Tag Archives: mercy chefs

Two Sizes Too Small

Growing up, Christmas was a mixed bag. True, I got presents, but they came at a cost. Along with the gifts came strife between my parents–not just at Christmastime, the constant threats of divorce from my mom along with the manipulation from my dad kept our household in turmoil. It’s just that this nonsense was amplified around the holidays. They finally divorced when I was in my early 20s–about 20 years too late.

After I finally grew up and left home, I coped with the hurt by emptying bottles of booze. For years. During this time, I eliminated my parents and siblings from my life. That wasn’t difficult because we were never close. 

Maybe five years passed before I somewhat repaired what little relationship I had with my mom and sister. Up until around six years ago I was a godless heathen. I committed to attending my grandmother’s funeral four years ago before I realized that her son–my dad, would be in attendance.

Surprisingly, we made amends and he would remain in good standing as long as he would respect my boundaries. Sadly, both of my parents lost their minds November 4 by demanding that they bring my now-estranged meth-addicted sister for a visit. Against my better judgment, I agreed to this precarious arrangement under duress only for them to cancel their plans the following day replete with vitriol and shenanigans–all of this after I already told my children that they will be seeing three special gifts.

This partly why I’m typically grinch-like around the holidays.  The rest of my grinchiness comes from the pain from my AS which is my constant companion.

Fortunately, my family is going to Dallas this weekend to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ to serve the homeless with Mercy Chefs. Through service, I’m reminded of the true meaning of Christmas which ultimately points to the cross.

So for those who have a nightmarish family, when your heart feels two sizes too small–look to the cross.

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Mooyah–Tyler, TX

I was on my way home from a Mercy Chefs deployment in Van, TX and had planned on stopping at Stanley’s in Tyler, TX.  They have excellent barbecue.  In fact, I’d say they have the only barbecue in fifty miles.  All other claimants in the area do not produce barbecue, but an abominable imposter.  Sadly, Stanley’s is closed on Sundays, so I had to think fast and settled on Mooyah Burgers, Shakes & Fries.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I was encouraged when I saw fresh cut fries on the menu.  I also thought the burgers looked promising.  I was thinking about Five Guys fries and a punched up burger as I consider five Guys’ burgers as consistent, yet average.  If I hadn’t shelled out eleven bucks for a burger, fries, and a drink, I could have better enjoyed an otherwise unenjoyable burger.

The bun was soft and squishy like an old lady’s flabby neck (I mean this in the most complimentary way).  The size of the party was impressive.  The sheer number of available toppings and sauces were unmatched.  The flowing grease mustn’t be confused with juiciness, though.

At first, I actually thought I was assaulting an incredibly juicy burger, but the unpleasant liveresque aftertaste coupled with grease that coated my throat, I quickly realized that I had stumbled into a nightmare.  I’m not opposed to excessively greasy burgers, but this was no enhancement.  This was obscenity on a bun.  This was equivalent to grazing on a minefield of back acne. 

If you want some tasty fries, Mooyah will satisfy.  If you are still lusting for decadence, pass on the burger and get a peanut butter and banana concrete at Andy’s Frozen Custard down the street.

Obedience

A couple of weeks ago, I was hired on at the rescue mission as a cook.  Granted, it’s not the most glamorous job and it certainly isn’t the highest paying, but it is work that I would do for free.  Actually, I already do that with Mercy Chefs, but that’s another story.

There are a couple of reasons why I chose this job.  We have been clawing our way out of debt for three years and it’s finally time to tackle the mountain of student loans that I have accrued.  My wife’s job fully supports us, but everything I make will be applied to debt and we should finally have our freedom in two more years.  Well, debt free except for the house.  Close enough for now.

Without that millstone we can serve and give more.  I’m already involved with Mercy Chefs, both with disaster relief and with homeless outreach, but I’ve been looking for something at home that would allow me to follow two of my passions with more regularity:  food and serving the homeless.

Feeding the homeless is only one small thing that can be done to help.  After all, that feeling of satiety only lasts so long.  I’m only feeding the body, but I work alongside capable people both at the rescue mission and with Mercy Chefs that feed the soul.

That’s what I try to teach the residents I work with in the kitchen.  It doesn’t matter how we view our station in life, or if it doesn’t appear to be all that important.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is what matters and our obedience is a demonstration of our love for him.

I believe that God has shaped me for this position and I’m delighted that He has entrusted me to carry out His work.

If you would like to learn more about how you can partner with Mercy Chefs to feed body and soul, click here.

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach–2/15/2015

Being a Mercy Chef is a lot of work, but the rewards are seemingly limitless. I am always awestruck to be blessed when I set out to bless others. It’s counter-intuitive. Receiving sounds like it should be better than giving. It’s like saying 2 + 2 = 5.

Now we aren’t total kooks by going all the way to Dallas to feed homeless people. After all, we have homeless people in Shreveport. We do serve at home and are presently exploring ways to get even more involved, but in Dallas, I have access to equipment and a network of incredible chefs where we can go where the homeless live and set up shop essentially in their living room to feed and fellowship. (Plus, I get to drive around a thirty-seven foot mobile kitchen). A fantasy of mine is to have a food truck so I could do this every day, but that’s another story.

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My daughter, Alli, is hard at work while I’m creeping on her.

This is the second month where I was essentially in charge of the day. I did the shopping, drove the kitchen to the site, and oversaw the operation. I really enjoy the responsibility, yet I’m always humbled to be handed the reigns as I’m just a hack. I work with über talented chefs who do this sort of thing for a living. Cooking is my passion, but I’m just an amateur. When I started volunteering with Mercy Chefs, I was dishwasher guy. Even if I was still dishwasher guy I would be thrilled because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.

Every time I serve I’m reminded of Luke 14:13-14–“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

I don’t think our motivation to serve others should be for blessings, though. We shouldn’t serve for fuzzy feelings or because others will give us a pat on the back. Our direction is clear. Christ commands us. We can’t serve him from our couch. We shouldn’t wait for others to do the work while we sit idly by. We shouldn’t make excuses because of our limitations or because we are too busy. Can we really be too busy to disobey Christ? Can we really be so apathetic that we just turn away when we see our neighbor in need? Are we Christians or are we merely poseurs?

The fields are ripe, Christian, and we have work to do. Whether you are a chef, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or a ditch digger, you have an assignment from our King.

Hypocritical Christian

I just walked in the door about a half hour ago. It has been a long weekend as the family and I piled into the mommy van and drove to Dallas yesterday. Our main reason to go was because of a homeless outreach we participated in today, but as yesterday was my wife’s birthday, we had a nice lunch at Tolbert’s, then picked up a BBQ and cinnamon roll snack at Bartley’s BBQ, and let the kids swim in the hotel pool.

This was actually the first time we came the day before. On a typical trip, we get up at 3 or 4 am on Sunday, drive to Dallas, and cook for some outdoor friends. Maybe it sounds strange, but as Christians, we try to take the “love your neighbor” commandment seriously. Notice I said try. We are the typical hypocritical Christians that screw things up most of the time, but once in awhile, I hope we make adequate representatives of Christ.

I’m not being facetious. Christians are fallible. Oftentimes, Christians look just like hypocritical unbelievers. (Not that all unbelievers are…face it. We are all hypocrites.) Oftentimes, it is easy to pigeonhole a Christian because he is being compared to God.

Besides, the very best things I might accomplish in my life are nothing but filthy rags I present to my King. I am not looking to glorify myself. My humble efforts are only to point to Jesus.

It’s been less than an hour and the Luoma household is back to business as usual. The kids are fighting and I’m trying to convince them that we should be quiet. By yelling. Did I mention that I was a hypocrite?

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach — 1/18/2015

Trekking from Shreveport to Dallas and back to head up a homeless outreach under a bridge is a big undertaking for me. This was my first time driving the kitchen trailer by myself. I wasn’t dragging a three foot popup tent. It’s something around 37 feet of culinary carnage. Really, I anticipated that careening in slow motion off a bridge was in the realm of possibility, but I drove like an AARP racecar driver.

The other concern came from my wife as I have a history of falling asleep at the wheel, and I had my oldest daughter and her best friend in tow. If I was feeding my candy crushing addiction and caused a fourteen car pileup because of my gross negligence, I don’t know how I could live with myself, but I think after community service, I could get back in my wife’s good graces. Catching my beauty rest at 75 mph with live cargo is a line my wife won’t cross. The other option was to go to sleep by 10 pm and guzzle about eight Red Bulls throughout the day. I thought aliens were going to burst out of my chest from this tonic, but it was a reasonable risk.

We served shepherd’s pie and delightful bundt cake to around 200 homeless people under the bridge on Hickory Street. A church comes out regularly to preach the gospel to these people who may never have the opportunity. It’s a gospel of hope, and I hope the simple gift of a hot meal does its small part in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

Seventeen hours later, I’m on my couch reliving the day’s events. It is so amazing being to volunteer with fellow Mercy Chefs. It’s amazing to be trusted to move the kitchen to the site. It is just amazing serving Jesus Christ.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (‭Luke‬ ‭14‬:‭13-14‬ ESV)

The Least of These

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

Saddest.  Tree.  Ever.  We were contending with 30 mph winds and the tree took some serious abuse.
Saddest. Tree. Ever. We were contending with 30 mph winds and the tree took some serious abuse.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to spend some time in Ft. Worth, TX to participate in Mercy Chefs’ “17 Days of Christmas.”  Heather and I have talked about serving the homeless on Christmas Day for years, and we were blessed with the opportunity to serve around 100 homeless and underprivileged men, women, and children. This project will continue through December 31.

(In case you are not familiar with Mercy Chefs, let me explain.  We are primarily a disaster response and relief ministry.  We serve hot chef prepared meals to first responders, victims, and volunteers. Fortunately, we don’t have continual disasters, so when we have downtime, we partner with other ministries to feed the homeless.)

I’m always amazed when we are obedient to Christ.  We serve with the intention to bless others, but we always seem to be the ones blessed by the homeless.  Yesterday, I sat down with a 60 year old man who has been out of prison for 18 months.  He spent a couple of years in prison after he beat up some creeper who was abusing his fifteen year old daughter.  What surprised me was that this man, Terry Gibson, was a brother in Christ and could quote scripture better than I could.

Learning about Terry Gibson and his circumstances.
Terry said that before today, he hadn’t eaten in two days.

Terry said that he was a manager at a classic car dealership for ten years before he went to prison.  He was a single father who had custody of his three children.  I spent about an hour listening to him as he told me that his predicament came solely because he didn’t trust God to handle the precarious situation with the sexual predator that was after his daughter.

As I imagine myself in his shoes, I know that if I was faced with a similar situation with one of my three daughters, I might be tempted to handle the matter similarly.  I pray that I am never thrust into a comparable position.

My wife and middle daughter watching "Elf" with a couple of new friends on the side of the Mercy Chefs trailer.
My wife and middle daughter watching “Elf” with a couple of new friends on the side of the Mercy Chefs trailer.

His troubles are far from over as he is still picking up his broken life. His children, feeling abandoned by his imprisonment, have pretty much abandoned their relationship with their father.  He attributes it to his unwillingness to allow God to handle his dilemma.  Yet, he is still upbeat.  He is thankful for his experience in prison as it has drawn him closer to God.  He served as a father figure for many young men behind bars, and now he offers his wisdom to kids and young adults on the streets.

My family.
My family.

When we parted ways, he left with a full belly and a warm blanket and I left with a fresh perspective.  God can and does use the least of us to serve Christ, and I’m blessed to have a new friend.  We may never meet again, but I don’t have to worry about him.  He is safe with the Lord, but I do pray for him and his family and I pray that God saves others through him.  It was a Merry Christmas, indeed.

BBQ Chronicles: Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q–Fayetteville, NC

Last week I endured a marathon road trip to Portsmouth, VA and back to Shreveport in four days. It was somewhere on the order of 2500 miles. I went to assist a friend transport a mobile kitchen for Mercy Chefs. We only slept 3-4 hours a day so that we could cover these miles. As a result, we had our share of truck stop food.

On December 4, we decided that we needed to enjoy some fine BBQ, not once, but twice. Our first stop was at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q in Fayetteville, NC. That evening we were passing through Birmingham, AL and had to make a stop at Dreamland BBQ.

Simple presentation.  Big flavor.
Simple presentation. Big flavor.

Everyone knows that I’m a BBQ junkie. I take my fifteen year old daughter on Texas road trips to seek out and savor the best BBQ. I was pleased to sample some Carolina BBQ. I’ve heard about it and my chef buddy I was accompanying actually made Carolina BBQ on a deployment in Chambrun, Haiti. It was delicious then and I expected nothing short of perfection in North Carolina.

You may think a pulled pork sandwich is just a pulled pork sandwich. If you blindly accept that error as truth, then you live an empty life. I don’t want to sound mean, but the sweet pork tangified with the right amount of vinegar elevates this humble sandwich to something epic.

I was skeptical of the slaw on the sandwich as I really don’t like slaw. There is something unappetizing about shredded cabbage coated with a runny mayo. This slaw wasn’t runny and I had to try the sandwich as it was intended.

I’m not going to say that I became an overnight fan of slaw, but the crunch paired with the soft pork works. The fries were frozen, but were mightily fried and I hungrily scarfed them down.

Extreme closeups make me hungry.
Extreme closeups make me hungry.

My only regret is that I was too full to sample the fried chicken. The week prior, I enjoyed Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Little Rock, AR. I suspect that Smithfield’s chicken was insanely good. I’ve never been to a restaurant that sells sacks of fried chicken skin. If they sell chicken cracklings, the chicken itself must be unmatched. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to pit Gus’s and Smithfield’s against each other one day, but in the meantime, I’d like to see a restaurant at home sell fried chicken skin.

Chef John’s Decadent Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Volunteering with Mercy Chefs has given me the opportunity to work with many incredible chefs.  One of the things I really like about deploying for disaster relief is the fact that I always learn more chef skills.

It seems that I have trekked all over the Western Hemisphere with Chef John, and God willing, we will embark on many more adventures.  His life is one continuous adventure as he is a full time missionary chef.  

I’m privileged to be able to share one of his cookie recipes:  his Decadent Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.  These are sure to satisfy that sweet tooth.

 

Best. Meatloaf. Ever.

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One of the preeminent comfort foods is meatloaf. It appears to be one of those dishes that is publicly jeered at, but secretly is coveted.

I have eaten meatloaf from many places. There certainly is awesome meatloaf and there is meatloaf that is only suitable for Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic. It’s still meatloaf and I hungrily shovel it in.

This particular meatloaf is an amalgamation of my experiences in trying different recipes, but it leans heavily on the freeform method that is typically in a mobile kitchen with Mercy Chefs. I just happened to write down the process today.

I look forward to your critique as I’d like to know where on the spectrum it belongs. Maybe Gallagher and I need to eat smashed meatloaf.

If you really want to enhance your experience, try serving with fresh remoulade sauce.

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Ingredients:

3 pounds ground chuck
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup dried parsley
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 ounces Hormel crumbled bacon with black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix ingredients thoroughly, but do not over mix as it will make the meatloaf really dense.

Form into loaf on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Coat meatloaf with homemade sauce (or ketchup).

Cook for 75 minutes or until internal temperature is 150 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest. Internal temperature should rise to 160 at rest.

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Images courtesy of Stacy Crumpley.