a southern year (in review)

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I drive on Highway 49 when I go to visit my family outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

It’s a highway I’ve known my entire life.
There’s the boiled peanut man.
Well, there are a lot of boiled peanut men.
There are also a lot of sweet potato men.

Antique shops. Roadside flea markets. Mom and pop diners.

It occurred to me, while driving this stretch of road yesterday, that it’s been a year since I’ve moved back to Mississippi. I’m very nostalgic about dates like this. Not only has this year gone by fast, it’s also been a whirlwind.

I still don’t feel like I’ve caught up just yet.

I’m also still struggling with my sense of place.
It’s been a hard season for me.

I was lucky to have a few months off when I moved back.
My mom, nonchalantly placing $20 bills in my shoes before she left for the morning.

I struggled finding work in Jackson, so I moved back to Hattiesburg.
Still, I find myself a little wobbly, and a little out of sorts.
So many people I know have found their niche. Their people. Their lovers. Their pets. Their homes.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is I want. What a luxury.

I sense that I am so close to learning something about me and my life. I have doors open for me, and a lot of doors I feel I’m left knocking.

Not religious enough.
Not healthy enough.
Not social enough.
Not southern enough.

It is a needy feeling, sometimes in my belly. Some days, I connect deeply, and others, I still feel so homesick for that thing I used to have.

I’m really trying hard.

I’m working a lot, and I’m carrying a lot of weight.

I’m carrying my past, present and future. All of which, looks a lot like me trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

With that being said, I have felt so lucky to have all of this back.

What I lost, was tremendous.

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But coming back home, I gained something else.

My wild and precious community.

Who feed me.
Text me.
Employ me.
Pray for me.
Pull me in tightly.
And let me, by some miracle, into their lives.

It has been a wild, wacky year.
I broke a bone.
My roof caved in.
I started to build a home.
I forgot I knew how to sweat appropriately.
My dad got married.
My second nephew turned one and I got to feed him hotdogs.
I met a cat raccoon.
I got a bigger bed.
I planted flowers with my niece and nephew.
I started a tiny business and am excited and terrified.

Whew.

A few deep breaths, and I resonate with these words I have tattooed on my arm.

these things take time.
and I look in the mirror, with some weepy eyes, and proclaim:

yes!

surely,
they do. 

letter to Mississippi

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I often have a hard time finding the words.

You see, so much of my earlier life was spent trying to lose a southern accent and fly away as soon as I had the right reasons. And I did, on several occasions.

One being the time I lived with my dad in Georgia when I was a little too young to understand what was happening. It was a very hard time for me. I learned a lot. I learned about the power of making my own decisions and owning up to that power.

I moved back to Mississippi after a year of living in Georgia.

Then there was a summer in Chicago where I became friends with a homeless man who gave me the “Fred Hampton Image Award” which was named after him for being a ‘positive image to the community’. I have it framed next to my degree from Southern Miss, which I only use in conversation with people. In reality I was struggling with all my worlds again, all the while eating a bunch of Chipotle and reading a ton of Donald Miller books. It’s what we did.

There are the four months in India where I learned how tiny I was, and how terrible I was at eating Bengali food, and learning the language. I regret not appreciating how important it was to travel and to explore at that moment. I’d never seen such poverty. I’d never walked into a red-light district with the sole purpose to play cards and eat spicy snacks on top of brothels. I learned about heavens and hells. And I saw the eyes of a man choosing the girl he would have sex with. I’d never see the world the same way again.

My quietness was a hindrance in some of these ways. I was not outgoing enough to want to learn a language, I don’t think. I was not good at it. I wish I would’ve worked harder. I wish I would have eaten more street food. I came back to Mississippi after that, as well.

I also met a girl from Oregon who I ended up being married to for a little while.

I moved to Portland for that, as well. Learning and growing and all those others words I’ve used here a billion times. And when that stopped working, I moved back to Mississippi.

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I recognize I’ve never been great at being a traditional southerner. I was never taught to hunt. I don’t have a background of traditional southern food ways. I love New Orleans, but in small bursts. I love the food, well, that has always been true.

Again I find myself reconciling with a place like Mississippi. A dumping pot for so many people’s ideas and misconceptions. When people ask me how it is in Mississippi, I can’t find the right words.
It is my home right now. A home that I’ve missed for a long time.

A familiar voice in my life came up saying, “It’s not going to happen for you in Mississippi..”

As a young cook, looking to grow and hone my skills, it doesn’t present me with the most options.

But that’s okay.

Because I’ve found myself really needing this place. In the way that home always feels. As much as I loved my most recent visit to Oregon, I was so giddy to get back to my old tiny apartment, among my cookbooks and familiar smells. I wanted to sit on my back steps and listen to the acorns fall from the trees.

Yesterday, as I was hobbling in on my booted foot, a man riding his bike loaded down with grocery bags yelled, “Hey! I’m sorry about your foot! – – – I know that hurts man, I hope you get better!” and kept on his way.

I shouted THANKS! As I walked into my room, I sat on my bed got a little teary. (As I do.)

I felt some really big love. Not just via random bike guy, but all around. And though I might not make much sense to my family and many of my friends, I am so glad to be home again, and I’m so glad I get to be close to those constants in my life. Yes, there are bigger places out there.

But right now,
I’m just happy to be here.

patty pans and puppy bellies

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These days, my life is about submitting,
and surviving,
and pushing through barriers I keep around my heart.

I dislike that I am so very stubborn at times.
I also have a thing with male authoritarian figures.

Maybe that’s why I work better under women chefs than men.
But let me digress, as I do.

Because my heart is feeling a little wild and raw today.

I am all over the place in my head, trying to figure out what is good and real, and what’s fleeting and exhausting. Wouldn’t we all love to know what is good for us now and also 20 years from now? Yeah. Same. I’m working it out, apparently.

As I digest this life, it is often sour and turns in my belly.
Then there are moments like yesterday, where I felt like a kid, wandering through rows of vegetables and scratching the bellies of tiny puppies with a cup of sweet tea at hand.

There was the sweat dripping off my face and onto my glasses. The bugs buzzing in my ears and the new community forming around my heart. I was a little overwhelmed, as I get from time to time in these sacred places.

Rows of tomatoes, branches hanging deep with em’ and some that were showing off a little earlier than their green branch mates.

Squash blossoms and pattypans.
Sweet onions and crunchy okra.

My heart swelled.
My new friend Dale said, “The way Josh sounds when he talks about cooking, is the same way I talk about eating..which means he really loves to do it…”

I stick my head down, because when people say things like that, it puts me on the spot and I smile and shake my head approvingly.
But I will never apologize for being shy, or quiet. I like being a gentle presence.

Yes, fortune favors the bold, but also the meek will inherit the Earth.

so they say.

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I am flustered.

From work being busy, and me being in the awkward position of not knowing where things are, but working damn hard at trying to be good at what I do. And that my apartment is missing something, and I can’t figure out what it is. I think maybe people. Maybe some more color. A different smell.

I am going in a million different directions, sometimes.

But yesterday, I walked down the rows of vegetables, smelling heads of broccoli and bending deep down for the perfect blossom. Flies and bees and white moths circling the heat and stench of a proper garden. Goats, horses, chickens, and cute baby things.

I scratched the belly of the puppy that was playing with my shoestrings, as I found it trying to dig through my groceries that were just pulled up from the ground.

I was also overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness and generosity and humor.
I am still so thankful when I get to receive in abundance.
Even when it’s just a brown bag full of squash, it is a little bit of heaven on Earth.

You see?

Every day, I glide through people like them rows of vegetables, not knowing of the battles they carry in their own hearts.
Should we have kids?
What’s wrong with me?
I am so tired of feeling lost.

I battle my own.

Why is it so hard to accept love back?
I don’t even know how I deserve this…
I hope I’m doing a good job.

I let them flow through me,
and I breathe in deeply.

Yes, I deserve the love that I give.

And I will remember to keep my plow to the Earth.
Breaking through the surface, to plant and nurture and grow.

And harvest,

reaping what I have sown,

giving thanks to the Great Mother who still holds me close,

and the Great Mystery that dwells inside of my heart.

 

 

the roads to home

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Reconciliation is the mending of bone and flesh and soul.

It is peace and understanding; Lord knows I am in great need of both.

I took a drive South over the weekend. Made dinner for some dear friends, and missed a wedding I was supposed to attend. That was a night where I felt I kept making the wrong turns. Both physically and with a heavy dose of life comparison. Luckily, I still have an Oregon tag on my car, in defense of my directionless brain.

I do, however, know how to go South.

That was my life, and it certainly is again.

God, there’s some beauty here. Even on those messy, warm nights I am filled up with the sounds of cicadas and frogs and perhaps the sounds of Kenny Chesney from a big truck.

I walked past a couple kissing in the parking lot of a Thai restaurant. This was after I listened to them singing “Afternoon Delight”, barely able to keep pitch, or their balance. I smiled big.

In my head, I am constantly mending my lives. In big chunks I smoosh them together. I lived here once, went away, and now I live here again. I am a bit different, and that’s okay.
I drive across the state line into Louisiana. The other place I spent a lot of life in, chasing cousins around furniture and finding easter eggs under the great Magnolia.

I pull over for supplies at Rouses. Mostly hot sauce. A shrink wrapped muffuletta and a bag of Zapps potato chips. That dill kind that rip up my tongue so good. I think about how my taste buds have changed over the years. Not enough apparently, that I buy some really dry eclairs for my mom. They looked good in the case, I thought.

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I drive to a place where me and my dad used to pull blue crabs from Lake Pontchartrain. All the spots are taken, so I pull over and walk to a wall and get to breathe in a bit more of my history. I think about the places I’ve lived, and what it took for me to get there. I kick around an old beer can someone had left and filled full of cigarette butts.

I make my way back North, before the storm. The same roads that brought me places when I was a kid. I go in and out of thoughts like I’m reading a book, distracted.

Next thing ya know, I’ve been driving an hour, then two.

I spot the gas station where I filled up before I left Mississippi five years ago.

I think about my life during those years, and I smoosh it all together. The roads to home are all over, I have figured out.

Intersecting, opposing, parallel.

and I cruise through them mile signs,

one memory at a time.

A Letter to My Community

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Alas, the weary thing inside of me comes asking you for more than I’ve ever needed.

Moving is expensive. The cost of transition is a high one, and I will be making one very soon. Here in lies the small panic of figuring out how to pay for it all.

I am not one to ask for money. I live simply and very much cheaply. I also realize after the holidays, we are all pretty broke. So do realize that I know I am stepping into weird territory. But I am also not above asking for help, and the gifts of others is truly a powerful statement of the community we create.

I didn’t start a campaign with some emotional music behind it. I am not doing anything very revolutionary, and there are certainly more noble causes. But I suppose mine is small enough that asking for your money still feels humbling.

Let me get going with this.

The cost of gas, a moving truck, and food is the beginning, but also the transition into new employment is a scary one. So there’s that…too.

But honestly, your $5 is huge. It’s a hamburger.

It’s a place to sleep for the night.

It is enough to get me home.

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So I come asking for your help. Anything you can muster up is a blessin’.

At the top right of this blog under the title, “Read first, if you’d like” is a page titled “Josh is moving home”.

This is where you can find my donation page. You can also find address info if you’d rather send a check or money order. I know paypal is confusing sometimes.

Honestly, I take all forms of things. Happy wishes, prayers, toys, lamborghinis, etc.

But money is important because it allows me to move, in more ways than one.

Deeply, I am so thankful for your willingness to contribute. To read, to keep up with me and to lift me up when I am weary.

As I’ve said before, I believe in my beloved community. I believe we are all here to hold each other up. So today, I am asking for your help. And I may ask for it again. If you don’t trust me, I understand that. The internet is a weird place. And I wish I had something to give back for your donation, but I don’t for the time being.

But I will have my words, and pictures and a story. And if our paths cross at some point, I will happily cook you dinner and do your dishes. (Seriously.)

I’ll put the link right here for the time being, but you are welcome to come back or share my donation page where it will be until the last of February when I have to close my account.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

-Josh

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Magic. (Words to My Wounded Healers)

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My 2013 was a hot mess.

As most of you know and can attest to, I am almost hungover with that sad feeling. I go inward and think about the things I lost. The people who abandoned me and the others who rescued me without even knowing.

My dad told me I write too much about sad stuff. And he is right, in a sense. I also know he reads this. But we also discussed how good it is to get stuff out of my head, and that the sting is less once it’s out in the open.

And let’s be honest, the great writers, poets, and singers of our time bloomed in the midst of a great sadness. It is poetic and true. Almost as much as falling in love.

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My trip home for the holidays was a bit magical. Yes, the holidays are hard for a lot of people. Especially flying across the country to be with the ones you love and who have known you longest. I cherish that.

And I say magical in the sense that people lifted me up without having to say a word. I was met at the airport by my grandparents with a still warm muffaletta! Salty, fatty. All the things you want after getting off an airplane. That was my first treasure.

I then got to spend some time with old friends around a bonfire before I finally made it up to Jackson.

Christmas Eve was spent cooking gumbo and smellin’ up the house with that dark, dark roux. I got to use some gulf shrimp, which really makes gumbo hit that super sweet spot for me. Presents didn’t hurt, either. 🙂

And in the ebb and flow of my holidays, the sadness of my year would poke out its head. And I would head upstairs into my room to recharge for a second. To greet those friends that I have been tugging with for so long. I would find out that the person who wanted out of our marriage was already seeing someone else.

Everything inside of me went berserk. I shook and wept and got more angry than I’ve ever been. I said words that hurt, because they hurt me, too. Not even being fully divorced yet and now this! All the while finding out when eating spaghetti with my Gran. Things got real. I went into destroy mode, but had nothing to destroy. I absorbed it and molded it a bit. Contained it for the time being. Smiled, and threw around the ball with my nephew.

I woke up the next day to go camping with my friends who I went to high school and church with when I was younger. We keep in touch, though we are all spread out. We pick up conversations like we’ve never left them. We catch up. Laugh. Drink. Fish. Sleep. Eat. Shoot guns. And Repeat.

It was the beginning of my healing process.

Laughing so hard my stomach hurt the next day.

I tear up thinking about the people who carried me this year. Who let me take the last fried piece of food and cleaned up after me knowing good and well I should have done the dishes. Or who let me sit on their barstool for another drink, if only just to have company. I breathe in deep this goodness from others. I’ve allowed myself to take, because I’ve needed it. And I’m thankful for the people who gave of themselves to me. Who let me fish with the best rod. Who spoke good, and nurturing words into my heart.

The people who told me they loved me and hope for me and tell me time will heal. (and that I will heal.)

To the kitchen that I spend time serving others and healing and exploring. To laughing with my Chef and co-workers and cleaning the sinks really well. every. single. day.

To those who built me up when my world was crumbling: thank you, forever, thank you.

So now, as I sit in my brown chair and listen to the soft hum of the highway near, I will unpack my world again.

I will give thanks to that Great Love. To my fellow Beloved, who are also wounded healers.

thank you

thank you

thank you

advice to the frustrated home cook

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I’ve read some of your blogs, and I think this is what you want:

something delicious
something fast
affordable
makes a lot (depending on how many you’re feeding)

I will go ahead and say that you will be let down at cooking shows who tell you that you can cook something brilliant in 30 minutes. And you can, don’t get me wrong, but those people cooking on TV are professionals, and have done it for a long, long time.

Hear me out!

I’m not here to sound discouraging. I love to see folks cooking at home. There’s something so important about cooking a meal in your home. The smells, making people hungry, gathering folks together. It is what is most important in a lot of our days.

But what I see, is aggravation.
I read people’s frustrations with not having enough time, or you’ll head straight to the freezer section. (Which honestly, you do what you gotta do. I’m not judging you on your eating and cooking habits. I just know, you can do it.)

Yes, you can do it.

I know you worked a long day.

You already made the mistake of coming in to sit down.

You’re watching that show that you love.

Then your stomach starts to growl.

Don’t panic. You still have time to make good choices.

Just because Sandra Lee is doing something “interesting” with canned cheese, doesn’t mean you have to. This is where the home cook learns to grow.

And you know what? You’ll get faster, and faster at prepping meals. That’s what TV shows don’t show you. They have all their stuff ready to go. Oh, four cloves of minced garlic? Watching folks with even decent knife skills, mincing a clove of garlic takes some sweet time. Don’t do that to yourself. Or if you do, leave time for it. Leave time for your prep. Leave time to get things right.

So often, we rush to put things in our belly, and are discouraged at the final product. But then, you’ll start to nail stuff better and better. You’ll have your go-to chicken dish and will think the night before about marinating a pork shoulder, soaking beans, or baking fresh bread.

Cooking at home takes time. There’s no way around that. If it’s not important for you to dedicate time your craft, you will always feel frustrated at the outcome.

Now, I am not speaking to the mom or dad with kids. I can’t say that I have experience with little ones and different eating schedules. And that’s even if your kid wants to eat what your eating or if that’s even an option. Whatever, I’m not getting into that, but what I have seen, and what I like to see, is kids interacting with their food.

Isn’t that the whole point? To connect with the ones you are feeding?

If I’m missing the point, excuse my ignorance. I realize it is different.

I also fall victim to a frozen pizza from time to time. And after I’m done hating myself (just kidding), I’ll know deep down, I won’t be able to do that for a long time. At least I hope I don’t.

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I’ve talked about this before. (In fact, almost exactly three years ago. Damn, I’ve come a long way.)
It helps to keep some things around. The things that they always have on TV shows and in magazine articles. Meal prep.

Have your stuff organized. Your onions chopped. Your liquids ready to be measured. Eggs and butter at room temp if they need to be. Water hot. Oven pre-heated. Yes, kitchens are hot places. But you know the saying.

Don’t kill yourself. Keep it simple. Use that boneless, skinless chicken breast that you love to buy. But please, cook it in a lot of butter or olive oil or something. Load that hot pan up with thyme and garlic and lemon juice. Just throw it all in a pan, tilt the pan, let the juices form at the bottom and baste that super-mom cut of meat. Delicious!

And now, you are a kitchen stud. Roast some vegetables while you’re doing it.

There are many uh, “wonderful”, uh, “things” you can do while your food is cooking.

Just uh, don’t forget to set a timer. 🙂

Multitask. Yeah, that’s what I mean.

– – – – –

I guess that’s my advice to home cooks struggling with time. Buy good ingredients and cook them simply. Save dramatic dishes for the weekend. Good rice with good vegetables is a GOOD thing. And it’s cheap and easy.

Maybe I’m just beating a dead horse now.

Fair enough.