This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Moving Your Life. Bringing Your Food.

One thing I love about big cities, is the massive amount of different food cultures. Within a few can find Ethiopian, Indian, Mediterranean, Southern and French. It's sometimes a bit overwhelming and makes your ham sandwich look awfully lonely and boring.
Hey, I enjoy ham sandwiches, unfortunately, I'm not talking about them today.

I am referring to this comfort of having your tastes of home when in reality, you are far away from what you grew up eating [and coincidentally enough, what yo' momma cooked for you your whole life]. When you are displaced [or have moved] from your own country or part of the country, you crave a little bit of normalcy among something so foreign.

I'll take India for example.
When I traveled to India, I had never had Indian food. At least, I don't think I had ever tried it. I don't think I was too worried about it. I think I liked curry, or at least I knew I could handle it.
Luckily for me, my host family cooked very gently for us, supplying us with an everyday breakfast of toast, a couple of fried eggs and a banana. {With the exception of the occasional and celebrated potato & puri - a very heavy breakfast consisting of fried bread with a potato curry mash] I actually, really enjoy Puri - though it's awfully heavy for breakfast.

When Lata Didi finally got our breakfast down, after many uneaten mutton sandwiches (which I felt very bad about not eating - it was just too much for steamy Calcutta mornings) we were met with a nice place of familiar foods. It became very, very comforting. Eggs. Toast. Banana and Cha [bengali chai].

Among the comforts of my time in India, were KFC, Pizza Hut and Subway - though it was rare we would eat at these places.
Mostly, at a joint called Blue Sky Cafe, that had excellent fried fish and chips and grilled cheeses.

I found little bits of familiarity in those pieces of fried chicken and overly-glamoured Pizza Hut pizzas.

I'd imagine that same feeling hits displaced and new implants of American culture - when down the street, they have markets that provide them with all the essentials. And though the sounds and sights and smells have changed, they have one important thing that makes life better: food and each other.

And this is what's important - this taste of home, of childhood and of Momma.
It's finding Gulab Jamun and spinach peneer down the street or freshly made Injera from a local market.

So I love...and encourage this - to try these places within your cities and communities - the local mexican taco stand or restaurant - the hole in the wall or the place that sells words you've never seen before.

It is here that you'll find a piece of what the rest of the world calls...home.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

cooking is liberation.

There's this movie called, "Julie & Julia".
It's lighthearted and funny, involves lots of cooking and lots of cooking with butter.

More importantly, there's liberation.
For Julia, there was learning to cook in a world where men dominated professional cuisine. [And, because she loved to eat.]
For Julie, it was hope and joy -- needing some direction and inspiration when most of her days brought her to an exhausting sense of mediocrity. [And, because she also loved to eat.]

I think liberation is a good word for me.
I don't quite know where this switch turned on. I have this urge to understand why things cook the way they do, and how to debone a chicken or how to make a good hollandaise.
There's nothing revolutionary about any of these things, but there is...liberation.

When I find myself cooking, there is this sense of creation and of coming to a final product. There's rhythm and sounds and smells that I just can't get away from.

I recently signed up to take a basic knife skills class and I'm super pumped about it. Yeah, I can cut things okay, but I wanna learn how the chefs do it, ya know?
I've watched them press the knife against their knuckles so they wouldn't chop off their fingers, but I just can't figure out how they do that! It seems so simple - so, I needed a little guidance.

I can't bring myself to pay for culinary school. Portland has some good ones, but they are {Good-Gracious-Heavenly-Jesus} expensive. A 21-month program at Le Cordon Bleu costs about 41,000. Yep. I told you.
So I've been looking around and finding local cooking classes.
My knife class was $45 for a two-hour course. Not bad. Something I can do.
Other classes are a bit more expensive, say up to $70-100. They teach how to cook various 4-5 course meals. And really good meals, at that.

I find these to be worthwhile - even if it's just to get ideas. I think it's worth it. I'll keep y'all updated on that...because I know how excited you are to know about my knife skills. :P
Let's just hope I still have all my fingers.

There is also liberation in knowledge.
It's good to not be intimidated, but to also not be afraid to mess up. Because, you're going to.
It's nice to know people enjoy the food you cook. It makes you feel good -- especially when they want it again.

There's this freedom when cooking. Anything can happen and hopefully, when we do fail, we learn and make it better and better.

In every essence of cooking, I find this peace. I thank the people who grew it and somehow got it to the store where I bought it. There is a story in everything -- and it's up to us to make those stories fill our hearts and our bellies.

In the words of Miss. Child and most french speaking nations [as I insert the last effort to make the reader chuckle],
Bon Appetit!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where We Find Each Other

I love to watch people eat.
Not gawking awkwardly at strangers or constantly asking someone, "How is it!? Is it okay? What could be better!?"

I just like to watch people fill their bellies...and appreciate it.
There's just something unholy about eating crap to get full. Granted, we all do it because we're busy or bored or waiting on our next paycheck to come through.

But there's something odd about shoveling food into our mouths like cattle in a field. There's no thanks, involved. There's no gratitude to the ones who cooked our food (which hopefully more than others, should be yourself..) and more importantly, the ones who grow our food.

There's this odd sinking feeling whenever I drive through a fast food line, which just rarely happens these days. But it does happen.'s Popeyes. That stuff is like crack! Not that I've had crack, but I'm assured it's heavily addicting and bad for you - So yeah, the same as fried chicken. :D But I do love the stuff.
Back to the drive-thru.
There's not much in that food...well, as far as love and passion goes. In other ways, there's a lot in that food. But, I don't want to go there for the sake of my own bad habits of the fast food world. And when I say fast food, I might as well include most supermarket produce and meat. It's all generally done by the same philosophy as fast food.

When someone hands me a bag through a window...I know it's probably going to taste good [momentarily]. But the folks at the window do this for a living. They don't care about the food their stuffing into paper long as it pays a few bills, they'll be doing it and I don't blame them a bit. Why should they care? Most people I have known that work in fast food never actually eat the stuff they serve. They know...they know.

My short stint at Wendy's was a glorious expedition of most things unholy.
A good friend at the time got me a job there. I was stoked to wear the hat and shirt. On my second day, I got yelled out right after finishing my training video to tuck in my shirt. The heat was on.
I was hurriedly trying to open a massive amount of pickles with a big knife and nearly cut my pinky off. Then I got stuck on drive-thru burger assembly.
This meant, I had to call out to a guy on the grill making burgers, "Single!" or "Double" and yes, "Triple!" - and said so in my shaky adolescent tone. Apparently the guy at the grill had been in jail for some time and I didn't feel the need to ever offend his ears.
After almost getting stuck in the walk-in refrigerator, I was done. I came home to my mom discouraged and in tears. I couldn't handle it. I had such a sensitive heart and an odd history of people I rarely knew personally yelling into it. You feel flawed and unnatural. Perhaps I should have given it more time...
I'm glad I didn't.

I say all of that, to remind myself of what food represents. Culture. History. Comfort. Familiarity. Mom.
The cooks love to watch others enjoy their food. If you have ever eaten in a village, or have been invited to eat with a family who can hardly afford to feed will understand their need to watch you eat...and enjoy it! They love to keep adding rice to your plate....and I love this. Of course, I have been made fun of for not finishing my own plate and regretfully having to push it aside...[Ex. "You eat like Village woman!] I understand now, that I need to finish. There's respect and honor in finishing that plate. Dignity and Pride.

Anytime I have someone not finish something I cook...or turn down an offer, I feel a bit offended. I'm not sure why.
They may be vegetarian or vegan or really healthy - but, I just feel out of place. Like, I have offended them by's an odd feeling. And maybe it's something I need to get over. Maybe.
Maybe not.

Either way, we find love in our food. We find respect and at those most important times, we find each other.
Sitting across the table. Sharing a story; sharing a life.

sharing in each other

Friday, March 5, 2010

Your Last Meal? [An oddly weighted question...]

Granted, if I were going to die (knowingly) the next day and I had one meal to eat, I probably wouldn't be that hungry.
So, in my head, I separate myself from this and generally take a different look at this favorite conversation piece of mine.

If you were to eat one last meal before spending the next year eating nothing but rice, bread and water, what would it be?

I love this question because I think it reveals a lot about the people you ask. It generally brings about warm emotions of home, family and the love of all things taste related.
I recently asked this question and got some great feedback. "Wine and good bread...with prosciutto, dried meats and good cheese" and "Chicken curry with vegetables with a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar"

I think your last meal changes throughout your life. I'm sure when I was 8 years old, all I would've wanted was chicken nuggets and french fries...and possibly a coke, or something.
And surely enough, it hasn't changed much since then.

When the question finally came around to me..this is what I said...

Buffalo wings. Medium. [Preferably old school, 3 Dollar Cafe style in Atlanta, GA. or from Fire on the Mountain here in Portland.)
Chili Cheese fries. Not just canned chili, but CHILI. Not just Velveeta, but hot and melted cheddar topped with green onions and sour cream.
And to drink?
Yes. An ice cold Coca Cola. {and was laughed at, understandably}
For dessert,
A warm pecan pie and good cup of coffee.

{*insert heavy gratifying sigh*}

I wasn't kidding when I said my tastes have yet to change.
Granted, I love-love dried meats and am learning my way around cheeses and my palate appreciates beer and wine more and more these days.

There's just something about that "burn", as my mom would say. It just hits you and "burns oh so good..."

I love hearing peoples' meals. I feel like it says so much about who they are on the inside. Simple meals, mostly. Meals that feed majority world countries and is generally affordable, minus the uh, prosciutto part. {Unless you make your own, which is another story...}

So, whoever out there reads this silly blog, let me in on your last meal.

Tell me why it tastes so good and how it slowly pulls you into that place of gastronomic nirvana.

The table, my friend, is yours.