.

I write. I cook. I eat. I read. I watch. Repeat.

I often find myself creating a better balance with food than in my day to day, but we can’t always be in control of those variables.

When I get to take my time and cook, I am thinking about a lot of things. Texture, salt, fat, acidity and cohesion. It also helps if it looks pretty, but to be honest, it is just food and we all know what it turns into. I am a sucker for giving a damn though, and if I spend the time cooking it, you better believe I’m going to make it look good.

Balance is harmony.

That’s why we love bacon so much. Salt. Sweet. Smoky. Fat. Or I’ll just claim it and say that’s why I consume so much bacon. When you bake trays and trays of bacon every day, you will come to appreciate how versatile and irresistible it is to the human condition.

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I’m working on balance.

I’m working on my own harmony.

That might be a little too much to ask of the world, but I have to keep coming back to myself at the end of the day.

“Hey, slow down. Be good to yourself. Listen to other people. Focus on what you can do today.”

Otherwise, I’m a mess — scratching my head and staring inside the refrigerator for my toothbrush. (Okay, that hasn’t happened yet, but give it time.)

Life is just moving, moving, moving.
Some days are just the right balance of sweet and savory. Tart and bland. Rest and play. Work and reward.

Each day, I say to myself that I wish to move with intention. That even though my current job isn’t where I seem to be using my best skills, I’m still learning a lot about this city and its people. I’m learning what they like and don’t like. I’m listening to my fellow co-workers deal with their own toils while slowly sharing mine.

Seeing a rogue picture of your ex and her partner is a super cliche knee jerk reaction. I suppose my reaction doesn’t exist so much in anger, as it does in, “Well, this is the way things are now.” But also, inside, “This feels weird.”

And I find myself thinking upon on it. I ask myself a lot of questions these days. I think I learned to do it because it actually helps me in feeling somewhat healthy.

“Josh, what do you want from her?”

“Nothing. Sometimes I want her to really know how badly I’ve hurt, but I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to hurt like that.”

“Anything else?”

Well, I’m tired. Underpaid with more responsibility. Sometimes that feels unfair. I also have little crushes on all sorts of people. I think when I get shown the least bit of attention, I perk up and take notice. To be honest, I feel thankful when I’m noticed. I feel thankful more and more all the time.”

Those variables I mentioned earlier start popping up all over the place. They make me feel silly. They make things feel petty. But they are these new things I’m having to balance.

As I say to myself and others who find themselves discouraged after a day’s toils, tomorrow is a new day.

A new day to explore and season and taste and shift.

I love new days.

I love planting my feet on the floor and hearing my ankles crack as they bend. I still love the smell of the first brewed pot of coffee. All these things certainly adding to my new life here.

Some days, heavy on the salt. Other days, too bitter. Lately I’ve had a sweet tooth, and cannot be trusted around sweet tea.

I reckon’ when it’s all said and done, the world wasn’t made in a day,

And neither will mine.

The GAPS Diet (And Why It’s Personal)

Food

My wife is on the GAPS diet.

I know. Boooooooring.

Just kiddin’.

It’s not easy. Let that be clear. Especially in a city like Portland where it is one’s civil duty to eat good food and drink beer.

The GAPS diet is an anti-inflammatory gut-healing diet. It’s usually meant to help people who have intestinal damage, stomach issues and allergies. Its list of benefits are unmatched with any other diet.

The foods you can eat are pretty limited. Especially at first. Mostly home made bone broth and/or veggies and meat cooked in bone broth. Then you can start adding other real foods in slowly. Eggs. Avocado. Almond butter. Coconut oil. Eventually working your way up to eating the basic Paleo diet. Or “normal Gaps” or whatever people want it to be called.

But for Hannah, it’s more about the allergies. A restoration of the body.

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Eating bone broth for lunch and dinner every day isn’t easy, even for the hard core soup lovers out there.

The thing is, I’m not on the diet with her. At first, I had my fist in the air shouting “Solidarity!”, but as soon as I woke up to the smell of chicken stock, I was suddenly aware that unless I had to, I couldn’t swing it this time.

It’s not easy if your out and about all the time. Some people take off a week to start the diet. It drains you. It makes you crave all the crap that made you sick in the first place. You have to cook at home consistently. It makes your irritable. For those of us who take a great joy in eating with one another, the journey can be a testament to one’s relationship.

And I know I’m making this sound dramatic. I should explain.

I don’t think I would have gotten as deep into cooking if I wasn’t living with another person who also enjoyed good food. Cooking for Hannah has opened up everything for me. It has given me the space to create and nourish.

It’s given me an imagination and fulfills my need to be hospitable.

I love being able to feed her.

So when all I can do is a put a big pot on the stove, throw in a chicken and some veggies and let it go — it’s just slightly unsatisfying. Especially when I’m eating a killer pork chop and she’s eating a cooked to death chicken leg in a bowl of murky broth. Mmmm.

But it’s important to me that she feel better. Hands down. All this goopey love stuff draws out some really interesting things.

Food eaten and shared with others tastes better. I know I can make a pork chop taste great, but that’s not enough for me. I want others to share in that. I want to wash their dishes and see where they ate up everything.

It’s interesting when you share meals with the same people every day. It’s that ritual of the communal table. Whether that table be the couch watching The Walking Dead or an actual table, with flowers and stuff.

I’m so, so proud of her.

How she turns down the opportunity to cheat and how she hasn’t had coffee in weeks. These are hard, hard things. It takes a strong will and deep ferocious belly to keep going.

I’m doing what I can, but can only go so long without cooking bacon and cornbread. Both of which I cooked on the same day. Both of which happen to be the best smells coming from a kitchen.

I know.

I’m terrible.

But I have to stay on my toes. I can’t go gettin’ all soggy on broth.

Because this diet is personal. Right down to the murky brown where all that goodness resides.

Healing. Restoration. Balance. Control.

I’ll take that over a pork chop any day.