watermelons

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we grew watermelons in our bellies.

too many seeds
you’re bound to swallow a few in a lifetime.

they supposed to have seeds.
it means they keep going
in our bones
and the bones of our children

smith county off highway 49
hermiston up in the PNW

we used to bury em’ in the sand to keep em’ cold
my granddad put table salt on his

I used to shoot them seeds from beneath my fingers
in hopes they’d stick to my cousin’s bare shoulders

If I’m at the market thirsty, I’ll eat it up in a flash
sweet and tastes like summer
Mississippi summer

hot hot hot
running across the road,
barefoot
asphalt burning soft feet

for that watermelon.

sweet and tastes like summer
smilin’
sweatin’
nappin’ (well, eventually under the great swingin’ ceiling fan)

horse flies bitin’ our shoulders

for that watermelon

maybe they didn’t grow in my stomach after all
at least not in the way an 8-year-old thinks

though you can find me, today
swallowing a seed,
wondering if I had a belly full of dirt
would it grow?

I’d say yes.

Give anything time
water
love
a little thought
light
warmth

and it’ll grow
and grow and grow

hot and sweet and tastes like summer

Mississippi growin’s all I’ve ever known.

JumboBlackDiamondLG

a cook’s life.

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I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

where the water looks like sweet tea

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We’re out of coffee, so this steamy cup of PG Tips with just enough milk will have to do.

And let’s be honest, that light scald on the back of your throat is just perfect.

It’s welcoming and much needed. Like the light rain outside and the low-hanging clouds I know will cool my sunburns.

I am tired.

Just getting back from a small vacation with my family on the coast of Alabama. A state that I’m not very familiar with. (with the exception of its beaches and its love for college football.)

I would always pass through Alabama on my way to Georgia.
Sometimes I call Alabama a backwards Mississippi. (Well, geographically, it’s sorta close.)

Like if Mississippi had a less cool cousin, it would be Alabama.
(And I’m sure natives of ‘Bama would say the same for Mississippi. Fair enough.)

I’m also biased, right? Aren’t we all.

The weather was perfect. Hot. Humid. Sticky. All things you would want on a summer vacation to the beach.

The gulf waters, just cool enough to take the edge off. Realities of the BP oil spill still running on letter boards outside law offices that reside in the shadows of gigantic oyster houses and souvenir shops.

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We went on a dolphin tour one day. I think dolphins are super cool. So did our tour guide, which is good because its his job to hype them up to hot, sometimes miserable people. “Tell you what, I seen a dolphin tear through an 8-ft shark!”

As the boat propellers kicked on, it churned the murky gulf waters.

My niece, looked up at me and said, “Uncle Josh! That water looks like sweet tea!”

And in all my days, I’m not sure if I’ve heard something that genuinely cute and honest.

I responded, “You’re right dude! It does!”

That line, resonates deep within me. More or less the fact that it doesn’t look like regular tea, but sweet tea.

That is a southern girl, deep deep down. To the extra syllables in words I never knew could fit any more. That little girl is wild and somethin’ fierce. I pray deep down that the world does not extinguish her fire to be heard.

A day earlier, we were out swimming, and I told her I was thinking of just swimming to Cuba. Not that I thought she would know what Cuba is or where, but that it was far away and that it looks a lot different than Alabama.

Grabbing on to my shoulders, she yelled, “Come on, Uncle Josh, let’s swim to Cuba!”

And so my mind wanders. Thinking of coming up along a shore near fields of sugar cane. Warm breeze. Explaining why everything looks so old, but beautiful and unique. How could a little one understand the complexity of regimes come and gone and that sweets can’t just be bought at Winn-Dixie, but are more or less rationed.

But all that doesn’t really matter. At least in this story.

Because when the water looks like sweet tea,

you don’t ask hard questions. You soak it in the best you can and realize how small you are in the thick of it.

In actuality, the water is so salty. It stings your eyes and burns your nose.

But for those few days, it was sweet…

and it was just what I needed.

meat (and moon)

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Sometimes, I’m afraid to look at this blog.

Really, there are a lot of things I’d like to say at this point in life. A lot of things involving choice words I know my momma would prefer me leaving out and ideas that are just a little over the top.

And there will be a time for that.

I’ve been writing (read:blogging) like this since high school. Granted, it was more about girls and God and whining about things I can’t even remember now. But I suppose that’s how life goes. Things get big, then they get smaller. Sometimes they even disappear. I suppose if we were to hold on to everything, it would be an awfully big world to carry.

But today, I’m feeling tired. Mostly in my back. A few burnt and chapped fingers. It comes with the gig.

I spent most of this past Sunday out at a berry farm assisting some of Portland’s finest cooks prepare a big family style meal for 115 patrons. My friend Erika created Plate & Pitchfork — which provides growers, farmers, vintners, brewers and chefs a day to collaborate on meals, while also raising awareness for local food movements and various organizations. It is a good thing. To be aware of one’s food and where it comes from. (I suggest if you make it to Oregon for a summer, consider one of her dinners. They are always so beautiful and her and her team are some hard working bad-asses.)

I worked with Erika as a server a couple of years back just as my foodie interests were peaking and had always loved being near the cooks. Only this time, I was on the other side. Standing among grills burning hot mesquite, breaking down huge cuts of meat and plating pretty desserts. There was a certain point where I took it all in, feeling deeply my desire to be among these kind of people. Crude humor aside, they are my family.

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The owner/farmer of Smith Berry barn went out and caught me some crawfish in his little irrigation creek. There were only about 12 — not nearly enough for anyone to be satisfied, but I certainly cooked them to the best of my ability while serving him mid course on a shiny white plate with four crawfish, tails tucked tightly, shining bright red. Beauty of a thing. He was so excited, mostly because he had never eaten them. It was a pleasure to give him a taste. And properly done, at that.

It was a warm sun. I watched as moms and dads taught their little ones to pick berries, “If they’re pink, they’re not ready okay?” As they look toward their bleach blonde babies with berry juice dripping down their chins.

“Eat them things up.” I say to myself.

A big moon came out and took the edge off the heat.

I took a short walk in between the lanes of blueberries and blackberries, letting the moon cool my sunburn.

Feeling it in my knees, I became aware of this journey.

I knew it deep down that I can’t be quiet about the things inside of me. A cage is no place for a voice to be heard. We all have important things to say.

I am glad, deep down, I can say them here.

And I’m thankful, at the end of the day,

that I have some people out there who listen.

fishing. (a post for my grandad)

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In the summertime, I got to spend a lot of time with my Gran and Grandad.

Before school started back, my sister and I would head up for a week to spend some extended time with them. Meaning, more than a weekend visit. It was sort of a “spoil the grandkids for a week” sort of situation.

We’d go out to eat and watch movies and swim. It was a paradise for me.

We would get new school clothes for the year and I would have everything set out on the bed, so when my mom came back to pick us up, we’d be able to show her our new threads. And can we talk about how exciting it is getting new shoes as a kid? It’s just the best, right?

We were lucky.

Because it was so hot, my grandad and I would go fishing early in the morning. We’d stop at a Burger King or McDonald’s and get a few biscuits. He’d get coffee. I’d get a coke. The usual. There’s just something so nostalgic about fast food breakfast.

We usually hit up this catfish pond a little ways outside of Jackson. It was a typical sort of joint. A seafood/catfish house off the main road which made lunch and dinner. Behind it were two big ponds stocked full of catfish. Easy fishin’, y’all.

It was a “you catch/we clean” sort of situation. You pay by the pound, so on and so forth.

One particular afternoon, I was killin’ it. Catfish after catfish I would pull up. My grandad would bait a line, I would toss it in, he’d bait another line until we’d had our fill. Come to find out, we almost didn’t have enough cash for the day’s catch! One more fish and we’d be doin’ dishes!

And it’s so funny to think about. In the days where you didn’t have debit cards. Once you were out of cash, you just didn’t do any more things.

But, I was on a roll…and he didn’t want me to stop.

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My grandad passed away my senior year of high school.

And today is his birthday.

I’m choosing to celebrate his life and his goodness. Because the truth is, we all know people never truly leave us.

I remember the first thing I ever wrote in college was about my grandad. I wrote about his hands and how excited he got from watching basketball and how he would rub them hands together, toothpick in his mouth, actin’ so giddy.

I loved it.

It made my whole family cry and I tear up thinking about it.

And now, I have this fishing pole standing behind me. A hobby that I’m working on. I’m a little intimidated and I’m having trouble getting it ready for fishing.

But it’s okay. That’s why it’s called a hobby, right?

Somehow, this memory is embedded deep down. That feeling of pulling up a fish. There’s just nothing like it. It helps me feel connected. Those memories are good as gold.

Yes, today I’m celebrating life and goodness.

And hoping for the day I get to pull another fish out of the water,

thinkin’ about them hands,

and gettin’ all giddy.

 

summertime belly.

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Bloggers know not to post on Sunday because no one will read it.

But I’ve got this itch and the sun is coming in just right and some coffee just arrived by my side. I’m feeling reflective and thankful but also hungover with that tired feeling. Okay, and maybe that cocktail I had last night was sorta strong. But I know that’s not really it.

When the hot sun finally makes its way over Portland, you know it. You wake up at 7am feeling ready to take on anything. Or for me, I laid around with the box fan blowing into my face, throat dry, lips chapped and a stinging headache.

Lovely way to start this Sunday. Folks around the country heading into church and breakfast spots or for many Portlanders, when the thermostat hits 80, they go to the beach because it’s ‘too hot’.

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Summertime to me, correlates to small freedoms. Or at least it used to. And there is still some truth to it. It’s generally time to travel and go on vacation and slurp sweet stuff while sitting in the sand. (And I do actually get to do that, at some point.) Windows down. Music loud. Being outside the moment the sun sets and night comes to take the edge off with a cool breeze.

Those are the things I seem to be thinking about lately. Always aware of what new seasons bring. Realizing I officially started my new gig on summer solstice. It felt appropriate. Things are shifting in lots of ways. And as always, working hard at being self-aware of the changes.

It also seems like all I want to eat is pizza and hamburgers.

My dietary struggles are legit. All this talk on eating real food is still important, and for the most part, I do. But if I’m being honest with myself, when you cook for a living, cooking at home takes a back seat. And when both parties are busy in the summertime, you seldom have time to cook in your own hot kitchen. At one point I may have been excited about eating salad for dinner, but now, I want decompression food. Food that is comforting and speaks wonderful things into my subconscious. Like, “…you won’t even notice I’m here until the morning!”

The theme of this blog is pretty wide open. But it usually comes back to my belly. Not in its physical form, though it fluctuates. We all know what that’s like. My belly is my hearth. It is deeply connected to all the other parts. Without it, nothing else works. It is what I fill up on a daily basis. When it hurts, I notice.

More so, it’s what I put in it that matters. How I digest what I see and have seen, to what I want and what it needs.

I’m paying attention.

And these days, that’s all I could really ask for.

 

When it Tastes Good…

Food, Health

There’s this saying, “Eat what’s good, when it’s good.”

I like this. Especially as we’re entering into the best growing seasons. Spring to Summer and to Fall again, some of us are gettin’ a little antsy. Granted, we buy salad greens in the winter, but we know… we know…

There’s the overwhelming sense of goodness when eating in tune to a season. You can bet that in late Spring into Summer, those bright colors you see in the local grocery stores and markets are at the peak of their lifespan. That is, before hitting your tongue and nourishing your belly.

Asparagus. Artichokes. Fava beans and collards. Strawberries and rhubarb. Lovely greens and reds are peaking up above the soil. Pretty cool when food comes out of the ground. Somehow that helps me to figure out why this life makes sense sometimes. Some things…just work.

Also, what grows together goes together. (A quote, I think, attributed to Tom Colicchio.)
Strawberry and rhubarb is a perfect example of this.  Also a summer gratin or ratatouille using those gorgeous little summer squash.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this stuff is important! The seasons teach us so much. Like how tomatoes need pretty hot temperatures to be lovely and red and green and orange. And how wine grapes do best during those hot summers. The grapes become sweeter and so much more complex. It’s important to see what the sun and heat do to make things taste good.

And that’s what this is all about. Eat it when it tastes good. Eat a lot of it. You’ll probably get sick of it…but then again, you probably won’t touch the vegetable again until it’s in season. (Or if you can, you’ve already found your way around this.)

Our kitchen has been getting warm the past couple of weeks. The sun has been out and into the 80s and I already feel it in my bones. When roasts tend to lose against the cooler counterpart. Then again, maybe we’re supposed to eat lighter in the Summer.

So in a last ditch of encouragement…when it tastes good, eat it!

Let the sweetness of these fruits fill us up;

and then let the warm sun heat our skin;

because when it’s good, it’s so, so good.