Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A time for everything...

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens
 Ecclesiastes 3:1

So this is interesting. At least I think it is. It's about change but at the same time staying the same. Growth, I suppose. In the spring of 2004 I co-lead a small book group at my church. I know when it was because I often date the inside flap of a book when I purchase it (this of course was before kindle). The book is the one pictured, and I highly recommend it (here's a direct link at Amazon). Anyhow, I re-visited this book just today because I am taking a continuing education class of sorts through the seminary from which I recently graduated and this is the text we are using. Tonight at dinner I re-read the prologue and the first chapters. And what I am finding interesting are what I found interesting in 2004....what I underlined or highlighted nearly 11 years ago. Most of what I originally underlined is still important to me, but now as I read it I find myself underlining sections that I didn't in 2004 because they may have not interested me. Maybe if I read it again in another ten years the entire book will be underlined. Anyhow, I just find it interesting how a person (me, in this case) can be the same person but also change a little. Growth happens, I suppose. Little by little. Baby steps. This also happens naturally, I suppose, as a person progresses through their life (gets older). And as I've said before--and I've come to fully believe this--it is not necessarily abut the destination as it is about the journey itself. Happy traveling.

Urban Simplicity.

Bird(s) on a wire...

I was in my backyard this evening and heard some birds (crows) squawking and I looked up and they were on a wire just above me. They seemed to be having some sort of domestic dispute. It was evening, and it was beautiful to watch. So I took their photo.

"Oh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free."
~Leonard Cohen

Urban Simplicity.

Fortune Cookie Philosophy...

More Fortune Cookies.
Urban Simplicity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Before the onion and words

So first a few things. I am not a preservationist in that I chain myself to buildings before they are torn down (though a few people did to this one). Nor do I want to get in the way of "progress" or have a decrepit and unsafe building fall down on its own. But I am someone who has a keen interest in the rich history of the city which I call home. And I am also aware of the many (many many) old houses of worship that are vacant or falling down (though the national movement called Mass Mob may help some of this and in fact originated here in Buffalo and has made headlines in the Boston Globe and most recently the NY Times). This said, when I saw this article in Buffalo Rising this past Saturday as I sat sipping coffee and checking my email I put down my cup and made a b-line to our city's east side. I had first seen this building many years ago and was struck by its unique appearance, but what I didn't know is that it was our city's oldest standing synagogue (the image below shows the building in 1903 and again just before it was demolished). And for the last few decades it has been used as a Christian church. When I arrived I was standing out front and talking to a few others and then I heard the crunching sound. So I locked up my bike and walked to the side of the building. It looked to me as if some sort of ravenous mechanical monster was consuming the building...but did they have to start with the sanctuary?  Was it on purpose...I know nothing about demolishing a building but it seemed even more sad that the very center of the building--where so many generations of both Jews and Christians worshiped--was the first to be eaten. There were still curtains on the windows as the mechanical monster chomped and chomped away. There were maybe a dozen or so people there besides the workers and everyone just sort of stood in silence. And I am not one of those people who sees Jesus in a slice of burnt toast, but I couldn't help notice that there was a distinct cross--part of the debris--hanging from the rafters as the machine chomped (see inset second from the bottom). I had to leave before the onion fell as I had to work that evening, which was fine as I really didn't want to see its most distinctive feature come crumbling down. But this morning I had a doctor's appointment before work which was also on the east side and thought I'd stop by to take a look at the rubble. It was pouring rain and I was soaked (I had my camera wrapped in a plastic bag). I was surprised to see some of the facade still standing (see the very bottom photo). So I parked my bike and took a few photos. As I was walking back across the street to my bike I half-heard someone saying, "who are you?" Not thinking they are talking to me I kept walking. By now the rain is teeming and I am soaked. Then I hear the same question again. Turning, I see a guy with a hard hat and a coffee cup had followed me and was standing in the pouring rain asking who I was. "What, I mean, excuse me," I say. "Who are you," he asks again. " name is Joe, who are you?" He then went on a mini-rant of how he was the foreman and that I needed permission to take photos, etc. I was standing on a city street well beyond the cordoned area, I said, and taking photos of a building that was owned by the city and commissioned by the city to be demolished, and that I didn't think I was doing anything wrong and meant no harm. It looked like he was about to blow a gasket. He told me I needed permission to take anyone's photo. I felt bad for him because I'm sure he's been dealing a lot with local preservationists and the press (there were two TV stations there on Saturday). I assured him that I "was nobody" and that I just like architecture and wanted pictures of the building being demolished not the people demolishing it. He seemed a little calmer after that. But as I rode my bike away in the pouring rain I could still hear the monster crunching eating the building--and part of our local history--into oblivion.

Urban Simplicity

Friday, October 10, 2014

Something to look at...

I took this photo in my backyard last night. I took about ten, actually, but this is my favorite. Pretty cool, right? And no, before you ask, I do not have a crazy expensive or powerful camera...entree level in photography world, actually. The main camera I shoot with is a Canon t5i, which was a gift to myself for completing seminary training this past summer. And if there are any camera geeks reading this, these are the setting I used...first, of course, I cropped the photo after uploading, and when I shot the image I was using a 75-300mm lens zoomed in to 300mm. I used a 1/10 second shutter speed,  F/20 aperture and an ISO 100. And yes, being taken last night, I also realize that this is not a 100% full moon, but a Waning Gibbous at 97%. The moon is 238,900 miles or 384,400 km away from where I stood last night while I shot this photo with a glass of wine in my hand and shoeing away my two crazy pugs, less they shake the tripod. But still I was able to capture it. And it looks so beautiful to me...just hovering there all desolate while all the craziness on earth continues to happen. And it really is something to look at.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A few things I saw while riding my bike this evening...

It was chilly and blustery this evening. Really blustery. I had gotten out of work early and then abruptly invited to an impromptu bachelorette party (yup) and when it ended just as quickly as it began I found myself a few beers in and it was only 5pm. I couldn't just go home, I thought. So despite the chill and the wind I packed up my camera gear and rode down to Canalside.With the summer season being over it was essentially empty, and it was truly beautiful. Anyhow, I took a bunch of photos at dusk and and then early dark. Theses are a few of my favorites. Click any for a somewhat larger view.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kibbet Batata (a variation on a variation)

Okay. So first of all...yum! These are really good, and good for you. They are also really easy to make. Recently someone said to me that I always say my recipes are really easy to make...well they are if you read the directions through. My thoughts on recipes on this blog are that I like to post recipes that are (a) really delicious, (b) good for you, and (c) simple enough to make that you will actually make them. This said, this is a variation of the vegetarian version of kibbeh, which in itself can be served in many forms, but usually contains ground lamb and bulgur wheat mixed together, and is said to be somewhat of the national dish of Lebanon. A vegetarian version is one that replaces the meat with potatoes, and this recipe replaces the potatoes with sweet potatoes. Hence the variation on a variation. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and really delicious (there, I said it again), I hope you try it. Eat it as a snack, an accompaniment to a vegetarian main course, on a salad (as I did with the below dressing), or as a sandwich such as a falafel. For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here. Accompanying recipes are below as well.

  Sweet Potato Kibbeh

Makes about 2 ½ dozen 1-ounce patties

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup medium bulgar wheat
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sauteing
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon seven spice mix
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup whole wheat flour
pine nuts for garnish

Place the diced sweet potato in a small pot with enough water to cover it. Boil it for about 10-15 minutes or until very soft. Drain the sweet potato and transfer it to a bowl. Add the bulgar wheat to the bowl and mash it into the hot sweet potato. Cover the bowl and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Heat three tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet, when it is hot add the onion and saute for a few minutes or until it is lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook another minute, then stir in the seven spice mix, turmeric, and Aleppo pepper. Cook the spices for about thirty seconds, then add this mixture to the bowl with the sweet potatoes along with the sea salt and whole wheat flour. Mash the spices and flour into the sweet potatoes and bulgar wheat, cover the bowl again and allow it to rest for another 10 minutes, or until the bulgar wheat is soft. Shape the kibbeh into 1-ounce portions, pressing pine nuts into the patties. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the kibbeh to the pan—in batches if necessary, and cook on both sides until lightly golden brown and cooked throughout.

 Lebanese Seven Spice Mix

Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce and Dressing

Makes about 3 cups

4 cloves garlic
2 cups Greek yogurt
½ English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 1½ cups)
½ bunch Italian parsley, washed, stems removed
½ bunch mint, washed, stems removed
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Things that can be carried on a bike (#608)...

$120 in groceries and a case of red wine...

Urban Simplicity.

Water and Light...

As I type these words it is a rainy and blustery day outside. But a mere two days ago--when these photos were taken it was more like a late summer evening. I had ridden my bike down to the waterfront to capture the sunset and have a couple beers, and as the sun set over Canada--like the enormous fireball in the sky that it is--the light kept changing, and it was incredible. I snapped a bunch of photos, but these are a few of my favorites. Click any for a somewhat larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Le pique-nique and the onion sellers...

Image Found Here.

A few years ago I wrote a post regarding the French onion sellers who deliver their wares by bicycle. And a couple months ago I was asked to contribute recipes and photos to an article in a local magazine which was being written regarding this very same topic. At any rate, the article and recipes are online, unfortunately my photos only made it to the print version of the magazine. Anyhow, I thought I'd share both the photos and recipes here.

Pan-Roast Chicken Breast with Herbs de Provence and Orange-Caper Vinaigrette
Serves 4

For the Chicken:

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless skin-on chicken breast, 6 ounces each

In bowl large enough to hold the chicken breasts, combine three tablespoons of olive oil (reserving the other three tablespoons for cooking the breasts) along with the Herbs de Provence, kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and minced garlic. Whisk these ingredients together, then add the chicken breasts, turning them to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat and oven to 350F. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. When the pan is hot add the chicken breasts skin-side down. Cook the breasts for about five minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Turn the breasts over and place the pan in the preheated oven. Roast the breasts for about 15 minutes, or until cooked throughout. Remove the chicken from the skillet and serve warm or chilled.

For the Vinaigrette:

Makes about ¾ cup

½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon orange zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

Combine all of the ingredients except the capers in a small bowl and whisk together. Add the capers and refrigerate until needed. Prior to use whisk again.

Quiche with Bacon, Leeks, and Roquefort
Serves 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, sliced (white parts only) and rinsed twice
1 par-baked quiche shell (see recipe)
4 ounces cooked bacon, diced
4 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1 cup cream or ½ & ½
7 large eggs
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble add the leeks and cook for about five minutes, until they are wilted but not browned. Preheat an oven to 325F. Layer the leeks, cooked bacon, and Roquefort into the par-baked quiche shell. Mix the cream, eggs and salt together in a bowl and pour it into thew shell, tipping the shell to distribute it evenly. Bake the quiche for 30-40 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and set. If it begins to brown too quickly, cover the quiche with foil or parchment as it bakes

Pâte Brisée
(Quich Dough)
Yield: 1 (10-inch) tart dough
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a food processor and pulse for about 15-20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse cornmeal. With the motor running, add the water. Remove the dough from the machine and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

To par-bake a quiche shell: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out slightly larger than your quiche pan. Lightly oil the pan and gently transfer the dough to the pan, pressing it to the edges. If the dough breaks simply piece it together. Trim any excess dough that may be hanging over the edge. Then line the dough with foil and fill the quiche with uncooked beans (this is to keep the edges of the dough from falling and the center from puffing as it bakes). Refrigerate the dough with the beans for at least and hour.

Preheat an oven to 400F. Bake the quiche shell (still lined with foil and filled with beans) for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the quiche just begin to brown. Then remove the foil and beans and bake another 5 minutes to cook the center.

Asparagus and New Potato Poached in Saffron Court-Bouillon with Roast Garlic Aioli

Serves 4

For the court-bouillon:

1 cup white wine
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 pinch saffron threads
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 medium red-skinned potatoes, quartered or thickly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, ends removed and tied into 4 bundles

Combine the ingredients for the court-bouillon in a medium skillet, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add the potatoes, cover the pan, and simmer for about ten minutes. Add the bundles of asparagus, re-cover the pan, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the court-bouillon (save the court-bouillon for future use, if you'd like) and transfer to a serving platter. The vegetables can be served hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Simple Roast Garlic Aioli
Makes about 1½ cups

4 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup lemon
pinch of kosher salt

Place the garlic and the olive oil in a small skillet. Heat the skillet over medium heat until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil. Reduce the heat to low and “roast” the garlic for about ten minutes—turning it as necessary—until thoroughly cooked and golden. Transfer the pan to a refrigerator allowing the garlic to cool in the oil. When the oil is completely cooled, transfer it and the garlic—along with the mayonnaise, lemon, and salt—to a blender, and process until thick and very smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

Urban Simplicity

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Honey-Oatmeal Train Car...

This is a loaf I made today using my Pullman loaf-pan, which I haven't used in a while...named after a Pullman train car because of it's similar long and narrow shape (in french it is often referred to as pain de mie). A Pullman loaf is traditionally a white and squishy and soft sandwich loaf. The one that I made--the one pictured--was made using the following recipe. Good and good for you...simple to make, too. I heard a quote recently that said (and I'm paraphrasing), homemade bread doesn't take a lot of hard work, just time. And this couldn't be more true.

Whole Wheat Honey-Oatmeal Bread
Makes 2 or 3 loaves
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 cups oatmeal, plus additional for coating
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 ½ cups water, divided
2 tablespoons instant yeast, divided
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Separate the ingredients into two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, two cups of oatmeal, the wheat gluten, and 2 ½ cups of water; stir until just combined. In the second bowl combine the remaining 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of yeast, and 1 cup of water; stir until just combined. Cover the bowls and allow the ingredients to rest and begin fermenting for at least an hour, but up to 12. Then combine the contents of bowl bowls into the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the remaining tablespoon of yeast, along with the olive oil, honey, and salt. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two or pieces, gently shape it into loaves. Dust the counter with extra oatmeal and roll the loaves in it, gently pressing oatmeal into the surface of the raw dough. Place the loaves into oiled loaf pans, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Urban Simplicity.

Getting neutral and dense...slowing down a waterfall

So these are a few photos I took today at Glen Falls in Williamsville, NY. I rode there for a couple reasons. One is that I was looking for a waterfall to photograph using my ND filter. But also I wanted the exercise. Glen Falls is a little more than 10 miles from my house and riding a heavy cargo bike 10 miles in each direction is for sure a workout. And yes, I can ride even with my injured leg. Luckily the burn is below my knee so I am able to bend my leg freely, and the physician said that as long as I don't overdo it bike riding will actually aid in the healing process as it will get blood pumping to the injured area. This said, it felt good to huff and puff against a slight wind as I have not gotten much physical exercise in the past nine days. So anyhow, I went there specifically to take photos using a ND filter. And if you need an explanation of what a ND filter is (I'll use a simplified layperson's explanation because that's all I really know), it adjusts the light entering your camera but not the color. So, for example, if the light is diminished--tricking the camera into thinking it's dark outside--one is able to take long exposures allowing things that are moving (such as a waterfall) to become blurred, whereas the stationary components within the frame remain natural. If you'd like a more detailed description of how these filters work follow this link. And if you'd like to see two other local waterfalls I've photographed with this same effect, click here or here.

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, September 26, 2014

And then this happened (and how it could have been so much worse, and why I am so grateful, and how I needed to slow down).

I didn't know it was happening until it was in fact happening. I didn't see it coming. It was the searing pain that alerted me. And by the time I realized what was going on I was involuntarily emitting a guttural sound of which I didn't know I was capable, or as my son later said (who was in the next room at the time) a “blood curdling scream.” I had been squatting down rotating loaves of bread in a lower oven when a five gallon pot of chicken stock on an adjacent stove—which someone had set on the edge—fell, covering much of my left leg. But I'm jumping ahead.

Kitchens, like many occupations, can be dangerous places. They are full of hot surfaces, large pots of boiling liquids, and really big razor sharp knives...and often staffed with over-worked, under-paid, and sometimes inexperienced people rushing around trying to complete their tasks. The first time I took stitches I was a mere sixteen-years-old and working in a diner. I was cleaning a meat slicer unsupervised. Then in my mid-twenties, while working in New Orleans and frantically prepping for Sunday brunch, I sliced the tip of my finger off in one fell swoop. Thankfully it was able to be sewn back on and for the most part has recovered. But it was nothing like this. Because while this was initially excruciatingly painful, this could have also been much worse than it is. This could have been truly debilitating, if not even life threatening.

The incident only lasted a few seconds, but when everything settled the entire room steamed with hot broth and I—or at least the lower portion of me—and the surrounding area were covered in steaming bones, fat, vegetable scraps, and of course the viscous liquid. I landed on my butt, sort of sprawled, and my kitchen clogs lay across the room. I'm not sure but I think I may have kicked them off in desperation.

Co-workers, of course, came running. Everyone was bringing me ice. Before I even stood up I lifted my pant legs, which were stuck to me. My left calf was the worst, but I didn't think it was that bad; maybe it was denial. Everything was red...bright, bright red. Like a bad sunburn. And there were a few silver dollar-sized places where the skin was just simply gone. After changing my pants, and refusing rides from people (as I didn't think it was as bad as it was), I actually rode my bike to the ER—with my pant legs rolled up to my thighs—as Buffalo General is only three city blocks away.

As I sat in the ER waiting to be seen (and they didn't take long as they knew I was in pain) I took inventory of my body. My left calf took the brunt of it, and it was white hot and actually quivering while I sat. There were a few other “dots” of burns on my other leg and foot, but nothing like my left. Keep in mind that at this point I was still thinking it wouldn't be that bad...maybe some medication and some creams, I thought. But what I didn't know was that serious burns are progressive, meaning they can keep progressing for up to 48 hours after the actual burn. And mine did. At least on my left calf.

By the time I was seen my skin was fully blistered. I was cleaned, bandaged, medicated, prescribed, and sent home. Two days later my left leg looked like something out of an apocalypse zombie movie. So I paid a visit to the ER at ECMC which is known for their burn clinic. After the doctor cleaned the wound(s)--i.e. removed the dead skin—I was horrified when I looked at it...large areas of my calf simply looked like raw meat with the skin removed. But alas, that was a week ago and I am improving.

So why am I telling this tale, you may wonder? Am I looking for sympathy? No, absolutely not. The outpouring of offerings has been so incredibly moving. So many people have offered me help and in so many ways, but I have been able to get around pretty well even when it was really bad. And in the same way that I feel uncomfortable with compliments, so is true when people sympathize with me (though I am so moved to tears—literally—by the amount of people who have offered to help. And not only did I accept rides from people I actually asked for them, too). So why, then? Why, am I writing this? Well, in a short sentence...because I am grateful.  

Because while it was a truly horrific experience, and yes it hurt immensely, I am also fully aware of how bad it could have been. And oddly I was aware of this at the very first moment, as I sat stunned in a puddle of steaming bones and chicken viscera. Much of the skin from my left calf was wiped away. So what? I am still fine. If it would have hit my face or neck—which were unprotected—I would not be typing these words right now. And while sitting in the waiting room of the burn clinic and seeing some poor souls brought in on gurneys...well, I don't even need to say anything on that. I am just so grateful it wasn't worse.

And while I am not the type of person that abides that “all things happen for a reason,” I do believe that in most things there is a lesson to learn. And the lesson I have learned here is that I need to remain centered. That in all of the hustle and bustle of life it may be the journey itself that is most important. 

So now as I sit in a cool low-lit bar eight days after the accident with my leg elevated on a bar stool and self-medicating with pints of beer, I am thankful not only of the relative low severity of my wounds but also of this insight. Would I be feeling grateful like this if the boiling liquid hit my face or neck and washing away my skin? Doubtful. I can't even imagine. But it didn't happen that way. And for that I am grateful and truly thankful. I have in fact thanked our Creator more times that I can say (and in a way am thanking Her/Him/It right now with these words). But I am truly thankful. It could have been so much worse. It's the journey that really matters, the little things that I take for granted every day. Those are the things that matter. Because they are all part of the journey.

A few things I saw while riding my bike yesterday...

Urban Simplicity.