Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus with Caramelized Vegetables...

Firstly, and you may already know this, but I didn't list the ingredient, chickpea, in the title of this recipe because it is actually already listed...the word hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea. Anyhow, I'll say my recipe mantra again...this recipe is so easy and delicious you'll wonder why you haven't made it before (but maybe you have). The sweet potatoes offer not only a bit of sweetness to the recipe but also a certain creaminess. I also topped this with a good dollop of plain yogurt, and vegetables (onion, squash, sliced Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and a bit more garlic) which I caramelized in olive oil in a hot skillet. And rather than using proper utensils, I went slightly feral and used sliced and toasted whole wheat bread (click here for whole wheat bread recipes). Anyhow, and just to be a bit redundant, this recipe is really easy to make, packed full of nutrients, and super-delicious.

Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus 

Makes about 3 cups

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed
6 tablespoons tahini
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons Frank's hot sauce

Preheat an oven to 325F. Using the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the sweet potatoes a few time, then place them on a baking sheet. Bake the sweet potatoes for about an hour, or until very soft. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them. Place the cooked and diced sweet potato, along with all of the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. If the hummus is too thick add additional water or lemon.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


This is a photo I shot today on a bike ride home from a peaceful rally in downtown Buffalo, NY. It's a photo of the top of the Liberty Building. It was a beautiful fall day and I took this while at a traffic light. And as I stood there I couldn't help but think of the words by Emma Lazarus, which are on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor...the first thing so many of our ancestors saw when arriving to this country.

Urban Simplicity

More bread with stuff on it...

Ok, so I've posted recipes for this in the past. At least variations of it. Many variations. But not in a while. This is the version I made for myself for dinner this evening....whole wheat crust with oats and flax. Spinach aglio e olio, eggplant sauteed in olive oil. Three cheeses. It's simple to make and tastes even better than it looks in the photo. For the dough recipe (which also makes excellent bread) click here or here. To cook the spinach (or nearly anything else) aglio e olio, click here. For more on pizza (recipes, photos, history, etc), click here. Now if you'll excuse me I think I'll go grab a third slice.

Urban Simplicity.

Thoughts on gratitude...

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
~Psalm 139:7-8

In Your Midst 
There is so much,
just so much to be grateful for.
But some days I don't see it.
Or more importantly,
feel it.
Mind-made problems cover me in fog.
Mind narrows.
Heart hardens.
World becomes small.
Some days,
even in your midst,
I don't see you.
But I catch glimpses.
The veil is lifted.
However slightly,
and briefly.
And then I remember.
I am humbled,
and tears well.
In gratitude.
Beauty overwhelms.
I have everything.
You are closer to me than I can imagine,
closer than my very breath.
There is so much to be grateful for.
In the midst of everything.
In the midst of you.
Every day; every hour.
Each second.
Right now, in fact.
All I have to do is look.

Urban Simplicity

Sunday, November 15, 2015


"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
~John Lennon

So a couple things. The guy in the photo above--pianist David Martello--drags his piano by bike to central Paris to play for free on the night of the bombings. He apparently is known for visiting conflict zones to play his piano. One of the songs he chose to play on this evening was, Imagine, by John Lennon. I have always found this song particularly moving, tear jerking at times. To see John Lennon see the original version, click here. David Martello can be seen and listened to playing his beautiful and moving rendition below. If you'd like to see other videos of him playing his piano outside (some of them in conflict zones), click here. And oh yes, in the event I forgot to mention it, David pulls his piano by bike.

Red Lentil Soup with Potato and Spinach...

I've posted a recipe for this before (a few times no doubt) but each time is slightly different. This soup is so easy to make but at the same time bursting with flavor and super-nutritious. What's different about this version is I used a sort of slow-cooked sofrito to bring out the flavors of the vegetables and spices. And a sofrito is really as simple as vegetables and spices very slowly until they caramelize, the liquid evaporates, and the result is an intense flavorful paste. Anyhow, here it is...

Red Lentil Soup with Spinach 
Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (15 oz. can) diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils
8 cups chicken broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped
¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt; cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, and cook them until the juice reduces and everything forms a sort of paste.

Add the lentils and broth; bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. Stir in the spinach and cook another 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Birthday Thoughts...

Birthday thoughts, but first this…

Joseph George was the father of George Joseph George
Who in turn became the father of Joseph Edward George
But at the same time was still the son of Joseph George
And Joseph Edward George became the father of Isaac Joseph George
But at the same time is still the son of George Joseph George
And also the grandson of Joseph George

More than 90 years ago Joseph George set foot in the great land of America. This was my grandfather. I don't remember him as he passed away when I was very young. He and his much younger bride, Mary (my sitti, or grandmother), could neither read or write (as far as I know). They came to this country after beating the unbelievable odds of escaping the great Lebanese famine during WWI where hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. My grandparents had nine children, including their eldest son, George, my dad. He spoke Arabic before he spoke English (so I am told), as did his siblings. They didn't learn English until they went to school. My dad, who by some politician's definition would have been considered an “anchor baby,” went on to defend our country in WWII and was deaf in one ear because of it. He also married my mom, Marilyn (nee Enser), and would have four kids, including me. My dad didn't speak Arabic to us kids, as he wanted us to be American. He worked hard, two or three jobs at a time to support his family, and paid his taxes. So here I am, an American. Separated from the “old country” by one generation. So why am I saying this? Maybe I'm getting sentimental in my middle age. But really it's because of the recent events in Paris. It troubles me of the Islamophobia I've seen and heard since then, both blatant and not. Personally, I believe this comes from fear...fear of the unknown. Not all Muslims are Jihadists in the same way that not all Christians are akin to the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church. The Muslims that I know are peace-filled and family oriented. I remember the altar my grandmother had in her bedroom, which was just off the kitchen, where everyone always gathered. Being a devout Catholic, she had images of Jesus and Mary, and of course a cross. She also had a candle for my Uncle Raymond, who I never met. And later, I'm sure, a candle for my dad, who transitioned at such a young age. Once, when I was a young teenager and came there with my cousin with our two girlfriends—sisters—who had Muslim last names, she brought us all in to see her altar. And it's interesting to think that I was slightly embarrassed at the time—that my grandmother had an altar in her room—as I now find myself with a small altar in my room. Another time, I remember being alone in the kitchen as a young boy, and seeing her on her knees praying, and crying. She of course was speaking in Arabic and I was too shy to ask her what she was saying. I can only imagine what my grandparents went through to assimilate into this country, in the same way immigrants are today. Today was my 54th birthday, and tonight two of my sisters, my son, and I went to Lebanese restaurant for dinner. We struggled with some of the words on the menu, but the flavors of the food were the same. There are so many good people that we sometimes forget this. Not just family and friends but people we work with or those we don't know. The Statue of Liberty was of course given to us by the French, and it is also the first thing many of our ancestors saw when they arrived here. Yesterday President Obama reminded us that France was our oldest ally. A hundred years ago the face of our country changed drastically with the immigrants that arrived here, and today it is doing the same thing. My hope is that we don't build a wall (one literal or a metaphorical one in our hearts) but we open our arms (and hearts and minds) with welcome. There is so much disconnect in the world that now is the time for solidarity, both in our own country and elsewhere. I see so many people posting on Facebook about the evils of religion, and rightly so...there has been so much bad done in the name of religion, but there is also so much good done, too. Religion in itself is not the enemy, nor are people different than us. Darkness may hover for a while, but it in itself cannot make a room dark. One can bring light into a darkened room and make it light, but darkness cannot remove that light. My hope is that we become that light, are that light. All of us. And this is what I was thinking on a seasonably chilly ride home from a restaurant tonight. Peace be upon you.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Aren't you embarrassed by that little thing? A few words and a few photos.

So a couple things. Firstly, I likely got your attention enough to click this link by the silly heading. But more on that in a minute.

I was in NYC the last few days. Just a short get away. I always love the energy of that beautiful city. I shot nearly 200 photos in three days, and it could have been many more if I didn't refrain myself.  

Anyhow, in an effort to travel light, or at least lighter, I recently purchased a small travel tripod for my camera. It is nice; it's heavy duty but really easy to carry as I walked around all day. But the drawback is that it only extends to about 18 inches. So I tried to find something to set it on...a garbage can, mailbox, anything so long as it is steady. But if nothing was available I'd simply sit on the ground; this wasn't the first nor the last time I've done that. Anyhow, I was doing just that when taking the photo of McSorley's Ale House (below). After stopping in for a couple beers (they are always 2-for-one) I wanted a photo of the place but there was nothing to set my teeny tripod on. So I sat down on the curb. And as I was taking photos a women walked past. She stopped for a moment, looked as if she were going to keep walking, but then questioned, "Why are you sitting on the ground?" Motioning to the camera, I explained to her that I needed the camera steady for a night shot but my tripod was small and there was nothing to set it on directly opposite my subject. She sort of smirked a bit, and before continuing on her way, she replied, "But aren't you embarrassed by that little thing?" I laughed out loud, sitting on the curb. So did she as she walked away.

And then a bit later, after walking over the Washington Square Park, I thought I'd take a picture of the arch (bottom photo). I did find a few things to set the tripod on but I wanted a shot off to the side. So I went over to the edge of the common area and sat on the ground. And now I started to feel a bit self-conscious...maybe I shouldn't be sitting on the ground taking photos.

It was unseasonably warm, but because of the time of year it was dark even though it wasn't very late, and the park was relatively crowded. And when I looked to my left there was a man in black tights and cowboy boots doing sun salutations. All I could do was smile and go back to my photo-taking. This was, after all, Greenwich Village...magnet to every eccentric on the planet. It was ok to be taking photos while I sat on the ground, and my teeny tripod was just fine. Click any photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

For the Ghosts of Greenwich Village...

For the Ghosts of Greenwich Village 

As I sit in a basement bar on Macdougal Street.
I feel you.
Your presence is palpable.
And so many others.
I feel you as I walk down the streets.
As I sit in the bars and cafes.
The same streets that you walked.
And some of the cafes that you worked in.
Drank in.
The same streets that you called home.
That inspired you.
And today as I sit at a bar.
Drinking a cold beer. 
I thank you.
For changing things.
With your art.
With your words.
And for inspiring so many people.
Still; today.
And for—in a way—changing me.
Even if just a little.
But that is enough. 
Today I think of you.
And thank you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


So I went to Canalside tonight to see on of Buffalo's iconic grain elevator illuminated and it did not disappoint. It was designed by Ambiances Design and will be lit 365 evenings a year starting tonight. The scenes on the elevator changed, representing the seasons of Western New York, and I have to say it was pretty spectacular. I also have to add how blown away I was by the sheer volume of people on the waterfront on this unseasonably warm November evening. The work and progress that has been done and continues to be done there is truly impressive. I've ridden my bike in that area for many years, and for many years it was a desolate industrial wasteland (I would be nervous being by myself even in the day time), but now it has been transformed into an all ages family-friendly waterfront. And this is just another example. Anyhow, click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Two photos; two evenings

I suppose this post could easily be filed under "shameless self-promotion," but hey, someone has do do it. Anyhow, if you happen to be in the Western New York area there are two events this week where my photos will serve as the backdrop.

The first is this Thursday (11/5) at Burchfield Penny Arts Center. There is a performance hosted by Haiku for Buffalo and the Buffalo Architecture Foundation. It's a free event and open to all. The above photo (of Kleinhans Music Hall) will serve as a backdrop for at least part of the show. Here is a link with information about the performance(s).

The next night, Friday (11/6) there will be a book opening at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. My photo of one of my favorite watering holes is featured as the book cover (pictured below). The editors and some of the writers will be present. Here is a link with additional information about the book and the event. Hope to see you there...

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#678)...

$170 in groceries, sundries, and dog food. Three liters of red wine. And a double order of Chinese take out.

Now if I were the type of person that liked to scrunch words together and put a number symbol in front of them (which of course is also known as a hashtag), I would likely do it to the following phrases... cars are optional, bicycles are vehicles, human powered, be the change you want to see, and freedom (and yes, I am aware the last one is a word and not a phrase but that's what makes it special I suppose).

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The view from my handlebars...

Some years ago I worked with a waiter who was from France, and he told me one of the things he noticed straight away about Buffalo was its even some of our busier streets have such beautiful and grand trees. The weather has been so incredibly idyllic and autumnal these last few weeks I have been in awe of the magnificent colors of the trees. And--as I've said on numerous occasions--one tends to see more when they are on a bike or foot. Anyhow, the above photo and the first two below were taken this evening on my way home from my second job (they were all taken on Linwood Avenue, which has a great two-way bike lane), and the bottom photo was taken in the morning on my way to my first job (Elmwood Avenue). This evening I was in fact so taken by the colors that I was looking up and almost ran into the rear of a parked car. Click any photo for a slightly larger image.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#677), and a few things I saw along the way...

On the bike... two 8' boards, a new log rack, a tripod, a camera bag, a smoke detector, duct tape, and 3 liters of red wine.

I had to go the the big box hardware store today, which is about 4.5 miles from my house, so I brought my camera to make it more interesting. Sometimes it's not so much about the destination as it is the journey. At least that's what I've read. Anyhow the photos below are as follows. The building below is where Spot Coffee is located, the photo isn't so much abut that building or business as it it the billboard located on it's roof. Next is the Church of the Assumption in the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo (as seen from an overpass). Below that is the iconic HH Richardson Towers (also known as the Buffalo Psych Center). Next is Colonial Circle. Then a random railroad track photo. And finally, the view of the evening autumn sky from my front porch, shorty after arriving home. I haven't made it to the gym in more than a week for a few reasons, but today I road probably 12 miles on a really heavy bike into the wind while loaded with a few things. I was huffing and puffing. And now I am tired ;)

Urban Simplicity

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October 1982...

So recently I came across a box with some old things in it. One of them was a composition notebook with some lyrics/poems I had written. One of the poems, which was untitled, was simply dated "October 1982." At the time I was out of high school for a just few years, both my parents had already made their earthly transition, and I was working as a cook in a Greek diner. The thought of a blog or the internet would have been science fiction. So I wrote things down. This was one of my earliest journals. I would have been 21 years old, and in many ways I feel like I'm a different person since then, but at the same time I am very much the same. What struck me about this particular poem was my voice...I could have written this today. Some, I think, who may have known me for a while, were surprised when I attended seminary a few years ago (after being a cook for much of my life). It's not as if I had this sudden epiphany, I've been me all these years. I've just finally had the courage to say so. Or maybe things simply bubbled over. When I read this poem I realized I hadn't changed all that much in 33 years (okay, my knees and back didn't hurt back then). Anyhow, here's an excerpt... 

You may not believe in
organized religion
but the truth of God is real.

Everybody is
created equal
no matter what their race or creed.

We are all the same.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chasing Light...

So as many of you know I have been voluntarily car-free for a few years now. It does have it's hardships now and again (I'd be fibbing if I said otherwise) but the good far outweighs the negative (as is with most things in life). This said, one of the things I love about being on a bike is seeing all that is around me and in all weather conditions. And two of my favorite times to shoot photos are dawn and dusk. I am up at dawn a few times a week for work but usually do not have time to take photos, thus most of them are shot at dusk. The French have a phrase for these times of day...l'heure bleue (the blue hour) because of the distinctive blue hue the sky often takes and the way colors are enhanced. A camera has three ways in which one can manipulate how much light enters it and for how long, this is called the "exposure triangle." There is also, of course, post-upload software to help enhance photos. But with the camera itself, and the software, nothing can compare to what natural light offers to a photo. And with this in mind--when I have the intention of going out to take photos in the evening--I usually time it...I check the sunset time and head out with enough time to set up my camera and have a beer or glass of wine. The thing is I often under-shoot the time, meaning I cut myself short and have to hurry. Sometimes I think I must look like a crazy person; the waterfront is about 2 or 3 miles from my house and I can only imagine the sight of me...a middle aged guy on a bike pedaling as fast as he can while looking at the sky. The perfect light only lasts minutes, sometimes seconds; one minute can drastically change a photo's look. This is why I think of it as "chasing light."

Urban Simplicity.