Sunday, May 29, 2016

And then this happened...a few photos from the waterfront.

Buffalo, NY--my hometown--is often equated with snow. And while it is true that we get our fair share of the white stuff, the other seasons can be truly remarkable.  Here's a couple examples. I shot these over the course of two evenings while sipping beer at an outdoor bar on our beautiful waterfront. And as I type these words it is 87f/31c so I may have to go back for some additional "research."

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Water (two photos and a quote).

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
~Margaret Atwood 

The [unfiltered] view from my handlebars...

The [unfiltered] view from my handlebars...
Allen Street
Bflo. NY

This was the view that quite literally stopped me in my tracks as I rounded the corner of my street a couple mornings ago on my way to work. I really do not like getting up early for work, but I love the ride in.

“Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.”
~Ansel Adams

Things that can be carried on a bike (#695)...

$88 in groceries.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bite This...100% Whole Wheat Bread with White Beans and Flax

I haven't been baking bread as often as I used to for a variety of reasons, but I did the other day and remembered how much I enjoy it. Baking bread, to me, nourishes far more than the body. And it is really easy to do once you master the basics. Thus said, because bread is a big portion of my diet I am always attempting to find a healthier one. Whole wheat flour is a given, but I often add beans to bread doughs as well. A good example of this is my version of Ezekiel bread, which is still the most visited recipe on this blog. In this recipe I used white beans and flax seed. For simplicity I used canned beans. Interestingly, once the dough is kneaded the beans emulsify into the dough and you won't even notice them. But they do offer added richness to the dough, not to mention nutrients. Anyhow, the recipe is below.

Whole Wheat Bread with White Beans and Flax 

Makes 2 or 3 loaves
1 (15oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained 
1 cup water
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

4 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten 
½ cup ground flax seed 
2 cups water 

¼ cup olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher
1 tablespoon instant yeast

Place two bowls side-by-side; one will hold the pre-ferment, the other autolyse. In one bowl combine the rinsed and drained beans with 1 cup water, 2 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 teaspoons instant yeast. Stir it just until combined then cover it with plastic wrap. In the other bowl combine 4 cups whole wheat flour, 3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, ½ cup flax, and 2 cups water; stir it just until combined then cover it with plastic wrap (take care not to get yeast into this bowl). Allow the bowls to rest at room temperature for about an hour, during which time the preferment will begin it's job multiplying yeast and fermenting flour, and the autolyse will soak liquid, swelling the gluten.

After an hour or so, combine the ingredients from both bowls into the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the olive oil, salt, and tablespoon of yeast (add the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl). Knead the dough on medium speed for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover it loosely, and allow to ferment for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Deflate the dough and allow it to ferment an additional 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it into 2 or 3 pieces. Shape into loaves and place into lightly oiled pans. Loosely cover the loaves with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 30-60 minutes, or until double in size and when gently touched with a fingertip an indentation remains.

Bake the breads for about 30-40 minutes, adding steam to the oven a few times (either with ice cubes or a spray bottle) and rotating the breads every ten minutes. The breads are done when they are dark brown and sound hollow when tapped upon. Remove the breads from their pans and allow them to cook on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

 Urban Simplicity.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A small herd of deer, lots of geese, some angels, and a few other things I saw at the cemetery today...

I rode my bike to the incredibly beautiful and inspiring Forest Lawn Cemetery today. I go there a couple or three times a year for a respite from daily life. It is so peaceful and tranquil. Just lovely. I sometimes go in the wintertime as well, when everything seems muffled. As I pedaled and coasted through the curvy roads today I could hear the gravel under my tires. And as I looked around I felt as if I were in a sacred place, surrounded by so many souls. When the random car would pass if it seems vulgar or intrusive to me. It was such a juxtaposition to see a family of deer gracefully walking among the graves. I didn't stay too long today. Just a short trip through and snapped a few photos. As you can gather from the photos it is also an unintentional animal sanctuary as well. And this is in the heart of a bustling but small city. I feel lucky to have it available and for free. Anyhow, to see previous photos, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dawn to Dusk (a couple pictures and a few words)...

The view from my handlebars. 5:30am 5.11.16

“If I slow down, life is beautiful.”
~Julia Cameron
The Creative Life

Dawn to Dusk
Fading in; fading out.
In some ways this is metaphor of life.
The coming into or awakening,
and then fading light,
but full of wisdom.
Both, equally beautiful.
The gentle passing of a day,
with all the activity it encompasses.
And the journey of one's life,
And it is in these realms that we live.
Coming and going.
Holding light.
Gaining wisdom,
from all the lessons this life has to offer.
There is no failure,
only progress.
Just as light changes so very gradually
that it is difficult to perceive.
So too, it is with a person.
The light is the same,
and from the same source,
but it appears different.
And it is during these times,
when I stop,
and see,
and remember,
the dawn and the dusk,
that I am fully awake.

The view from my front porch. 8:30pm 5.11.16

Monday, May 9, 2016

The View from My Handlebars...

So here's a few photos I've taken while riding my bike in the last few days. They are in no particular order. Click any for a slightly larger view. Anyhow, the one above is the New Phoenix Theater on quaint little Johnson Park. Directly below was the view in front of me during the first Slow Roll Buffalo of the season. We had stopped for a minute on Genessee Street and I snapped a photo. 2200 bicyclists. It was a sight to behold. Below is a shot of the bike parking at the after-party. Just below that is an interesting but seemingly abandoned building I saw on Niagara Street a few days ago. Below that is the view of Mother's Restaurant as seen through an alleyway from Delaware Avenue. Just below that is a black-and-white photo I took yesterday morning. I thought the juxtaposition was interesting...the neighborhood's slogan is "Chippewa Alive!" And the next-bottom photo is a new building downtown that houses the headquarter for Delaware-North company. I was on my way to a coffee shop and the way the glass reflected the sky it looked to me as if the building was camouflaged or hiding in plain sight. And lastly, Shea's Performing Arts Center at night.

Urban Simplicity.

La r├Ęgle d'or est universelle.

Click the image for a larger view. If you'd like additional examples of this, follow this link.

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, May 6, 2016

This is Bryce...

As a blogger you've probably noticed I post series of things, and one of my lesser series is a sort of People of Buffalo. Where I might profile someone I'd met while out. With this in mind, this is Bryce. But I'm jumping ahead, as I often do.

I stopped out for a beer last night. No big surprise there. And as I walk in and lean against the bar I notice the young women next to me has a large old-school suitcase at her feet. Nice suitcase, I say. Thanks, it's an accordion, she replies. All I could do is smile. Bryce was born in WNY but moved away more than a decade ago. She has just returned and contemplating work. But in the meantime is making a few bucks busking along Allen Street.

As a natural introvert I have always found it difficult to speak to people, thus words come to me easier when I write. But I have to admit I am getting better at it (speaking to people). But still, I was surprised when--after a few minutes of conversing--I heard these words spill out of my mouth...I have a blog where I write about life, would you mind if I took your photo for it. Then I was even more surprised when Bryce agreed. So after we finished our drinks we went out and she found a suitable corner and she started to play and sing. And it was lovely. People started to stop almost immediately. And as I have to arise early these days for my current job--too early for my liking--I thanked her and we shook hands and bid each other adieu.

And as I walked down my street I thought how lucky I am to live in this quirky neighborhood (but I also worry it will soon be gentrified). But I also thought how interesting life is. Not just life but the people in our lives, strangers and those close to us. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has their own issues to deal with. And as a cool spring breeze brushed against my skin as I walked home I could hear the sweet sound of an accordion and Bryce's voice faintly in the background, and I realized how lucky I was to be alive at this very moment.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#694)...

A camera bag with an extra lens, a couple books, an extra shirt, a scarf, a pair of gloves, a few vegetables and pieces of fruit, and 720 granola bars (on their way to a local food pantry).

Note to self...make sure your brakes are adjusted the next time you decide to carry more than 700 granola bars on your bike.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Garlic and oil are all you need sometimes…

Because this dish, or similar variations of it, is so easy to prepare, I'll begin without ceremony. Peel a few whole cloves of garlic. You can crush them if you like, but it is not necessary. Place them in a small skillet with a bit of olive oil. It's important that the pan and oil be at room temperature, not hot. This goes against everything a chef is taught, but it is essential to this dish. Place the skillet over a low flame and just let it be; let it rest there a few minutes. It will take a few minutes for the garlic to begin to bubble, but that's ok. This is good, actually. If it begins to bubble too quickly the flame is too high and the garlic will cook too quickly. By cooking the garlic low and slow you are drawing out its flavor into the oil; you are also removing much of its harshness.

Many of you know that I cook for a living. And I've been fortunate enough to cook in many different venues. My latest gig—for the past year—has been cooking in the prepared foods department of a grocery store. A co-operative and very fancy store, but nonetheless, still a grocery store. And it is busy. Really busy. Everything we cook is in extra large batches. Unlike restaurants and clubs that I've worked, where food is often cooked or served a plate at a time, here it is cooked in large batches, to be later sold. For lack of better words, in my current position I function as a production cook, or as friends and I once referred to, a bull cook. So for this reason, sometimes I have to cook slow, simple, and small. At least for myself I do.

 I was surprised, but also glad, that when I mentioned to my son that I was going to make pasta with vegetables for dinner he asked if he could help. So as the garlic slowly cooks, turn and baste it in the olive oil every couple of minutes while you prep whatever vegetables you have. When the garlic is golden brown and very soft, remove it from the pan but reserve the oil. The oil is bursting with flavor. Mince or mash the garlic and set it aside. Transfer the oil to a larger skillet.

Sometimes—often—I forget, or at least take for granted that I am a good cook. I've been doing it so long it is like second nature to me. From my start as a restaurant cook, while a teenager, cooking came easy to me. And this is what I remembered today while showing a young cook at work today how to hold a knife properly as he fumbled with the large sharp tool, and again tonight as I cooked dinner with my son. Cooking is a gift that was given to me at a young age, and one for which I am grateful.

While my son diced an onion I looked in our fridge and wasn't surprised to see the absence of food. In the same way an auto mechanic drives a jalopy, I really do not like to grocery shop. I put it off to the last minute, and I even work in a grocery store. But I did find a half of bell pepper, a couple heads of broccoli, a handful of spinach, and a half-dozen or so of sun-dried tomatoes. So my son and I chopped them together.

Vegetables cooked in this manner—with twice-cooked garlic—are delicious on their own, but when tossed with pasta and cheese they are even better. So before you start to cook the vegetables put a small pot of water on to boil.

Heat the skillet with the garlic-oil, this time over medium-high heat. If you are using onions and peppers (and why wouldn't you) add them to the skillet when the oil is hot. They should sizzle when they hit the oil. Toss and turn the onions and peppers in the hot oil, then lower the heat to medium and cook them until they are lightly browned. This will bring out their rich natural sweetness. While the onions and peppers cook add some pasta to the pot of water, assuming it has come to a boil. Cook the pasta about 8 minutes, or until it is just under-cooked. Italians refer to this as al dente.

 It was nice spending the few minutes it took to prepare this dish with my son. He's a college student in his early twenties and is always busy, and I'm often busy simply because it is in my nature. I sometimes think I have too many interests. Rather than turning on the radio, as I often do when I cook at home, I left it silent, and we cooked and talked.

When the pasta is sufficiently cooked drain it and set it aside. And if the onions and peppers are nicely browned, add whatever other vegetables you may be using to the pot along with the mashed and cooked garlic. I also added a good pinch of crushed hot pepper because I like things a little spicy. Stir everything in the oil, onions and garlic to coat everything in flavor and then add some liquid to the pan. You can keep this vegetarian by adding water or vegetable broth, which I often do, but tonight I wanted the added richness of chicken broth. So I added about a cup of broth to the pan along with a pinch of sea salt.

Adding chicken broth does a couple things. The first is obvious; it helps to cook and steam the vegetables. But it goes beyond that. When the broth reduces it concentrates, which translates into flavor. It also temporarily emulsifies with the olive oil and creates a sort of viscosity to the dish. A richness that would not be possible with water.

So when the vegetables are cooked to your liking, and the broth has reduces enough, add the cooked pasta. Gently fold the pasta into the other ingredients and allow it to cook a little. The pasta will absorb flavors from the rest of the ingredients. Remove the pan from the heat, fold in a little Parmesan or Asiago cheese, reserving some to sprinkle on the top.

My day today wasn't great. Nothing big happened or didn't happen. It was just one of those days. I rode my bike pre-dawn in the rain and it was gloomy most of the day. It was really busy at work. I felt stressed and my feet hurt. But relaxing at home and cooking slow and small with my son with very basic ingredients is really what I needed. And now, as I sit in a cafe a few blocks from my house, drinking a beer and tapping out these words on a keyboard, the sky has cleared and the sun is setting beautifully. And I remember—again—that life is good. Tomorrow is another day, and I get to start over.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#693)...

Five framed but precariously stowed pictures of my bikes carrying things on bikes....a picture of a bike carrying pictures of bikes carrying things. They are on their way to Velo Visions, a bike-themed art show at Sugar City, sponsored by Go Bike Buffalo, and part of our local celebration of National Bike Month.

After the rain...

You rained last night
I heard you as I slept
Lifting moisture from the air
And part of us
Into you
Becoming you
Carrying us
Holding us
As long as you could
Then releasing
Leaving us to fall
Together but separate
We came down in a torrent
Covering everything
Bringing life
And this morning
The morning after
I rode my bike
And I felt you
Hanging in the air
As a mist
As humidity
As humanity
Which rose with the day
Back into you
Repeating the cycle
Cycle after cycle
After the rain
But before the next

Urban Simplicity.