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

 

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.

 

creaky bones.

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I feel further and further away from you.

I figured the distance would help me get more upright and a bit more sturdy. It’s taken me a long time. I know you know that.

Even as you moved and connected so quickly with another, I was left scratching my head wandering what the hell had happened. What was I blind to, and why was I having such a hard time moving on?

But today, I walked into my new home and I felt the boards creak under my feet.

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“Ah, this old thing.” I thought in my head. Stuffy as hell with no power to work the AC, but it is old and beautiful. Kind of like the one on Bryant Street, sans the lead paint. The kitchen is smaller, believe it or not. A back door heads out the kitchen, with a few steps leading to a clothes line and soft grass.

I see where I will plant my tomatoes.

I see where I will grow now.

It’s got a funny smell. Sort of like my G.G.’s house — mix of the fumes from a gas range and old wood. They sure did fix this place up since 1945.

The smell will change, too.

Coffee and laundry and time.
Oh yes, it will change.

Especially when I roast my first chicken there. I will think about the times you used to say, “MmmMm, it’s smellin’ good in here!”

And I would smile.

We tend to hold on to the good things that we remember warmly. I think our bodies naturally reject the bad, like a poison. At least in order for me to remember the bad, I have to put myself in a different place. Usually it’s when I’m alone, or a song comes on that  makes me remember. I suppose choosing less and less to go there is a result of me moving on. I will always remember the pain in certain seasons, but these days, I find myself feeling thankful for the love and light that I was given.

I see a table in the dining room with cloth napkins and vintage silverware.

I see my pans hanging on the walls.

And I will remember how it felt to grow alongside those tomatoes.

new life.

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From Oregon to Georgia.
Pacific ocean to the Atlantic, crossing over the mighty Mississippi.
Steelhead salmon to them channel Catfish.

Whew.

A lot.

It feels a bit odd to be moving around so much. I realize the luxury in getting to do so. I have also been blown away by the hospitality — the people wanting me to move into their cities — don’t they know how much of a goober I am? I should really warn those people.

There has been a theme, throughout this little ride.

Daffodils blooming. Escaping the snow by a day or two. Green pastures and conversation of change.
New babies. New love.

Rebirth.

New life.

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That is what I see. In the midst of the mud and murk, I emerge like that catfish, mouth agape, feeling the sunshine beam upon my whiskery face.

I realize, that what I am seeing as I pass through states, and after I leave one place for another, are pockets of new life. All of the time, they are being remade. Whether that is a baby or a marriage or a job. I see it all bursting through the ground like them daffodils after the long, cold dark of winter.

I see Justin planting his garden behind his Tennessee home, while watching L jump on the trampoline yelling, “Okay, watch this!” And I can see both of L’s parents, smiling and admiring all of the little things they have growing. More so, L’s parents inspire me to keep moving and loving. (And that when a kid needs to dance, you just gotta let him dance…)

Abbye and Jeff playing hide and seek with their neighbor’s kids, and embracing their city and neighborhood as though they have already decided on something big. I love seeing people go all in on a place.

I see my cousin behind the bar, smiling, sharing with us something he has extreme passion for — and the relationships he’s made. I’m proud of him, but not in the way people say when someone has just started to get their stuff together. I’ve always been proud of him. I’ve missed his friendship, and I’m excited to be closer to my family.

To SJ, my sister asking hard questions and seeing beauty and wonder in all the small things.

So now, I sit at my dad’s desk, writing with the sun at my back.

I think about the Beloved community. How good everyone has been to me this past month. Giving me their beds, paying for my drinks and my food. They’ve showed me their cities and have allowed me to meet their own little communities. Usually I am exhausted by all the hustle and bustle, but I have been so lucky to meet and share a table with so many this month. It further reinforces all those big things I keep in my heart.

Because given the opportunity, I would give these people whatever they needed, whenever. The gratitude of taking in a weary traveler has always been something close to my heart.
So, I sit back and imagine what’s next.

And I feel okay. I feel loved.

I see life, and I see it moving on.

From one place to another, life being made new.

reincarnation-like.

Yeah, I think it’s gonna be okay.