The Bachelor Chronicles Returns! (aka: Go Fast, Don’t Die)

Wakey, wakey, little boggy woggy.

You read it right — the Bachelor Chronicles are back after a nearly two-year hiatus. And it couldn’t come at a more chaotic, yet creatively fertile time. The dreaded COVID-19 virus has had me working from home for two weeks now — an arrangement that will likely last until mid-summer at least. The virus has also temporarily closed down normal operations at my beautiful gym, forcing us to move to streamed classes and social-media-only engagement, which is breaking my heart. Oh, and then there’s the obvious implication that comes from using the title Bachelor Chronicles.

It’s confusing, heartbreaking and downright scary to not be able to go to the office, to see my TITLE members or be in a relationship anymore, yet I find it’s something else that’s difficult to get my head around: while nothing is under control presently, I feel somehow as though I have more control over the future than ever before.

I’m very fortunate to have a full-time job that lets us work from home and continue to get paid for that work. I hate that not going to the office every day has disrupted my routine so violently but it’s also a great time to create new habits and practice new disciplines that can then become part of my normal once homeostasis is restored.

Not being able to see my clients and TITLE Members is truly crushing to my soul but I’m really taking to this online presence we’re being forced to run with. We’re keeping our members engaged, staying relevant in our community and building a new, stronger foundation for both our social media presence as well as our overall reputation in the industry.

And not being in a relationship anymore can for sure be heartbreaking and lonely but anyone who knows me knows that I’m extremely independent and self-sufficient. I also love having alone time — and believe me, I’m getting plenty of it with this damned quasi-quarantine going on. This has allowed me to focus more of my time and efforts onto the above initiatives, however. I’m already saving a great amount of money in such a short time and this will allow me to make bigger moves in the near future.

There’s a motorcycle lifestyle brand out there that’s been following me around on social for months now called Go Fast, Don’t Die. After the breakup, I did what I usually do during that time and treated myself to some things I wouldn’t have been able to afford previously — this included a shirt and hat from that brand.

Go Fast, Don't Die

Go Fast, Don’t Die

Now I didn’t purchase these items with philosophy in mind and I swear I don’t think I’m trying to force this connection but the more I’ve thought about it, the more Go Fast, Don’t Die seems like a great metaphor for this new chapter in my life. While the brand is referring to potentially reckless behavior on motorcycles, I like to think of it as my way of saying that I’m going to start taking more chances, pursuing my passions with more fervor and trying a lot of new things (going fast) while refocusing my workout and nutrition practices to achieve the success I want, all while prolonging my life (not dying).

Is that cheesy? Kind of, I guess.

Anyway, expect to see / hear a lot more about what I’m working on, wanting to work on, wish I had worked on a lot more frequently here since I have a lot more time to do so now. There are so many cool things I want to do and I’m more motivated than ever to do them.

Until then, here’s a photo of what I cooked for myself (no shame) for dinner last night — homemade chicken-fried venison steak over homemade garlic-and-goat-cheese mashed potatoes and a simple black-pepper gravy.

Ever onward fellow Heathens,

-JTF

 

Gran: On Death and a Eulogy

Wow.

Talk about things you never thought you’d actually have to do.

Talk about times of life you knew were coming but you didn’t actually think you’d have to live through.

Talk about a sad, though therapeutic, experience at a funeral home.

Death is such a strange thing. It’s a reality for us all and we all have different opinions of it. I know people who are afraid of dying and I don’t really know why. I mean, after death you’re done — your part is over. The only pain is felt by those who loved you and depended on you. You can be concerned for the well being of your loved ones after you die, but for you to be afraid of death? I don’t get it.

Frequently those I know who are afraid to pass are self-professed Christians and when I practiced that faith, my opinion of death drastically changed. What fear of death I did have was squashed because I was fully sold on the idea of being welcomed into the arms of a savior who’d made the ultimate sacrifice for me. I viewed death as something that, while sad, should be celebrated — the body is a prison, but the soul had been set free in a land of milk and honey. So I half think the Christians who are afraid of death aren’t too certain about their faith as they claim to be. They aren’t as certain of their savior.

They aren’t as certain of the afterlife they’ve tried so hard to believe in.

And that’s the only thing I think can be possibly alarming — that unknown. Do we meet Jesus and our loved ones in Heaven where we rejoice and praise until the day of the Second Coming? Are we in Odin’s beautiful hall of Valhalla where we fight and feast until the Ragnarok? Are we immediately reborn as a person — or even animal — whose life is greatly affected by the choices we made in our previous life (lives)?

What if the reality is based on what you believed the whole time, regardless of what it was?

Or what if it’s just black?

Personally, I don’t know. And I’m comfortable with that. I don’t fear it. I hate death, but I don’t fear it. It’s coming, I don’t know what it means and I’ve accepted that.

Someone else who didn’t fear death was my Gran. She wasn’t one of those annoying evangelicals that bark on street corners, leave BS posts on Facebook or drop off pamphlets at the local post office. She believed in the Christian God, believed Jesus lived, that he died with her in mind and that the Bible was the All-Mighty-inspired word of God.

She read the Good Book every day, often with a new devotional accompaniment and for years she never missed Sunday School and Church service. She loved her family and she had beautiful things to say about people. She was a lovely soul and the exact reflection of Christ that most Christians should aspire to be.

With that said, when my Gran passed away on Sunday, January 12, I had no doubt that she immediately went into the warm embrace of Jesus. A true beauty and believer in the Word. A shining example of how to be a follower after God’s own heart.

Cara and I got back from her funeral service last night. It was a difficult day for me and having her by my side was a great help. Seeing Gran in the coffin was one of the hardest sights. I told her that I would’ve corrected the typos on her flowers had I seen them. I told her that the image they were using of her wasn’t the one I submitted. I told her that I was so, so glad to have gotten to cook for her in my life. I told her that I loved her.

The final, crushing blow was when family was let out to begin the funeral and the lid on her coffin had been shut. I’d never hear her voice again. I’d never see her face again.

I’m a very fortunate grandson, though. I’m fortunate to have had her for a grandmother. I was fortunate to have been raised partly in her home, fortunate to have eaten her food, shared in her hilarious stories, that I’d gotten to cook for her several times and that she trusted me as much as she did all the way to the end.

I was honored to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, and I’m sharing it below.

I loved my Gran so, so much. If it’s Jesus or Odin or just darkness after this life, I know she has put a good word in for me. Regardless, I’ll be striving to meet her expectations in this life.


In the hours and days after my sweet, sweet Gran passed away on Sunday, each time I passed someone in the hall at work or at the gym who expressed their condolences, I’d say You know, she’s been progressively going downhill for the last several years. After a while you kind of see it coming and you’re able to make peace with it.

And it’s true, really. Gran had been on a steady decline in health for the last several years and with each passing year I was more and more prepared for her to slip out of this world and run into the open arms of both her Lord and my Paps. She had a laundry list of health issues and was often unable to take any preventative measures toward combating them. Frequent doctor visits, accidents and days of full-on depression and loneliness plagued her in the last few years.

So yes. I was very well prepared for Gran to let go and move on towards whatever awaits us after this life. But I learned this week that no matter how well prepared one is, one is never actually well prepared for when the reality sinks in.

For me it was Monday at 5:30pm. I had to work a little late at the office, which was acceptable since I didn’t have class or clients until 7:00. Before I left for the day, I activated Spotlight on my Macbook and began to type something, though I don’t remember what, it was due to a simple typo where I had began to type “G-R-A” — that Granny Carver popped up from my contacts list.

Harmless though that may have been, it was an immediate reminder that it was 5:30pm on Monday, one of two times a week I usually called her. But on this day, I wouldn’t be. I held it together long enough to shut my computer down and walk out to my car before I burst into tears. Gran had been gone for about 28 hours or so at that point but it was in that moment that the reality finally hit me.

My sweet, beautiful, incredibly innocent Gran was gone. And I’d never be able to call her again.

For years she asked me if I’d mind writing something for her when the day of her funeral arrived and I promised her I would. I always told her, though, that it’d be a long, long time before I ever wrote it and I wouldn’t even think about it until it was time. I kept my promise and I’m proud to be delivering this eulogy for her today. And I’m sharing it with you all with hopes that anyone who hears it will share in the laughter and understand the emotions that went into writing it.

I love you, Gran. I hope you like this.

“I’m going to mop in here soon so don’t come through the kitchen!” she yelled out the back door on that summer day. Summer was the best when I was growing up because it meant extra time at Gran and Paps’ house. Their couches were so comfortable, there was always a basket of snack cakes on the table … and there was that swimming pool.

“I’m about to start! Don’t come through the kitchen!” she yelled a few minutes later. I was just a little boy, I don’t remember how old … and I loved being in that pool. Sometimes it was volleyball, roughhousing with Paps or just continuously jumping off the diving board. I was a (mostly) innocent little boy who didn’t have a care in the world, least of all that Gran was about to mop the kitchen floor.

But I did care shortly after getting out of the pool, drying off and heading inside to use the bathroom. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time out of the water so I decided it was a good idea to sprint to the bathroom and back as fast as I could. And so I did! In through the back door! Through the dining room! And across the kitchen floor when …

SMACK!

… halfway across the kitchen floor I slipped. Fell. And bumped my head on the floor. Hard. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I didn’t get back in the pool. Instead, I curled up on the living room chair and cried my eyes out. I was hurt, yeah, but it was mostly just really embarrassing. My sweet, loving Gran was there, though …

… and she thought it was hysterical. She sat across the room from me laughing herself to tears at my well-deserved misfortune.

So many of my memories involve that same heartfelt and bright laughter of hers. She was a funny lady and had a unique and interesting way of looking at the world. And while she was certainly capable of getting agitated, frustrated or even downright angry, one thing I’ve always admired about her is that she lived as long as she did yet maintained a certain untainted innocence that most of us can’t even imagine given the broken world in which we live.

When you think of grandmothers you usually think about all the classic grandmother stuff — great cooking, a nurturing hand, a warm embrace and a funny sense of humor. And my Gran checked off all the boxes.

She was a fabulous cook whose potato filling was the star of holiday dinners, her open-face turkey sandwiches were to die for, her beer-battered fried fish was magical and her meatloaf was … well, terrible honestly, but Paps loved it for some reason so she frequently made it and I (usually) politely ate a single serving.

She was always kind to everyone she met and rarely ever had a harsh word to say to anyone unless they were flirting with Paps, of course. And I love hearing stories about her from my mom and uncles — about the young former Marine who worked hard to raise three kids. The lessons she either taught or at least tried to teach them. About the strong, loving relationship she had with Paps.

I grew up knowing her as Paps’ counterpart who loved reading, going on vacations, was an incredible cook, had a strange fascination with Denny’s, had exceptional skills with a basket of clothes and an iron, was a fixture at her church and was the Belle of the Beauty Salon every Friday morning.

Her humor was unmatched, even though we frequently told the same stories over and over again. A lot of our conversations revolved around family vacations and some of the funny one-liners that either she or Paps came up with — trying to talk Paps into crossing the highway for lunch, Paps not needing anything from Lowes (paraphrased, of course) and that first cruise where the server dumped an entire tray of water all over her on formal night.

We’d tell each other these stories like we’d never heard them before or weren’t there to begin with. And we’d laugh like it was the first time we’d ever heard them. And though she maybe wasn’t cooking as much anymore, we certainly talked about food a lot — what I was cooking, what I wanted to cook, what she recently took to the church luncheon or a recipe she’d found in a magazine. We’d also sometimes talk about deep subjects from philosophy and religion to politics … or sometimes more trivial stuff like “Why’d they take that Pimple Popper show off TV again?”

When I heard sadness in her voice, I made it my mission to make her laugh and to encourage her. We’d laugh together and end each conversation on a happy note. That’s just the relationship we had and I treasured it; I think she did, too.

Though she may have hurt and had bouts of loneliness, she was still the same sweet and untarnished soul she’d always been. The same beautiful woman who loved her Lord and her family more than anything else. The same precious Gran I’d known and appreciated my entire life.

I’m going to miss her badly and I know you will, too. But it fills me with so much joy to know she’s back with Paps and Jack. And we should all take comfort in knowing that each time one of us watches Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back-to-back … each time we order the fried fish sandwich at our local diner … or every time we take a “Shaher” (Shower) and come back in an “haher”(hour) … she’s still with us, gracing us with the beauty that was her life and her sweet, sweet heart.

Thank you so much.

[FOOD POST] Venison Pizza, Two Ways

Trust Fall is an organization in Knoxville that has one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever heard of. It’s a secret dinner party. Top secret, even. Ultra exclusive.

But to get in, you needn’t be one of the Knoxville elite or have an in with the local foodies and hipsters (maybe these are the same people, I’m out of touch so I don’t know). No, to attend a Trust Fall event, one only needs to provide their email address on the website.

And you wait.

You wait until there’s an event scheduled at which point they’ll email you to let you know when the event is and when the tickets will go on sale. Frequently the on-sale time is something very specific — like 3:57pm or something — and tickets are frequently between $100-$200 each. Regardless of the price and the oddball sale times, tickets sell out every time, sometimes within seconds.

It’s at this point that I say that I’ve never secured tickets. My real-life knowledge of these events ends here but it’s my understanding that after you secure tickets, you then must figure out where the event is. They won’t tell you, but they’ll send you hints and riddles that indicate where the event will be held. The only concrete information you have is the date and who the chef is. The guest chef is usually from one of Knoxville’s many artisan eateries and for them, these Trust Fall events are a free-for-all. “Here’s your budget — go ham,” and the chef will then design a menu that’s way outside of their usual box and is frequently quite experimental.

On the evening of the event, the lucky diners who were able to secure tickets meet up for dinner and drinks at the secret location — usually the backroom of a restaurant, the courtyard of a local business or even a hidden underground meeting space. The menu is then revealed and it’s set — no substitutions, no special requests allowed. It’s a memorable event for everyone in attendance and definitely a gem among our Scruffy City’s many unique offerings.


A few years ago I had a brilliant plan to do something similar only the menu would be pizza and the location would be my house. No secrets there but the pizza menu would be highly experimental and my guests wouldn’t know the pizza styles until each pie was delivered to the table. I would design and develop as many as seven or eight pizzas and keep my oven hot the night of the event as I deliver each pie and briefly explain to my guests what they were about to eat, where I sourced each ingredient and what inspired me to combine them. I would introduce my guests to pizza toppings they’d never had before and even ingredients that they’d never considered putting on a pizza to begin with.

(After proofing that last paragraph I realize how much I sound like Bob Belcher. I’m not mad about it.)

In those early days, I designed about six unique pies, wrote out the full ingredient list and made each of them. I snapped photos of them and took extensive notes about what worked and what didn’t about each so I could adjust and try again — I needed these pies to be perfect before serving them to a group of friends. I was taking this WAY seriously.

Unfortunately, this party never materialized. I keep it in my back pocket, though, and each time I make a homemade pizza I keep notes about what I’ve made just in case the opportunity ever presents itself again. It won’t be in the near future or anything — I can’t host more than one or two extra people at my townhouse — but when I have the space to entertain, that’s going to be one of the first things I plan for.

With that in mind, let’s talk about this past weekend’s pizza experiment: Venison Pizza.

My dad has been a hunter for as long as I’ve known him. He’s secured a great place to hunt and regularly brings home a couple of deer whose horns get mounted and whose meat goes into the freezer. The problem with that, however, is that mom doesn’t like the gamey flavor of wild deer meat and usually won’t cook it. That’s great for me, though, because I LOVE wild game but I’m not a hunter, myself. So Chuck gets to hunt deer and I get fresh deer meat. Everybody wins!

Over the last year, especially, I’ve gone through pounds and pounds of venison steaks, ground, tenderloin, jerky, roast and chopped.

Last weekend I decided to take some of the steak out of the freezer and in doing so saw that I still had two homemade pizza doughs wrapped up and frozen — I had a brilliant idea.

I took an earthy approach to these pies, each one with nods to pies Cara and I both like but with a venison twist. First of all, there’s this guy:

  • Homemade crust
  • homemade sauce (also batched, portioned and frozen for future use)
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled onions
  • roasted sweet potatoes
  • mozzarella
  • fresh thyme

I didn’t do much to the venison — I sliced in thinly then seared it up in a skillet with a bit of fat. Garlic powder, salt, pepper, done. No marinades, no sauces. Ever. The onions were caramelized in a skillet with some butter and the sweet potatoes were diced and roasted with garlic powder. Thyme can sometimes be overpowering so I kept it light and I feel like I used just the right amount to come through without overpowering and it complimented the flavor of that venison perfectly.

So far I was on a roll. Next came pie two:

  • Homemade crust
  • Homemade sauce
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled wild mushrooms
  • roasted garlic cloves
  • mozzarella
  • shaved parmesan
  • truffle oil

One of mine and Cara’s favorite frozen pizzas is the mushroom-and-truffle flatbread sold by Trader Joe’s. Mushrooms are my favorite pizza topping so I wasn’t about to make two pizzas and not use them! These “wild” mushrooms were an assortment of mushrooms bought at my local Kroger that I fried up in some oil until they were nice and soft. Roasting garlic is somewhat of a new obsession of mine since it’s relatively easy to do and, I mean, who doesn’t love roasted garlic cloves? The shaved parmesan was the perfect consistency — sharp flavor and slightly melty. Finally, the drizzle of truffle oil was the flavor finisher that made this pie shine. It was unanimous, this pizza was the best one of the night.


Now that I’ve shared photos of these pizzas as well as the ingredient list, I don’t guess these will ever be included on my secret pizza party night but if you get an invite, don’t be surprised if I still serve up a venison pizza of some kind because these were so, so, so good!

Shoutout to anyone still reading despite this blog being so quiet lately.