‘how wild it was, to let it be’

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The infinite spirit of the human being.

I think maybe this has been some theme swirling around in my head for quite a while. Maybe a bit medicine-induced; a fever-like sort of haze.

I don’t quite know how we make it through the horrible shit.

Abuse and death and violence.
Divorce or moving or taxes.

And yet, here we are, being soft again.

And again.

I helped cater a wedding this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding.
I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in almost eight years.

My tiny corner of dessert prep was done in the back of a refrigerated rental truck. Slicing strawberries and bananas as thinly as I could with the motor vibrating against my shoulders and the condensation from the cooler dripping on my shirt every thirty seconds or so.

I jogged to my car, slipped off my chef’s coat into my nice shirt and adjusted my wrinkled tie. I was lucky enough to have a stunning wedding date this time around. She gave me a thumbs up, though I felt like a sausage packed into its casing. I’ve never been one to tuck in shirts, is all…

I drifted in and out of wedding land. Thinking about my desserts in the truck, hoping a server didn’t slip and crash into my 48 banana puddings and mini peanut butter pies. Then I watched my beautiful friend walk down the aisle of an old New Orleans church, built in the 1850’s.

The back of my shirt had come untucked. I’m used to it, being a tall oddly shaped guy.

Then came the message from a person I knew long ago as a pastor and friend.
He said all the right things and it was picture perfect. To be honest, who cares if I agreed or didn’t agree. It was what it needed to be.

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Only, it’s hard to sit at some weddings and not feel a little jaded from it. For some reason, marrying people allows you to talk about what’s right and pure and what’s wrong and damaged. Like divorce. Or that marriage is hard and challenging. Which it is.

When I tell people a bit about my life, I bring up the fact that I was married, and that I’m not married anymore. Usually the response is “I’m sorry, marriage is hard”. And I nod and swallow, somewhat bitterly. I move on, because I don’t have time or the want or the energy to walk them through why everyone and everything is so complex and different.

I find myself thinking, “Why do people even have to say anything?”
But they will. And you will listen and it will make your heart heavy again.
You will smile and the conversation will move on to work, babies, etc.

Weddings are fast and emotional and busy. It is a whirlwind of remembrance and newness. Perhaps it will flood your brain with memories of love lost. Whatever it is, you feel it.

At the end of the night, my wedding date had a glass of red wine spilled on her dress, and her phone stolen from the venue.

She also smiled and laughed. And we both had our choice words.

I watched people eat the desserts and dance in the aisle, and I imagined it such like a place in the cosmos. All sorts of energies colliding and creating. New life mixing with old.

The Second Line marched the wedding party out of the doors and into the streets.

I cleaned up my jars, packed them away in my car and drove back home.

Somewhere, somehow, I said, “This is all just feels so good. And I feel so lucky. It’s just the best.” Not about any specific happening or memory. But that time shifts and moves forward.

I think it’s because at the end of great sorrow, there is birth to something else. Something new and undiscovered. And that’s exciting and scary.

It’s coming and I feel it all, wrapped up inside my heart — like a bud — awaiting to open and invite in the Beloved.

For a moment. I feel wild and carefree,

and it is enough.

I am enough.

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

Happy 295th, New Orleans!

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It’s not “N’awlins”, however much you want it to be.

It’s not “New Or-LEENS”, unless you need it to rhyme in a song or poem.

It’s New Orleans. Pronounce without over-pronouncing. Then, you might be close.

I had all this stuff written, but it didn’t feel right.

Today, I just wanna remember these good things about my most favorite city on Earth.

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When Hannah came to visit me for the first time, she took a red-eye into New Orleans. Our hotel wasn’t ready till 4pm, so we took naps on the benches in front of the cathedral. Then we went and got beignets from Cafe du Monde and sat by the river, in the grass. It was perfect.

My 21st birthday was spent handing out toiletries and what not to the homeless. It was cold. I was naive then, but it was meaningful for me at the time. I’m sure they didn’t mind. I went to a jazz club off Bourbon. “Hey man, there’s pride on Bourbon Street!”

Being the designated driver for some family members the December after Katrina. It was a ghost town until you hit Bourbon. Weird times, but memorable. Luckily, no one threw up in my Aunt’s SUV. Also, we came back home with a bike wheel.

There was the pigeon that pooped on my dad’s head, after him teasing that it was probably going to happen to me.

There’s the many field trips there as a kid. To the Audubon Zoo and the aquarium and IMAX.

When my dad was married on a steamboat. (That happened to be a surprise…)

One of my prom’s happened on a steamboat. Can’t remember if it was the Creole Queen or the Natchez.

The many random trips from Hattiesburg to New Orleans. Or for that matter, any random trip to New Orleans.

Cafe du Monde.

Tujague’s.

Abita on the street.

Anything alcoholic on the street.

Poboys.

Daiquiris. Paired with music that’s loud as hell.

But really, this city is so much more than the sum of any one person’s experience. And if you’ve been at any point, you’ll understand.

I hold it close. And at times, quite literally, wear it on my sleeve.

Happy Birthday, New Orleans.

And thank you. Have one on all of us.

(preferably a sazerac…)

 

 

 

ps.

And here’s to you, Alan Richman.

The Roast Beef Poboy (An Ode to my Sister for her Birthday)

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Today is my sister’s birthday. Like any proper Southerner who resides in the lower parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, you just grow up eating em’.

And I wanted to write about the roast beef poboy in particular, because it is her sandwich. Any time we pass through our old stompin’ grounds of Picayune, Mississippi — we make it a point to get one at Frostop (pronounced: Frost-top or as my wife Hannah would call it, Fro-stop).

I’ve written about Frostop before, so I’ll make its mention brief just by saying it was our hole-in-the-wall french fry/burger/poboy joint. A must have if ever heading across the plains of South Mississippi.

Because this is sort of a foodie blog, and because it’s my sister’s birthday, I’m gonna lay down my recipe for the “how-to” on roast beef poboys.

Also, I’ve yet to find a good one online. They exist, but are scarce and deserve much more recognition than they usually get.

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There are two things important to this sandwich that have nothing to do with roast beef: poboy bread and mayonnaise.

If you don’t like either, this sandwich isn’t for you.

Good poboy bread is hard to come by unless you find yourself along the poboy belt. Leidenheimer makes the best. But you can’t really get it much else than Louisiana.

So, you do what I do and find a Thai bakery. Look for Banh Mi bread. It should be crusty, but incredibly light in the middle. Baguettes won’t do. They’re too hard. French bread at Kroger/Fred Meyer/Safeway/Wal-Mart won’t do. It’s too much white stuff. (In a pinch, buy it and take out a bunch of the filling.)

The bread is merely for holding together roast beef and condiments. It should absorb said gravy and act solely as a vessel. It should almost disappear among the drippings and shreds of roast beef.

Mayonnaise. For this, I’m thinkin’ either Blue Plate or Duke’s. I’m gonna side with Blue Plate because I have a soft spot for it. It’s what I grew up with, but Duke’s is damn good too. If you wanna be fancy and make your own, by all means, do it!

You must use copious amounts of mayo. You will think me later when the gravy/mayo emulsification is dripping down to your elbows. It sounds dirty, but it’s the truth.

(I’m not great at recipes, but I’ll do my best.)

Here’s what you need:
3-4lb chuck roast, preferably in big, flat chunks
1-yellow onion, small diced
3-large peeled carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 -3 quarts Beef stock, preferably homemade
(sometimes I use half beef stock/half chicken stock and top off with water, in a pinch)
Worcestershire sauce
3T canola oil
Bay leaf, or two
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Note: Here’s the bummer part for you — I like to let the meat marinate over night — and then after it’s cooked, I let it sit in the fridge’ over night again. But it’s worth it, trust me.

Here’s what you do:
Without piercing through the meat, make little incisions and stuff in your sliced garlic all over the place. Salt generously and add a few grinds of black pepper till coated. Wrap it all up, stick it in your fridge and come back to it 8-24 hours later. (Or whatever, you don’t have to do this, but I think it helps season the meat more thoroughly.)

The next day, get a big dutch oven (or big heavy bottomed pot) going with your canola oil. Get it sorta shimmering and smoky. Like you’re about to cook a big steak. Brown all that meat off on both sides and set aside. After all of your meat is done, throw in your onion and deglaze with a little bit of your beef stock (or a little water.) Enough to get that good fond off the bottom of the pan. If there’s too much black crud and oil in there, drain that out first.

After your onions cook for about 6-8 minutes, toss in your carrots. Add the meat back into the pot, jack the heat up and pour in your beef stock till it reaches the top of the meat, like a little meat iceberg. This is when I add seasoning. Salt. Pepper. About 4-5 big dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and bay leaves. Bring it up to a simmer, reduce the temperature with lid on until you get a nice, slow bubble.

Let that cook for a solid 3-4 hours, or until it pulls apart easily.

Take out the meat in as big of chunks as you can and set them aside on a cutting board. Strain your braising liquid, but keep some of the carrots for your final product.

Slice your cooled down roast. Most likely it’ll shred to bits, but this is pretty much the whole idea. A lot of folks call this “Debris” poboy for such reasons. Once all the meat is cut, take half of your braising liquid that you have strained, and add all the meat back into it. Cover and put in fridge overnight. Take the other half of your braising liquid and continue to reduce it on the stovetop. You can do this the same day or the day before. Keep reducing till you’re left with half of it. It should be pretty dark and really flavorful. It might be a little salty, but you can always add water if need be.

When you’re ready to eat, slice your poboy bread and layer it thick on both sides (or just one) with mayo. Heat up roast beef in its braising liquid. Scoop out with tongs onto your bread. The wetter the better. Take some of that braising liquid you reduced earlier and spoon some on top. Top with shredded lettuce, tomato (I usually skip this part because…why?), and some folks like thinly sliced pickles. It’s up to you though. Stick it in the oven to warm the bread through and serve/consume heavily.

This is a little long winded, but it needs to be done right. It’s a sandwich that deserves 600 words, at least my word count says so.

A special Happy Birthday to my sister. Sending so much love your way.

…and if you get the chance, eat one for me.