Note to Self:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Journal Entree 1.12.17, or how to make potato pancakes, or a day in a life.


In the same way that an auto mechanic may repair other people’s cars all day yet he himself drives a jalopy, I being a lifelong professional cook often have a refrigerator and cupboard that are spartan to say the least. Such was the case today when deciding on dinner.

When surveying possible options I noted an odd assortment of ingredients...a couple potatoes, a half-head of cauliflower, a spaghetti squash, a bell pepper, an onion, an avocado, and a few other things. Potato pancakes is first that came to mind, and I’d also add cauliflower for added flavor and nutrition. So I peeled a potato and hand grated it. The sound of the grating brought the dogs running, hoping to catch scraps. I put the grated potato in a bowl and mixed it with a couple eggs to keep it from tarnishing while I prepared the remainder of ingredients.

While removing the core of the cauliflower I noticed that some of the plant was a bit soft and gray, so I cut that away as well. A metaphor of life, I suppose; not everything is perfect but you simply deal with it, focusing on the good parts and letting things unnecessary fall away. I then chopped the florets small—the size of grains of rice—and added them to the bowl with the potato and egg. Mixing it with my bare hand it felt cold from the fridge, and the contrast of textures felt odd.

After julienning a small bell pepper and half an onion I added them to the bowl as well, along with some crushed hot peppers, sea salt, shredded cheddar, and about ½ cup whole wheat flour. I then mixed everything together, put a plate over the bowl and set it in the fridge. It was late afternoon and I was planning ahead. Before heading to the local JCC for a steam and swim I texted my son, “Making potato pancakes for dinner. They’ll be ready around 6:30.” Home cooked food is always bait to a young broke college student.

On my bike ride to the JCC it was drizzling a little, more of a mist than rain. What an odd winter, I thought; it should be snowing now. But I’m not complaining. And on the way home the rain had stopped and the temperature dropped. It was dark now and the streets seemed oddly deserted. I was still sweating from the steam room as I pedaled home and the cold air felt good; refreshing. My phone buzzed in my pocket and when I stopped at a traffic light I checked it. It was a text from my son, “I’m here.” I looked at my watch and it was 6:30.

Arriving home, and after parking my bike off to the side of the living room with the others, I put another log in the wood stove, which was down to embers, then went to the tiny kitchen to feed the dogs.  While the dogs ate I retrieved the pancake batter from the fridge and mixed it. Then while my son minced garlic I began frying the pancakes, dropping them in the hot oil by the spoonful and shaping them as they spat and sputtered. Some of the oil jumped onto my fingernail and I exclaimed, dammit!, startling the dogs.

While the pancakes cooked in batches, we cooked spaghetti squash in olive oil with garlic and hot peppers. When the first batch of pancakes came out of the pan I cut one and we ate it with our hands. It was delicious and also tempting to eat the rest that way, but we refrained.

When everything was complete—the pancakes, spaghetti squash, sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil and hot sauce, and a couple small peeled sweet oranges—we ate together at the kitchen counter and talked. I learned some things that have happened in my son’s life recently and he in mine.

When we were finished, I wrapped the remaining pancakes, first in paper then in plastic, for my son to take with him. After he had left I put another log on the fire to keep the chill at bay while I headed out for an evening beer. The cold air felt good as I walked the few blocks to a local cafe. And as I sat sipping my beer I thought of the dinner we had together, and how delicious it was—literally and figuratively—and it was made with just a few simple things. It was a dinner, yes, but also it was another day in a life.

Potato-Cauliflower Pancakes with Cheddar

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup grated potatoes
1 cup minced cauliflower
2 eggs
½ onion, julienned
½ bell pepper, julienned
½ cup shredded cheddar
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the vegetable oil and mix well. Cover and let stand for a few minutes. Mix again, then pan-fry I about ½ inch of hot oil until golden and crisp on both sides ad the potatoes are cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

N.F., ON, CA.


So I've had the past few days off of work, on a sort of staycation to save money. But I wanted to do something out of the norm and took the #40 bus to the Falls. It picks you up in downtown Buffalo and drops you off in downtown Niagara Falls, one city block from the Rainbow Bridge. And all for the whopping price of $2 (here's the schedule if you are interested). Anyhow, I wanted to be at the Falls as the light changed but when I arrived I was a bit too early. So I walked up the very touristy Clifton Hill and had some pizza and a truly over-priced beer. Thus satiated, and it approaching dusk, I walked the mile or so down to the overlook on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock Center. After negotiating my way to the perfect spot, I set up my tripod, put the camera on it, and snapped a shot. I then took the same shot every 15 or 20 minutes. These photos are the result. After the first shot, because of the light change, I had to use a slower shutter speed (which I love), and that results in the sort of smooth look the falls take on in the remaining photos.  Click any photo for a larger view. To see a series of photos from this same spot from about 2 years ago, click here.






Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cookin' Like Summertime....


Fresh tomatoes. Beautiful aren't they? But you may be asking yourself what am I doing with fresh tomatoes in January. Well, I work in a grocery store. And as we all know grocery stores portray food as if everything were always in season. But also, one of the benefits of working in the particular store that I do is that food that is culled from the shelves and deemed unsalable (for a variety of reasons) is offered to the employees before being given to various organizations. This said, there were a bunch of packages of fresh tomatoes in which the seals were broken, thus they were not able to be sold. So this is how I found myself in possession of these beautiful tomatoes and cooked dinner with them on a cold, grey, and rainy January evening.

Anyhow, my son came over for dinner last evening and I made us Pasta Fra Diavolo (to read about the origin and etymology of the recipe, read this post). There is a recipe below for this dish, but the one that I made with these tomatoes was slightly different in that I used fresh tomatoes. The fresh tomatoes were first processed and then simmered down to a thick puree. The recipe that is listed is actually more appropriate for this time of year as it uses canned tomatoes. And as usual, this recipe is not carved in stone, it is simply a suggestion. Add or delete or interchange ingredients to suite your tastes.


 
Penne Fra Diavolo with Halibut 

Yield: 4 portions

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets 
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup red wine
2 cups tomato purée 
1 pound diced halibut
1/2 pound penne rigate
.


Combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, red pepper, basil, parsley, and salt in a skillet over medium heat. Stir and mash the ingredients with the back of a wooden spoon until the onion and garlic is translucent but not browned. Stir in the wine and simmer it for a minute or two, then add the tomato puree. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook it for 5 or 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick thin it with a little water. While the sauce is simmering boil the pasta until al dente. Stir the fish into the sauce, bring it back to a simmer and poach it for about 5 minutes. When the fish is cooked gently fold in the pasta. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes, allowing the flavors of the sauce and fish permeate the pasta.


Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Three Photos of Three Buildings...a few things I saw while walking today.


Firstly, I would like to say that these are all iPhone shots, with of course some post upload editing. Anyhow, that out of the way, I was downtown this morning and am still so much in awe by the architecture of Buffalo. I never tire of it. These are just three examples as they were buildings I happened to be in this morning. The first (above) is the current home of Erie Community College City Campus. This incredibly beautiful building was originally the Buffalo Post Office. I had a meeting there and when it was done it was lunchtime, so I thought I'd head to my favorite downtown Greek diner, and on the way I took a shortcut through the Ellicott Square Building (first photo below). I climbed one of the staircases to snap the photo and just stood and admired the building for a moment. And lastly, as I headed to the diner I also passed one of my favorite downtown churches, St. Paul's Cathedral (bottom photo). Knowing that the doors are always open during business hours (which is sadly a rarity for a church these days), I stopped in for a brief 10-minute respite. I was the only one in the grand sanctuary and I just sat and listened to the old building creek and groan in the wind. It was beautiful. Then, after having my spirit filled with all this beautiful and inspiring architecture (and all within a 5-minute walk from one another), I carried on and went and had my stomach filled. And these are just a few of the things I saw this morning as I walked home through the City by the Lake.



Urban Simplicity

Thursday, January 5, 2017

And then I stumbled upon a protest...


So I had the day off today and was on my way to a coffee shop this morning when I came upon this protest. I wasn't sure what it was at first so I stopped to read some of the signs. Then I hear someone yell, "hey Joe," from across the street. Of course I'd know people at this or any protest, right?  Anyhow, this protest was in response the the arrival of Kellyann Conway and her $5000-a-plate luncheon/fundraiser for Trump. And in many regards this is also, by extension, a continuation of on-going protests regarding our own local racist, Carl Paladino because of his recent remarks that made news around the globe. I suppose the highlight of the protest was when the above banner was unveiled off the roof of the coffee shop directly across the street from the hotel where the fundraiser was being held (it's also directly under a billboard for the said hotel; see below). My only hope is that the luncheon took place in the windowed atrium so all attending would see not only the protest below but also the banner directly opposite them. I have to add that these were some mighty hearty protesters. After I snapped some photos I went and joined them but I was only out there a fraction of the time as most of them...the high today is 20f/-7c. Anyhow, it really is awesome to come across something like this while riding my bike on a really cold day to a coffee shop. And lastly, there's that guy in the coffee shop window (bottom photo).







Urban Simplicity.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I went for a bike ride on New Years Day and here are a few things I saw...


Yesterday morning, being New Years Day, I woke feeling somewhat introspective as I'm apt to do. So I went for a bike ride and brought my camera. The streets were dead quiet. I rode to Buffalo's East Side which is an area of the city that has not seen any of our area's resurgence. If you have any ancestral lineage in Buffalo, chances are you have ties to the East Side. Both sides of my family, in years gone by, have lived on the East Side. Pedaling and coasting through these deserted streets on New Years day was really meditative in a way; I felt as if I were in some sort of post apocalyptic movie scene, but I wasn't. Many people still live here. The images of the bombed out looking building below are of the old Buffalo Central Terminal train station. My dad, along with countless other young men, departed from this station on their way to WWII. It's said that the train station is haunted, and on this day I could feel their presence. The photos are in no particular order. Click any for a slightly larger view. To see photos from previous bike rides through these neighborhoods, click here, here, here, or here.





















Sunday, January 1, 2017

This is Michael (and me, too).


Okay, first let me say that it is rare that I post photos of myself. Like many people I really do not like it. But anyhow, that aside, let me tell you about this photo. I had gone out for a couple beers this evening at my favorite watering hole, and when I came out Micheal was standing there. He timidly asked me for money while he looked away. I gave him a dollar and asked him his deal...how he found himself out here on a cold New Years Day eve asking for money.

He has mental illness, he told me, has had it all his life (schizophrenia, but he's on medication) . And because of it is unable to work. He has not received his disability check and was hungry. He was trying to get enough money to buy a sandwich. He sleeps at a friend's house who charges him ten dollars a night, which he paid for the night, so now he had nothing left to eat with.

I asked him if he would like me to buy him a sandwich and he looked surprised but said yes. Now you may be saying to yourself, okay here is Joe getting duped again. But I don't think so. Micheal was sober, if not timid. And I ask you, can you imagine standing outside a bar asking for money for food? What would that take?

So it's New Years Day evening and one of my resolutions for 2017 is to live authentically, intentionally, and with conviction. I am usually (always) worried about money. But I also always seem to have it. And yes, to the people reading this thinking, "Why doesn't he just get a damn job," I understand. I have worked hard--really hard--my entire life, since I've been 16. But I don't think it's that easy. I don't have mental illness (at least I don't think I do). I have never been reduced to asking for money on the street on a cold January night. And even though I worry about money all the time I had some in my pocket when Micheal approached me. So if I truly want to live to my convictions, to be the person that I say I am, how could I possibly not buy this guy a sandwich? He is a human and I am a human. I have more than I need and he doesn't.

I left Micheal at the restaurant to eat his sandwich and he thanked me and said Merry Christmas. That's all I have to say.

Manipulating Light...9 Photos of Fireworks


So last night at about 20 minutes to midnight, after a couple glasses of red wine, I rode my bike downtown. Then I set my camera on a tripod in the midst of thousands of New Years Eve revelers and focused my camera. I had to grip the camera and tripod pretty tightly as it kept getting smashed into and tripped over. When the fireworks went off I snapped a bunch of photos and hoped for the best. These are a few of them.










Urban Simplicity.