Saturday, October 1, 2016
The above photo was shot in early Autumn at sunset. I was standing at the edge of Buffalo Harbor, that magical point where four great bodies of water converge...Lake Erie, the Buffalo River, and the Erie Canal as they empty into the Niagara River and tumble over the Falls twenty miles downstream.
So I began posting this blog nearly nine years ago in response to things in my life and changes I was making (click here to read my very first post). And now I am taking one month leave for the very same reason(s)...things that are happening and my response to them. But unlike some blogs and bloggers that say they are taking a break and basically never blog again, this is for a specific period: 30 days. This is the longest I've gone without posting. Maybe I'll be back sooner, I'm not sure at this point. But I will be back by the 1st of November, that is for sure. I enjoy this blog too much and it is a good outlet for me...it can be cathartic in some ways. I'm also taking a break from Facebook; I even deleted the app from my phone. I will be checking emails, of course, and Facebook once a day for messages, and I may post a photo or so on the Facebook page of this blog (click here for Urban Simplicity on Facebook). But nonetheless I am having an "electronic fast" of sorts. I simply need to re-think some things. Thank you for sticking with me, I hope you are still here when I return. I'll see you in the beginning of November, inshallah. Until then...peace, salaam, shalom.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
Thursday, September 29, 2016
#707...a cardboard box containing 3 loaves of freshly baked honey-oatmeal whole wheat bread, a dough rising bucket, 3 bread loaf pans, a camera bag with an extra lens, a book bag with books, a chef's coat, and a pair of kitchen clogs.
#708...a small rucksack containing a complete change of clothes (it was raining earlier in the day), two bottles of wine, a plate of rice pilaf, two books, a laptop computer, a camera with an extra lens, a pair of kitchen clogs, $32 in groceries, and a small paperback copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
Things that can be carried on a bike.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
"Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
~ George Eastman
So today was my day off. Sort of. I had off of work (in the traditional sense) but I had tons to do, including work for school, which I've recently enrolled. Anyhow, as a de-stresser I thought I'd head to the waterfront on this first day of autumn and have a few beers and take a few photos. I've been to this location more times to count, and you've seen many of the photos. So tonight I did something different, in a way. I've been fascinated with sunset photos for quite some time...how the light changes and how you can manipulate the light with the camera settings (I'm in love with long exposure). Anyhow, I set my camera on a tripod at sunset, focused it, and took the same shot every ten minutes for an hour. When it became too dark, I put the camera away, ordered another beer, and just watched the boats pass in the night. And that was the true de-stresser :) Click any photo for a slightly larger view.
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as a secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.”
“How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?”
“I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin."
“If you don't become the ocean, you'll be seasick every day.”
“Reality is one of the possibilities I cannot afford to ignore”
“The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”
“My reputation as a ladies' man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.”
More Five Quotes.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Sunday, September 11, 2016
So this is the tippy top of our incredibly beautiful city hall. It's lit up red, white, and blue tonight in remembrance of 9/11. I had been to the waterfront this evening taking photos and was on my way home when this stopped me in my tracks. Like many Americans (and probably non-Americans alike) I've been thinking a lot about 9/11 today...and how it changed things. It was our loss of innocence in many ways. Everyone has their stories about where they were when they first heard about it. But my most personal story came the day after, when details of the people who perished began to be announced. One of the planes carried children. Half a classroom is what I remember them saying. I can't remember if they were on their way to Washington or New York (with parents, teachers, and chaperones) but at the time they were the same age as my son, who is now in his twenties. I was at home and when I heard this news I remember literally crumbling to the ground. I also remember yelling--cursing--at God. How could you let this happen?! I yelled. What kind of God are you? And then as days and weeks passed I heard of the heroic actions that not only professionals did but also everyday citizens. Some of them lost their own lives trying to save others. As this was the conversation of nearly everyone for so long, I also remember hearing a conversation in the steam room at the local JCC where I steam and swim. Two older gentlemen were talking about this terrible event and one finally blurted out--almost wailed--"Where is God, where is He during this?" After a really long pause--an uncomfortably long pause--the other person said, almost whispered, "God is in the response. God is in the response to all of this. We can either choose hatred or we can choose love. And I want to choose love," this man continued. "I want to help any way I can, even if it is simply sitting in a steam room and discussing this." I personally was not at this horrific event, nor did I lose someone close to me in it. But I mourn them. They were part of us and we part of them. We can either choose hatred or we can choose love. And today I choose love. Our country--if not the world--is broken. And we need to fix it. If we want to survive as a species, it's the only way. Seriously. We don't need to "like" everyone, but we do need to love them as fellow citizens on this rock we call earth. It really is the only way. Love. And this is what I was thinking about as I waited for the long-exposure shutter to click tonight as I stood in traffic on a chilly late summer's evening.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
So I had to work this past weekend. All of it. This, of course, is not unusual for someone in the food-service industry. It's the norm, actually. But for some reason this past weekend bothered me more than usual. It was Labor Day weekend, it was beautiful weather, and I felt like having off work. But alas I did not. With this said, I luckily work early morning/afternoon hours which allowed me to have much of the evenings free. So I rode to our waterfront--which is a mere 2 miles from my front door--where there is an outdoor bar with music and one of the best views in the city. In a way I was pretending that I had the holiday weekend off. So I'd sip my beer and snap photos in the ever-changing view in front of me and watch the sun set over the Canadian shoreline. And as the light changed so did the view. I snapped probably 100 photos, but these are a few of my favorites. The sky was crystal clear each evening, and the setting new moon present. In the second to last photo the planet Venus is also visible. And in the bottom photo is a silhouette of a local tall ship, the Spirit of Buffalo. Anyhow, being there on the water really soothed me; it's just what I needed...a sort of visual therapy. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Boxes and totes containing photos of various sizes. Also, a camera bag, a couple books, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes, and two slices of pizza.
Postscript: I was bringing home what remained of my photo show at a local gallery. The good news is that I was bringing home a lot less that what I initially took to the show...meaning, a lot of the photos sold. Thank you to everyone who attended--either the night of the opening or throughout the month--and especially those who purchased photos.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Monday, August 22, 2016
I went to a family gathering yesterday and saw some cousins and aunts that I hadn't seen in quite a while. It was truly beautiful. We all brought things to eat, and one of the things that I brought was za'atar bread. I don't make this that often but when I do I wonder to myself why I haven't made it in such a long time; it is so simple and delicious. But before I talk about the actual recipe I suppose I should mention the herb blend itself. Za'atar is a common herb blend all over the Levant, but is particularly common in Lebanon. In it's most common form, it is comprised of thyme, sumac (which gives it it's distinctively slightly sour taste), toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. But there are many variations; two of the more common also include oregano or cumin. It's usually readily available in any Middle Eastern market. If you are in the Buffalo area you can purchase it at Pete's Lebanese Bakery, Guercio's, or Penzy's on Elmwood. Or you can make your own.
I'm told that in Lebanon this is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I can understand why...once you get a taste you'll know too. And as I mentioned, this is so easy to prepare. Normally this is not made with whole wheat dough, but I prefer most things whole wheat/grain these days. Anyhow, you can make your own dough as I did (use any of these super easy recipes), or a store-bought raw dough.
After forming the dough into balls, the next step is to roll it out. I used my siti's (grandmother's) rolling pin which I inherited from my aunt a few years ago. She told me it was from the "old country." Anyhow, roll the dough as large or small or as thick or thin as you like. I rolled these into discs about 8" wide by 1/4" thick. This was to be used to dip into hummus; if I was making it for sandwiches I would have rolled it much wider and paper thin.
Next, drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle a liberal amount of za'atar, and rub it into the dough with your fingers.
After letting the discs rise for a few minutes, bake them--a few at a time--in a hot oven (425F) for about five minutes. I have a pizza stone in my oven which I slide the dough onto. Lacking that, you can use an inverted baking sheet. Either way, it is essential that the oven be pre-heated and that the stone or tray are hot.
Lastly, share the bread with friends and family.
If you'd like additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.
Friday, August 19, 2016
The word comes from the French, paix
Which comes from the Latin, pax
An absence of violence
That's one definition
Freedom from disturbance is another
Calm and tranquil are two more
There are others
But what about love
None seem to say that
Because with love comes peace
Not romantic love
But love for your fellow human
For all things
For every thing
With that, I think, there would be peace
But we are not there
I know I'm not
I have peace at hand
But not in my heart
At least not entirely
It's easy for me to pray for family
But for those whom I dislike
Those I feel do wrong in this world
Those who slander me
That’s not so easy
At least not sincerely
But when I can
When I can truly love everyone
Even those who wrong me
Or those who do terrible things
And only then
Will I have peace
There is so much work to do
So much to strive for
The absence of violence
Thursday, August 11, 2016
“We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.”
“We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill.”
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Okay, maybe this isn't the easiest sauce--I generally don't use extreme words such as easiest, best, worst, etc--but it is really easy. And it's really delicious. Basically, after cooking onion and garlic until it is nice and caramelized, you add seasonings and grape tomatoes (diced tomatoes work fine--maybe even better--but I had these on hand so there was no dicing, that's what made it so easy. The sauce itself can be seasoned however you want...add cumin for a more Middle eastern flare, or curry for Indian, but I kept it simple with basil and hot pepper to toss with pasta. This can also be used as a base for braising meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables. Anyhow, the simple recipe is below.
Tomato Sauce (made with grape tomatoes)
Makes about 2 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon basil leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 pints grape tomatoes
1 cup water
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion, while stirring, for 5 or 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Stir in the sugar, basil, salt, and hot pepper; cook for a few seconds then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes for a few minutes, until they begin to pop. Add the water and stir and cook the tomatoes until they break down. While the tomatoes are cooking mash them with the back of a spoon. Cook the sauce until it reduces and thickens.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
So just a bit of shameless self-promotion here (hey, someone's gotta do it). My solo show is up and the reception is Friday evening. If you are in the WNY I would love to see you there. More than 100 photos in all. Here's a link to the Facebook event page. My artists statement is below. Peace.
Photography for me is often a contemplative practice. When I look through a lens it forces me to focus on what's right in front of me. And it's always beauty. One simply needs to look—to open themselves to it—and it’s there. These photos were taken over a five year period, from 2011–2016, but most were taken during 2012–2014. I was enrolled in ministry classes in the city and traveled there nearly every month for 2 years. And when I wasn't in class I would wander around the city, mostly the east and west village, and contemplate what it means to be human at this point in time. And these photos are the result.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Maggie Kuhn, born in Buffalo, NY on August 3rd 1915, is often attributed to the inspirational quote, "Speak the truth even if your voice shakes." But from what I've found that is a paraphrase, the actual quote is the first listed below. To read about Ms. Kuhn's extraordinary life, click here.
"Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind -- even if your voice shakes."
"When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say."
"Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many."
"I'm an old woman. I have gray hair, many wrinkles and arthritis in both hands. And I celebrate my freedom from bureaucratic restraints that once held me."
"By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young."
"There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!"
To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
So a couple things. Three actually. This is a response to the infiltration (near total domination) of politically focused posts on Facebook and elsewhere. It's odd, I suppose...writing a blog post about Facebook but they are both a form of "social media," and I find it easier to type here. But let me begin again.
There are--I have read--three things one is not supposed to discuss in public...religion, money, and politics. But I'm prepared to discuss, or at least disclose my views, regarding two of them here.
Religion. This is a touchy one. I don't even like the sound of it. But here's my view. If I had to put a single label on myself I would without hesitation say that I am a Christian. I am an active member of a very liberal Christian church and try to follow the teachings of Jesus the best I can (and usually fail miserably on a daily basis). But it goes beyond this (Christianity). I believe that all the major religions share the same Truth at their core. I also believe (know in my heart) that there is something greater than I and all of us. Call him/her God if you like, but I also find it easy to use the words Spirit, Divine, Source, just to name a few. In short, I believe that this Source or Holy Vibration is all that there is...that we in fact live and move within It and live out our lives in this manner. Okay, I'll stop and get off my new age-y metaphysical soapbox. But there it is. I talked about religion.
Money. This is an easy one for me. I don't have any. Or at least not much (at all). Despite what food TV and culinary schools will tell you, working as a cook does not generate a lot of income. Oh sure, a small few in any business will make lots of money but I'm not one of them. Each time I save up a few thousand either something happens to deplete it or I take a trip or do a major home repair or take a class or or or. This is not a complaint, it just is. I'm fairly content, I am able to pay my bills, and I find if I don't have money then I don't have money to worry about. So here this is. I talked about money.
And lastly, politics. This is one area where I refuse to talk. Why? because I am so burnt out on the arguments, accusations, and lectures I am seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. In some instances I am surprised and others downright shocked by what some are saying or the reactions they are having. What is most shocking I suppose is that some of these negative and angry posts are coming from people I would least expect. I will exercise my right as an American and vote this November, but I will not discuss it. I will not add to the argument. So there this is. I didn't talk about politics.
But one more thing. I was actually considering leaving Facebook for a while, and I still may, but probably not. What I will do is post what I believe to be the opposite. Pictures of beauty. Poems. Positive quotes and affirmations. With this said, the above image is one I took a few days ago. I rode my bike to the Bird Island Pier, then hopped the low railing and walked another mile out the crumbling break-wall. This is the very point where Lake Erie ends and the Niagara River begins. The Great Lakes are said to contain 21% of all the earth's fresh water, and they all rush through this point every day. To me, this is something to ponder.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
A camera bag with a camera and an extra lens, two pairs of pants, a pair of work clogs, about $20 in groceries, three paint brushes, and two gallons of paint.
Gazpacho. Is it a soup or salad? Maybe both. Or maybe a sauce of sorts (salsa). It’s interesting, I think, that sauce, salad, and salary all share the same common root, sal, which is Latin for salt. A sauce was originally a form of salted liquid to season foods, and salting is what one did to their lettuce (and other vegetables) to bring out its natural flavors. And the English word salary is said to derive from sal because this is what slaves were often given in return for their back breaking work during Roman times. But I’m jumping ahead..
Like the rest of America, and the world no doubt, it has been hot, consistently hot this summer. I no longer work in a sweltering kitchen; the one in which I toil these days is an open kitchen. It gets warm but not hot. Yes, it is uncomfortable at times but not the...I hope I make it through this shift without passing out hot...that I was accustomed to. But for that my heart goes out to all my fellow culinarians who are working through those conditions in this hot summer.
With thus said, my house is not air conditioned. Not at all. Speaking with a neighbor recently I commented that I think I’m 1 of like 10 people in the city—ironically, the city in which air conditioning was invented—that didn’t have an air conditioner. He responded by saying I was also probably like 1 of 10 people who didn’t own a car. Neither of these are accurate, of course, but I thought it was funny.
Anyhow, the thought of cooking dinner in my sweltering home kitchen was less than appealing, so before I left the glassed-in air conditioned room which is the fancy grocery store in which I am currently employed, I bought a few things to make an easy dinner. Surveying the shelves that were overflowing with heirloom tomatoes and golden peppers, gazpacho came to mind. But I didn’t want soup, per se, but more of a chunky salad. And as I meandered the produce selection I thought about gazpacho, the recipe of course, but also it’s origin...like most foods it grew out of locality and possibly necessity. Use what you have to feed people.
Gazpacho is a recipe that has been around in various forms for a very long time, but the path to what we know it as today is likely convoluted. It’s said to have existed in Spain for more than a thousand years (possibly Moorish or Arab in origin), but prior to the fifteenth century it didn’t contain tomatoes and wasn’t red (tomatoes are a New World ingredient; they didn’t find their way into European cooking until the 1500’s). It most likely began as a vegetable, garlic, and herb soup that was thickened with breadcrumbs and ground almonds. Or possibly a chunky salad with bread in it to “stretch” the meal and utilize stale bread, not unlike the Italian panzanella or Middle Eastern fattoush I suppose. It’s truly an archaic recipe, a sort of edible archeological dig for food historians. Interestingly, the word soup is derived from the Middle English, sop, or sup, referring to a stale piece of bread onto which broth is poured to give a slight meal some substance. Today—because of the “gluten scare” and other reasons, I suppose—gazpacho is often made without bread. There are no hard and fast rules as to what gazpacho is or should be, but it’s often based on many of the same ingredients from its original versions: vegetables, garlic, vinegar, oil, and sometimes bread.
Tonight for dinner I made gazpacho which was more salad-like than it was a soup. It was delicious and took about 10 minutes to prepare. I ate it with large dollops of guacamole and Greek yogurt, and toasted slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of red wine. And as I sat eating I couldn’t think of abetter or more appropriate dinner to have on a sweltering July evening. Below is how I made this gazpacho salad (pictured above), and below that is a traditional recipe for gazpacho as a soup.
Gazpacho on a plate
Dice one or two large ripe tomatoes, a piece of cucumber, a small onion, a bell pepper, one or two jalapeno, a clove or two of garlic, parsley, and cilantro. Combine everything together in a bowl and add a quarter-cup of virgin olive oil and 2 or 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper and mix together. Allow the flavors to mingle for about 5 minutes while you pour a glass a wine or slice some bread or set the table. Eat the salad straight from a bowl or transfer to a plate with other ingredients.
Makes about 4 cups
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 hot peppers
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to: diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Let me just say this straight away...these crispy crunchy burgers are really easy to make and super-delicious. Simply mix everything together and pan-fry them. While I was lap-swimming this afternoon I was thinking of what I should make for dinner and these came to mind...they made me swim faster to get home and make them. I made them burger sized and ate them on a plate with a fork and knife and with other foods like an entree. But they could easily be eaten on a roll like a traditional burger, or made small for a salad garnish or an appetizer with a dipping sauce. And as usual, change up ingredients and flavoring to suit your taste.
Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno
Makes about 8-10 burgers
1 (15oz can) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 jalapeno, minced
½ small onion, diced small
½ red bell pepper, diced small
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarse chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
canola oil for pan-frying
Place the beans in a bowl, and using a wire whip, mash the beans to a coarse consistency. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the oil, which is for frying). Mix thoroughly, then allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat about ¼ inch of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape the burgers as you place them in the pan, doing this in batches if necessary. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning as necessary. The burgers are done when crispy golden brown, and the centers are hot and cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper to drain.
This is Mike.
I saw him across the street as I was locking up my bike at the coffee shop this morning. His sign caught my attention, and as I glanced over at him he looked back at me. So after locking my bike I walked over to him.
After introducing myself and shaking hands I asked him straight out, “So what’s your story? How is it that you find yourself out here asking for help.” And then I apologized for being so forward. No need to apologize, he said, and then he told me his story. And while he did—while we talked and I asked him questions—people rushed past us.
He’s from Buffalo, the Old First Ward, born and raised. But he wanted to travel and a few years ago he landed a job as a dock worker in Hawaii. He loved it, and the pay was good. But it’s because of this job that he finds himself standing on the corner. While working he fell through a dock. He broke his back, messed up his head (showed me the massive scare on his head), and was in a coma for six months.
I couldn’t help but notice the large lump under his sock. A police monitoring device, no doubt. So I asked hi straight out about it. And he had no problem talking about it. It monitors alcohol consumption, and it is rated at zero tolerance. It also costs him $220 a month. “It’s a weird thing,” he told me, “waking up from a coma. Sometimes I still don’t know whether I am awake or dreaming.” He then went on to tell me that between the physical pain, the effects of the coma, and depression, he developed a drinking problem and “got into some trouble.” We didn’t talk about that too much. But, he added, that he hasn’t had a drink in 6 months and is getting himself together.
After offering him a couple dollars, he shook my hand and said, while looking me in the eye, “Thank you brother, and God bless you.” I asked if he minded if I took his photo, and before I took out my phone he struck a pose, which made me smile. He even asked if the lighting was ok, if he was positioned correctly with the sun.
But the same question(s) you the reader may have asked yourself in the past is/are floating in the air again...is this guy’s story for real? And is Joe just being a sucker again? I don’t know if he was telling the truth, I would like to think that at least some or most of it was true. But I’m not stupid, some of his story doesn’t add up. Such as if he was injured so terribly while on the job wouldn’t he be taken care of financially? And that bracelet on his ankle was very real. But, on the other hand, his limp was also real, so was the massive scar on his head, and so was the look on his face when he grimaced in pain at one point. Who am I to judge? We are all part of the same human race. But some of us have had better breaks and/or have made better decisions and choices than others. We all deserve respect.
We talked for about 5 minutes. When I parted we shook hands again. And as I was walking away Mike thanked me and said it was really nice talking to me, I bid him the same. And then he smiled and simply said, “Peace Joe.”