the boy who ate his vegetables

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I sat over a plate of turnip greens, cabbage, baby lima beans and a trinity of fried chicken things.
Gizzards, livers and thighs, oh my!

Across the table sat my lunch companion. I know her as Gran.

She asked me a question that I get a lot. “When did you start to eat this stuff?” I laughed, and stared at the remnants of what used to be vegetables, only now as pot likker, and few stray beans. Granted, many of them veggies were cooked down with pork, but damn, was it good.

My answer to her question?

I have no idea.

Look back far enough on this blog, and you’ll see a bit of that change. Learning how to love and care for food in Portland was substantial. It’s a town full of folks who take it seriously. I thought chefs were bad ass and I wanted to be one. I knew I’d have to start eating pretty much everything I could. Let it be known, I am not obsessed with the glorification of what it means to be a chef. It is hard and most of the time, thankless work. I assure you, if you cook food for a living, people will, though I don’t quite deserve it, call you a chef.

I was anxious to learn how to cook and eat the food of my own people. I don’t want that to be lost on my generation. I want to own and absorb it. If I do ever have kids, I want them to know what it’s like to have gravy drippin’ off them elbows and that proper grits take a little time.

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Embracing food is to take in a place. It’s to breathe in smoke and spice. Some places, you have to take it slow. I was shown what food could be — how acid and salt and fat create layers and depth.
Like a good story, food is passed on through our bones, and onto the bones of our kids.

It echoes deep, and it’s eternal.

It is repetition. Ritual.
At its most basic, survival.

So, where do I go from here…
I’m not going to tell you what to do.
That you should stop feeding your kids this or that. I have my own convictions, and it’s not my place to speak into any of that.

I do know that there’s always time to open up.

There is always time to do something you wouldn’t have done yesterday. And there’s something else new you can do tomorrow. It builds and builds, and you will look at yourself and say, “Whoa, I kinda like that!”

And you grow and grow and grow, as tall as a tree or maybe just high enough to see over a fence.
You’ll find yourself slurpin’ down pot likker and it will drip off your chin.

That’s what I’m catching up on. Feeling a food. Learning shapes and smells.

Turnips and peas and summer time tomatoes.

I was never the boy who ate his vegetables.

But today, I closed my eyes, made myself present,

and ate em’ all up.

 

 

my element is fire.

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Cooking is ancient.

I imagine I had an ancestor somewhere, bending over a pot with their hand folded in at their waist, like I do when I taste for salt. My big, awkward body leaning against stainless steel in attempts to be somewhat graceful in the art of cookery.

Lord knows I try.

I wear my nice Clarks as kitchen shoes now. I didn’t mean to. My clogs were making my knee swell up at the end of the day and my Nike shoes make me feel like super dad. I am not, however, a super dad.

Blue jeans, rolled up a bit. Black shirt. Brown beanie. Apron.

And repeat.

It is my own style of uniform. Fitting for a tall southern man carrying a little bit extra. Alas, I was built for comfort, not speed. Unless you see me in the weeds, twirling like a ballerina trying to find my missing 1/9th pan to complete my mise en place for the evening.

Yes, mise en place.

Everything in its place. My tao. My peace of mind.

cook-stove

Yes, cooking is ancient.

And it makes me feel rooted.

I feel strong, and I can anticipate the need.

My element is fire.
So says the Sagittarius.

I am drawn to this cooking thing, like a flame. Mesmerized by all the working pieces. The imagination, the back breaking labor, the love.

So, so sexy.

I at least think so. I suppose that’s important. Then I have to realize when I bring food to someone’s table and I have flour caked on my shirt and beet stained fingers and a bandaid from accidentally slicing my finger open while sliding cheese off a knife; maybe this isn’t as sexy as I thought it would be.

I’ll leave sexy for home, I guess. When I can take my time and buy really expensive ingredients and still have time to clean up.

Someone has to do it, right? That’s what I always say.
There are certainly easier ways to make a living, but I can’t imagine having to sit down all day. I have forgotten what it’s like to work in that way.

And when I see people in meetings, I always mumble to myself, “Shouldn’t they be like, building something while they talk? Seems more productive than just, sitting for three hours to make maybe three sort of sustainable decisions..” Okay, I don’t really mumble those things to myself. But for writing purposes, let’s keep it that way.

My, oh my.

To think, a cook a thousand years ago was still complaining in the back of a kitchen — about slugs eating the cabbages (which is just too precious of a thing to really get mad at…) — or the apprentice dropping all of the eggs before the King’s big feast.

We all know that pressure. The mouths to feed. Not wasting goods.

It is hard work. And it will always be hard. Especially if you’re doing it right.

And butter?

Well, you cook anything in enough butter and it’ll be okay. I promise.

Today is my Saturday, and for most of you, it’s Monday. I am sorry. But to be honest, I never know what day it is anymore. I just hope I remember people’s birthdays.

I suppose that is life for me now.

But I will end this bit with someone else’s words, because often times, other people just say it better:

A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion. The Great War, for instance, could never happened if tinned food had not been invented. And the history of the past four hundred years in England would have immensely different if it had not been for the introduction of root crops and various other vegetables at the end of the Middle Ages, and a little later the introduction of non-alcoholic drinks (tea, coffee, cocoa) and also of distilled liquors to which the beer-drinking English were not accustomed. Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.

-George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier