My Skin is My Sin – The Mental, Emotional, and Physical Exhaustion of This Particular Black Male in America

True story. Short post (not really). I was driving to Taco Bell one evening to order and pick up dinner. I am somewhat of a defensive driver. I barely graze the upper ceiling of speed limits. I am cautious of my surroundings. I respect the rules of the road. I have never been issued a traffic ticket. So, this particular evening was nothing out of the ordinary. I was in the middle turning lane when I realized a dark SUV had suddenly appeared behind me. As I completed my left turn – the light was changing from yellow to red – the SUV sped through the light and closed in tightly to my rear end. It startled me. At first I thought it was just another impatient idiot on the road, and then the police lights flashed brightly in my rear view mirror. Damn. I had absolutely no clue why I was being stopped. Taco Bell is literally 5 minutes from my home. I wasn’t speeding. I had used my turn signal. My plates were legit. I pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot. Suddenly, another SUV appeared out of the darkness.

Now, I have been stopped by police before, so I am not foreign to traffic stops. However, this moment felt different, I had never had 2 police SUVs swoop in with such velocity and basically box me in where I had parked. Lord. Did I fit the description of someone that ignited their aggressive pursuit? Generally, I have a personal protocol that I follow when being stopped by law enforcement. License and registration are already out so I don’t have to reach for anything in the car or on my person. I shut the car off and place the keys on the dashboard. I keep both hands on the steering wheel in clear sight. And I never enter into any excessive banter with the police. They ask a question and I answer. This night I was so shook, I am not even sure if I followed all my own rules. Of course, the police offered the usual line of questioning: Do you know why we stopped you? My reply was an honest no. They performed their due diligence and checked my license and registration. Everything was square. And then the officer offered the reason why I was stopped: He couldn’t read my license plate.

This incident happened months ago, and I have since procured new plates, so I am comfortable showing my old plates above. Take a look. A little worn, but clearly visible – 4FFZ24. I did not argue. I was instructed to buy new plates. I nodded in agreement and we parted ways. I carried on with the original plan and secured my take-out from Taco Bell. On my way back home, I stopped at a well-lit gas station to inspect my license plate. I took a picture, showed it to the gas station attendant, and asked him to repeat the plate numbers/letters back to me. He performed the exercise – surely thinking why am I doing this. I told him I was just stopped by the police because it was allegedly unreadable. He just shook his head in disbelief. I was irritated. I was rattled. But I was alive. Nevertheless, no matter how clean-cut I believe I am, no matter how by-the-book I carry myself; in the back of my mind is that nagging fear – what if I encounter that wrong one? What if on some indiscriminate day, my melanin is justification enough to trigger someone’s racial unconscious bias, leaving in the wake of my death a carousel of anger, anguish, ambivalence, and apathy? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Yet, the stain of black blood on the fabric of America cannot be purged so simply. Trayvon Martin. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Botham Jean.

Once while pulling out of a parking space, an older white woman started screaming that I almost and was trying to hit her with my car. I rolled down my window to see what the commotion was and she started screaming and screaming. I tried to reason with her – that I wasn’t even in the proximity of hitting her. A guy walking by glanced at me and offered a “what is wrong with this lady” look at me. And then she started screaming for help from someone that was out of view. The last thing I needed was someone to appear out of the shadows with guns blazing. I peeled off and got the hell out of there. I have more examples if you have the time. But I digress, don’t mind me. I just needed to write. I’m exhausted. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m on edge. I can’t begin to put my feelings into words, but I had to try to put my feelings into words. Don’t mind me, I just needed to write.

The Gentleman’s Kitchen – Coronavirus Chronicles: Glorious Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes w/ Homemade Tartar Sauce

As previously documented in my latest Daddy Diary post – The Coronavirus Chronicles: 10 True Confessions of a Parent Working From Home – fulfilling one’s job responsibilities remotely has been quite the challenge. Nevertheless, there have been some surprising, positive consequences as a result from working from home. Under normal circumstances, I would arrive home from work in the evening after the children’s dinner time. However, in the current world of SARS-CoV-2, my work hours have shifted, thus allowing me to enjoy dinner with the family. Also, it affords me the opportunity to cook more meals. It is a great opportunity for the kids to see Dad putting in work and serving up some delicious eats. It’s at the point now that I am receiving special requests, so I guess the hush puppies (Ava) and sweet corn bread (Miles) were a hit. Accompanied by some classic rhythm and blues music (Stevie Wonder Superwoman anyone?) gently playing in the background, the interactive vibe combines two activities that I enjoy – good music and cooking. And bonus: I was able to dust off my Canon Rebel T3i and take some great pictures (a few with my Samsung Galaxy S9 as well). The normal work grind was simply not conducive to that feel-good flow.

With newfound freedom to burn in the kitchen, I thought it would be fun to explore some new material here on the site. Because, of all the listed skills that a gentleman should possess, cooking a proper meal should definitely be included on list. My introduction to the kitchen began in college when this brother had to fend for himself. Along with my close friend and roommate, we cooked up some good meals with the means that we possessed. As my cooking evolved, I began to rely on three key components that would result as a delicious dish: time, temperature, and technique. Time is two-fold. Unless a gentleman is a skilled chef competing on Iron Chef; rushing through preparing a meal may not yield the best work. Moreover, a gentleman should grant studious attention to cooking time for his designated items. There can be fine lines that separate perfectly cooked, undercooked, and overcooked. And those three outcomes can hinge on the correct temperature being selected during cooking. Technique is self-explanatory. I enjoy watching videos online; absorbing cooking methods and adding my own variations. For certain, I am not professionally trained in culinary arts, but I am skilled enough to cook an above average meal.

So, during this time of sheltering in place, I have chosen to flex some creativity in the kitchen. One particular entrée that was a hit with the family was a batch of jumbo lump crab cakes that I rolled out of the oven for Mother’s Day. It was only my second time making crab cakes. I wanted to prepare a meal that was simple in execution, yet sophisticated and special. To take it up a notch, I decided to make a homemade tartar sauce to top off those beauties. Now, to achieve a restaurant quality crab cake, a gentleman must embrace two unavoidable starters: 1. It has to be lump crab meat. 2. It can’t be cheap. Apologies (not really), but if you want a flavorful cake that is a mouthful of 98% crab, cutting corners is definitely not an option. I have been posting a few pictures on social media, and I have received positive feedback with some asking for recipes. So, let’s dive into the details of cooking a killer crab cake – straight from the Palmer Kitchen.

 

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes – The Ingredients

  • 1 can of premium lump crab meat – approximately 16 ounces
  • 1/4 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley
  • 1/2 lemon (squeezed)
  • 1-2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs – approximate to taste and consistency
  • pinch of salt – approximate to taste
  • pepper – approximate to taste

Okay, now that the ingredients have been listed, lets jump into how we put these bad boys together.

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together your mayonnaise and egg to a smooth consistency.
  2. Start adding the Worcestershire sauce, thyme, parsley, Dijon mustard, chopped red bell pepper, and chopped green onions. Give it a quick, gentle whisk.
  3. In a small bowl, empty the crab meat and gently sift through the contents to remove any cartilage and shell. Ensure you don’t disturb the lumps of crab and shred them unnecessarily.
  4. Add crab meat to your binding mixture you created in steps 1-2. Add Old Bay seasoning and gently toss so you don’t break up the big lumps of crab meat. Squeeze out juice from 1/2 lemon. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Add breadcrumbs (I used Panko brand) and gently incorporate into your mixture.
  6. Chill in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. I push it beyond the 1 hour mark so the crab cakes have a chance to really solidify.
  7. Remove from refrigerator and use an ice cream scooper (or a large spoon) to collect balls of your crab meat to make patties. I like to pat them around in my hands back and forth until I have solid ball that doesn’t fall apart.
  8. Over medium high heat with vegetable oil, place patties in skillet and fry 3-5 minutes each side until golden brown. Finish in oven, heated to 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Alternately, you can skip the skillet, go straight to the oven and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. In this case, I like to broil my crab cakes for 2-3 minutes (no need to flip) to achieve that crispy exterior (this version is the photo at the top).

 

Homemade Tartar Sauce – The Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon – Country Dijon preferred)
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped capers
  • sweet pickle relish
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper

After I whipped up this tartar sauce at home, I reserved myself to never purchase tartar sauce in a grocery store again. Making this topping is seriously simple, and of course the measurements can be adjusted depending on personal preference. Tasting along the way, I make adjustments as needed to achieve the right flavor. I prefer tartar sauce with a little zing, so I usually increase the amount of dill and capers. The execution is simple. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate immediately until serving. I like to make the tartar sauce 1-2 hours well in advance of topping the crab cakes, so it is good and creamy for serving.

So, there you have it. Toss some fresh greens (baby spinach was used for this meal) with some olive oil, salt, and pepper; place your juicy crab cake on top and finish with your chilled tartar sauce. Enjoy.

Ready to be cooked.

 

Brown each side on the stovetop; finish in the oven.

 

Served on a bed of baby spinach with pan-fried asparagus and bread.

The Standard #53

Despite modern, progressive viewpoints regarding the construct of masculinity here in America; society at large is sometimes guilty of perpetuating and reinforcing stereotypes that it seemingly discourages. It is an interesting bit of hypocrisy. I found it particularly amusing when popular men’s magazines – looking at you GQ – had the temerity to lecture men about the perceived current disrepair of manhood while completely ignoring their culpability and literary sins regarding the topic. It wasn’t long ago that men’s fashion didn’t fawn over the wildly popular show Mad Men and its resident alpha male Don Draper. Mad Men – toxic masculinity personified but stylishly portrayed with critical acclaim. From the appearance of the latest GQ offerings, I surmise that it isn’t trendy anymore. Oh, how soon they forget. Now, I won’t pretend there aren’t bad actors out there that don’t represent the best of the male population. They are great in number. Yet those men have become the archetype for all things toxic, negative, and dysfunctional about men as a whole. Lost in the shuffle of a culture war (waged across social media, television, publications, etc.) revolving around gender roles and expectations; we are ignorant of a sect of regular gentlemen that is perhaps more indicative of manhood than what is portrayed in the mainstream – invisible to the general public.

Sandwiched between two conflicting arguments stands an average gentleman just trying to make the best of life. He hears the competing perspectives, but he cannot relate. It is foreign to him. What are they? Well, he cannot cry because he would be considered weak. And he cannot become frustrated because his exasperation may lead to anger, which may lead to a violent conclusion which men are intimately tied. He cannot be fearful or anxious because that may reflect indecision, and a man should be resolute and certain. Male fragility is not an option. And so we are presented with a how-to guide regarding an evolved masculinity for the modern man. Everyone has an opinion on the matter. Nevertheless, to be quite frank, a gentleman does not need to be more feminine to fulfill his potential as a man. And a gentleman does not have to blanket himself in a facade of machismo to be fully considered a man. It’s all opinion. It’s an attempt to fix what people deemed to be broken. The truth is, the only thing a gentleman requires is the freedom to be human – free of preconditioned judgment and inequitable expectations.

To be sure, emotions are not black & white, no, they are perplexing shades of complicated gray. The current pandemic will definitely tap into every one of those shades. A gentleman must understand that his emotions cannot be dictated by other people. Because the same individual that espouses platitudes about self-esteem and mental health across social media will be the same individual that casts belittling judgment. A gentleman must understand that his emotions are his own and they are valid. Your standing as a man is not predicated on the opinionated whims of the fickle public. Yes, this Fear. Anxiety. Frustration. And yes, a gentleman may be moved to tears. A gentleman should never attempt to meet expectations set forth by an individual that cannot satisfy those same expectations themselves. Reject labels forced upon you that betray your well-being. It can become mentally and emotionally draining. Allow yourself a healthy, confident embrace of your inner emotions; remain true and honest to your identity to achieve a better you.

The Professional – The Coronavirus Chronicles: 5 Ways to Keep a Team Motivated & Engaged While Working From Home

To be absolutely certain, SARS-CoV-2 has altered and disrupted contemporary life as we know it. Our daily routines have been cast into disarray; so we steel ourselves daily with the resolve and steadfastness to answer different challenges we all face. As I stated in my previous post, working remotely from home is not as glamorous as it may appear to the public. Trust, those of us that can work remotely are blessed. However, there are some challenges that cannot be ignored. Locked down utilizing whatever space is available to conduct work efficiently and effectively can be challenging. For example, my role and responsibilities require a consistent carousel of interaction with suppliers, hospital personnel, sales representatives, executive leadership, and fellow colleagues. These tasks are not an issue within the comforting confines of a cubicle or meeting room. Now, at home – not so much. Without a doubt, the concept of work-life balance has been disrupted. Coupled with the elimination of in-person team collaboration and the specter of furlough or termination; the combined stress can deplete what little remains of a worker’s drive and enthusiasm. As leaders, how can we keep a team motivated and engaged when the energy just isn’t there given the current environment? I am not an expert, but I offer 5 tips below that might be helpful.

  1. A leader should offer sincere praise, praise, and even more praise for a job performed well. Sure, a reward with monetary value would definitely be appreciated. Nevertheless, do not underestimate the strength of verbally acknowledging a colleague’s work and work ethic. Moreover, a leader should actively encourage team members to praise one another. A leader should encourage colleagues to share successes with the team and provide positive work-related topics. Welcoming a positive vibe can definitely boost morale. Now, if a leader really wants to add a personal touch of appreciation, a digital gift card from Grubhub is a popular and inexpensive option. Digital greeting cards that express gratitude is also a great option.
  2. During uncertain and worrisome times, it would not be unusual for a colleague to lose connectivity to their purpose. It is important that a leader touch base with their team periodically throughout the week. During these remote meetings, it is vital to incorporate the company’s mission and vision into the team dialogue. I am not suggesting one quote said mission and vision verbatim. A savvy leader should be able to weave a cogent theme that gently reminds the team of its purpose and role. He or she should clearly state attainable goals, identify areas of opportunity, and tie it all back to mission – which should be mirrored by both the company and team. Remind the team what is at stake and why it is important for the sustainability of the business.
  3. Communication. Communication. Communication. Whether a leader is using Cisco Jabber, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts or simply picking up a telephone; maintaining connectivity with one’s colleagues can help facilitate collaboration and teamwork even from afar. A leader should definitely encourage colleagues to contact one another with the tools provided by the company. On a personal note, during a call this week, I was happy to be informed that 2 of my colleagues had set up their own personal, weekly touch base to review work and set goals as they worked collaboratively.
  4. Just stating facts, I would guess that many colleagues do not hold an undying allegiance to their employer. Completely understanding that reality, yet ensuring that the work at hand is performed, I encourage colleagues to focus on the team to achieve job success. Once when the team was inundated with work and the situation appeared hopeless, I bluntly told them that the cavalry was not coming to the rescue, we only had each other. I also encourage colleagues to view their jobs pridefully as a service to their customers or community. The way a colleague performs their duty is a barometer of how well we serve the public.
  5. In this time of uncertainty, it is paramount that a leader never loses grasp of the human element. Work is work. Nevertheless, that work is performed by individuals. And those individuals carry fear, nervousness, anger, anxiety, and much more. I make a genuine effort to ask my colleagues about non-work related topics. It is my belief that fostering sincere camaraderie amongst colleagues can drive them to work harder, again not for the company, but for each other and the community. And it demonstrates an honest attempt to view them more than just a worker – they are a person.
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