Saturday, June 27, 2015


noun: equality
the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.

So these are a couple photos I took yesterday on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. I happened to be in NYC when the marriage equality act was passed and had heard that there was a gathering down there so I went and took a look. The “gathering” turned out to be thousands. It was in front of the historic Stonewall Inn. And it was really moving. People were crying, people were smiling, people were congratulating one another. There were local and state media speaking. And in the air there was hope.

I mentioned this earlier on Facebook, but I have to tell this brief story again. When I first got there I—being a somewhat smallish man—couldn't see because of the crowds. I held my camera in the air above my head but still couldn't get a good shot. I saw a guy standing on a wrought iron fence nearby, so I hopped up as well. I was just about to snap a photo when I hear, “ can't be up there. Ya gotta get down.” Turning, I saw it was two NYPD. Somewhat intimidated I jumped down and apologized. I told them I was trying to get a good photo. “Well, did you get the photo,” one of them asked? Nope, not yet, I told him. He then told me that I could get up there to take the photo but then I had to get down. I snapped a couple photos. And when I got down I thanked them and they both shook my hand. I found it very moving and it only added to the positive feeling of this historic event.

This is Harry...

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
Matthew 25:35

If you've been to this blog before then you know that I have a soft spot for the homeless. My view is that it can happen to any of us. I really believe this. I don't think that a homeless person ever aspired to or thought they would be in the predicament they may find themselves. But they are. As for myself, if I were unable to earn a paycheck it would only be a couple weeks before I would be in financial trouble.

Anyhow, this is Harry. I saw him on 14th Street just off Union Square. I'm in NYC for the weekend and was on my way out for dinner and then a few beers before walking around and taking photos. And as I passed him on my way to a favorite Thai restaurant I saw him eating his dinner on the street.

After dropping a couple bucks in his hat and introducing myself I asked if I could take his photo. Surprisingly he said “sure.” Not all the people I ask agree to have their photo taken, later this day two other guys declined. Anyhow, I told him that I like to hear people's stories, and that I do this to bring an awareness to the homeless or semi-homeless.

Harry told me e was from Kansas City, then had to leave (he declined to tell me why). He first landed in New Orleans, where he squatted with a few other people in an abandoned building. New Orleans attracts a lot of homeless these days, he told me, because ever since Katrina there are a lot of empty buildings. I told him how I lived in NOLA quite a few years ago for a short period (mid-1980's) and that I was actually very near being without a place to call home at the time, and that it was the first and only time I was truly hungry (and somewhat scared).

He then headed up here, to NY where he is sleeping outside a building on the lower east side. We talked briefly about his safety and he was concerned, but where he sleeps now is pretty safe, he said. He also said that he was just going through a rough patch right now, but he'll be ok. After a bit more talk we shook hands and parted. I went to a Thai restaurant while Harry ate his dinner on the street. And as I ate the food didn't taste as good as it usually does. Not that the restaurant was at fault...I stop here whenever I'm in NYC, and it was as good as usual. It's just that I couldn't stop thinking about Harry. I hope he is warm tonight, because as I type these words it is raining outside

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This is Bob...

This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact...sorta like dandy only with an "e," he told me). Just when I thought I've met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob...wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven't in a while)...going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it's designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, "Hello...hi...what are you doing?" It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, "Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do." And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, "Oh, now you want to make it real." We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#639)...

A case of wine, a book bag, a gym bag, two books, a jean jacket, and a few groceries.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lady Liberty, an Uncredited Quote, and a Few Other Things...

So I had the day off of work yesterday and felt like taking a few photos. I've been meaning to go to the observation deck at city hall for a while so that's what I did. The view really is spectacular. In the rear of the building there is an incredible vista of Lake Erie and the Canadian shoreline, to the north I could clearly see the roof to my house, and to the east a spectacular view of our city and another of my favorite buildings...the Liberty Building, which is pictured above, below, and a closeup in the very bottom photo. The photo directly above and below are the view as you walk out onto the observation deck. There is an inspirational quote etched into the glass (click the below image for a larger view). I was surprised to see that the quote was uncredited. I had to Google the words to find her. The words are from the gospel song, Remind Me Dear Lord, written by singer/songwriter Dottie Rambo and popularized by singer/songwriter Alison Krauss. Anyhow, as I was exiting the building and unlocking my bike a guy approached me. I could see that he worked at city hall because of his name tage. He asked me if I were taking photos, to which I said I was. And at first I thought he was going to warn me or something. But as it turns out he just wanted to tell me to go to the Common Council room to take photos of the stained glass windows. I didn't know it was open to the public, but he assured me it was. And to my surprise I went back in and up to the thirteenth floor and pulled on the large wooden door and it opened. Anyhow, the building truly is beautiful, and these are likely mre photos than you care to see. But feel free to click any for a slightly larger view. They are in no particular order. To see a few evening shots of city hall, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rice and beans and sausage and greens (and other good things)

This is a simple variation of any rice-and-beans dish but with other ingredients and spices added. I was going to make a very basic paella with fish and shellfish added, but at the last minute I felt like down-scaling and this was the end result. Anyhow, as usual, this recipe is just a suggestion, not a blueprint. Use whatever ingredients and flavors you like. And by the way...this is super-delicious. Anyhow, here's the recipe.

Rice and Beans with Chorizo and Kale

Serves 6

¼ cup olive oil
12 ounces chorizo sausage, sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon salt
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 cup brown rice
3 cups chicken broth, simmering
1 (15 oz.) can red beans, drained
6 ounces baby kale

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook it for a few minutes, until it browns. Remove the sausage to a plate, leaving rendered fat, oil, and crispy pieces in the pot. Add the onion, carrot, and bell pepper; saute for a few minutes. Then add the garlic, then the chili, cumin, turmeric, and salt; for a few minutes to bring out their flavors. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice. Lower the heat and simmer the tomatoes, vegetables, and spices for 5 or ten minutes until some of the tomato liquid evaporates and forms a sort of sofrito. 

Add the rice, stirring it to coat it with all the flavors. Then stir in the chicken broth. Bring it to a boil then lower it to a low simmer. Cover the pot and simmer it for about 40 minutes. 

Then—without stirring—add the beans and kale, and re-cover the pot and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest for another 5 or 10 minutes. The carefully fold in the beans and kale while fluffing the rice. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Words, titles, and sounds...

Oh no, I've said too much.
I haven't said enough.” 
~Michael Stipe
Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I'm not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here's another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I've always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn't enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I'm not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I've gotten older my priorities have changed, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be okay, even if it doesn't seem it at times. I've also come to realize that material things mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I'm rambling so I'll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day...nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I'm not sure where it came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn't forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I've come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John..."In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God." In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress. 

So on this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I've had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was delivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don't realize it or if it doesn't feel right. I've also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey. 

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” 
 ~Philippians 4:8 

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Instant Karma...

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head”

~ John Lennon 

So this is interesting. As I was locking up my bike outside my usual Starbucks this morning a guy came up and asked me for spare change. I told him that I didn't have any change—which wasn't a lie—but that I would buy him a coffee. He sort of rolled his eyes, which ticked me off, but said thank you and that he would wait there for it. I invited him in and ordered two coffees. When they were handed to me I gave him one along with the change that came with them. He seemed surprised and looked at me and said, “Thank you brother; bless you,” and then left the store while I went to a table. After drinking my coffee I went to the counter for a refill, which is 54 cents including tax. And as I stood there I realized I didn't have any cash on me—not even 54 cents—as I had just given the last of it away. I reached for my debit card and commented to the barista that it seemed silly to be using “plastic” for 50 cents. It was the same barista that saw me purchase a coffee for the homeless guy. He smiled and said, “Oh don't do that, I'll get your refill.” All I could do is smile.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Photos from a Vigil...

Tonight a few hundred people gathered in Delaware Park to remember the very short life and tragic death of Maksym Sugorovskiy. I rode my bike. It was a beautiful night. But I couldn't help but think how incredible it was that all these people--mostly strangers, including myself--gathered in remembrance of this innocent child. I took a few photos because despite the crowd of people the park looked so lovely and peaceful. It in itself looked sort of innocent.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mad at the Universe

The person of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a person of faith.”
~Thomas Merton

I've been in small group meetings where as an introduction or an ice-breaker we would go around the circle and say what the weather was like in our world, metaphorically... “slightly cloudy with a bit of sun,” someone might say. Or, “sort of stormy.” Well the weather that is happening in the real world outside my doors as I type these words is fitting for me today... unseasonably cold, gray, and almost constant rain. It has been raining all day. Today, you see, I woke up mad at the Universe. Pissed off is more like it. And by Universe I mean God (or whatever name you choose to call It). This has happened before, but not in quite a while. Though I'm jumping ahead as I often do.

A child died yesterday. A toddler. He was three years young. And his sister is critically injured; she's five. Both of them right in front of their mother. The day was unlike today; it was warm and sunny. The young family was walking in a park when a car traveling more than 50 mph jumped a short grassy median and mowed them down. It was lunchtime on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a beautiful city park. How could this possibly happen? How can this even be real?

As of right now no one is saying why the driver did this, but apparently impairment is being ruled out. Some speculate he was texting. It was a young male, and witnesses say he could be seen kneeling and weeping beside the stopped car before police took him away.

This happened in a crowded city park in broad daylight. Walking also close by at the time (but separately) was an emergency room doctor and a nurse. They both rushed to the family's aid but they could not revive the child. The doctor said that she probably only worked on the toddler for a few minutes before other help arrived but she lost track of time; she couldn't really tell how long it had been because time had stopped.

Time had stopped.

A witness described seeing the children rolling out from under the moving car and then hearing the mother's scream. A scream she will never forget. She (the witness) fell to the ground herself.

How could this have possibly happened? This happened yesterday, and that is the question I asked when I woke this morning, and it is the question I ask now. And it's a question I didn't arbitrarily ask myself aloud (as I sometimes do), this is something I asked God. Aloud. What kind of God are you that would allow this to happen?

Now I certainly do not believe our higher power to be an old man sitting on a cloud watching over us, but more of a presence. We—I truly believe—live in It and It is in us. It is all there is. But of course I really don't know because it is incomprehensible; the minute I try to put it into words or thoughts it seems and sounds trite. But I also believe It (God, for the sake of terminology) is all good. And if this is true then how can such a horrific event take place.

I of course do not think that a giant ghostly hand should have come down from the sky and swooped the children out of harms way like superman. But why did it have to happen that the lives of this family and the driver of that car had to converge at that very second. The mother told the media that she had stopped for a moment to let her children change places as they walked. Why couldn't they have stopped ten feet sooner. Or why couldn't one of her sweet children have seen a butterfly or a cat or a bird or something else and ran after it. And if the driver was texting, why at that very minute. Why didn't he get stopped at a traffic signal for just a few seconds longer. Why didn't one of them get delayed by just a few seconds to throw this convergence off kilter. Why did all this happen at that very second in time. What are the mathematical odds of these four lives coming together in that very spot in that very second in time? These are the questions that I asked God today. I'm still waiting for a response.

Earlier today while doing a few basic yogic asanas and other stretches to relive pain from my lower back I listened to Ram Dass. The way he chanted Hare Krishna made me think that's what it must of sounded like when the old testament prophets and psalmists would chant and call out to Yahweh; cry out to God. And that's what I found myself doing as I sat for meditation unable to concentrate, albiet in a more modern and undignified way; almost accusatory...“What the fuck kind of God are you that would allow this to happen,” I questioned aloud. Still no response.

And now on Facebook and elsewhere it has turned into an internet argument. People on one side calling to remove or alter the stretch of highway that runs so close to a popular park, and on the other some are concerned about traffic flow. Meanwhile this mother's toddler son lies in a morgue and her young daughter is in a hospital bed.

Without going into too much detail I'll say that I have heard God speak before. And by this I don't mean a voice in my head, but through people and things and experiences. But right now He/She/It is silent. Maybe I need to open myself/my heart up to Her. But right now I cannot. I am just so pissed at Him.

I mourn not just for the family but also the family's family. I also mourn for the driver of the car and his family. All of their lives are forever changed. And also I mourn for us as a society, where such a tragic loss can be turned into an internet argument. But mostly I mourn for the poor mother, I literally cannot fathom what she is going through.

And for me, right now, I am still waiting for answers. 

"Speak, for your servant is listening."
~ 1 Samuel 3:10 

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#637)...

A large cardboard box containing 4 loaves of freshly baked bread, 2 chicken and cheddar burgers, a camera tripod, a camera bag with a camera and extra lens, and an empty dough rising bucket.

Urban Simplicity.

Chicken and Cheddar Burgers with Green Onions and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

So as you can imagine these are seriously good. I made them for staff lunch at work today. Simply mix all the ingredients together and cook them. Rather than having it on a sandwich, I diced mine and tossed it into a salad. Anyhow...really, really delicious (did I mention how good these are). 

Chicken and Cheddar Burgers with Green Onions and Sun-Dried Tomatoes 

Makes about 10 burgers 

2 pounds ground chicken
2 cups shredded cheddar
2 large eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, sliced thin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Combine all of the ingredients together and mix thoroughly. Let stand 5 minutes, then mix again. Divide and shape the burgers, then saute, grill, or bake them until cooked throughout.

Urban Simplicity.

Four Ingredients / Four Loaves

It only takes four basic ingredients to make a really good loaf of bread...flour, water, yeast and salt. Everything else is extra. With that said, when I make bread using 100% whole wheat flour (which is pretty much all I do these days) I like to add a couple or few additional ingredients. The first is a couple tablespoons vital wheat gluten as whole wheat flour has a lower gluten content than process white flour. The gluten helps the bread stay risen. I also like to add a splash of olive oil for richness and suppleness, and a bit of honey for flavor and color to the crust. So today when I made this I used seven ingredients and doubled the recipe, hence the four loaves. Anyhow, bread is easier than you may think to make, and it's so delicious. Don't be daunted or intimidated, just do it. You won't be sorry. For more recipes like this click here.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Makes 2 loaves

6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 cups water, divided
4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey

Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes rotate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Souvlaki-Style Tofu (version 2.0)

Okay. So this tofu recipe is so delicious even a dedicated "tofu hater" will like this. Seriously. This is a slight variation of this original version where the tofu was baked. What's different with this version (and is not represented in the printed recipe below), is that I added a couple teaspoons of smoked paprika to the marinade, diced the tofu (instead of slicing it, and after marinating it I rolled each piece in cornmeal. Then instead of baking it I pan-fried them in olive oil to crunchy deliciousness (yum!). And yes, before you ask, this recipe can also be baked but it will not be as crispy (I tried it both ways). Anyhow, try this recipe and I dare you to try to just eat one.

Souvlaki-Style Tofu 

Makes about 6 servings 

1 pound extra-firm tofu
souvlaki marinade (recipe below)

Remove the tofu from its package and drain it. Set the tofu on a plate with 2 or 3 plates on top of it, gently squeezing out some of it's moisture. Leave the tofu to drain for 10-15 minutes. Slice the tofu about ½ inch thick. Lay the tofu in a pan and pour enough of the marinade over the tofu to cover it, turning it to coat all sides. Marinate the tofu for at least 30minutes. Preheat an oven to 350F. Transfer the tofu to a baking sheet that is fitted with a wire rack, leaving some of the marinade on the tofu. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the tofu begins to brown at its edges. For firmer tofu, turn it over and bake another 10 minutes. This is delicious straight from the oven, at room temperature, or chilled as a snack, on a sandwich, or salad.
Roast Garlic Souvlaki Marinade 

Makes about 2 cups

12 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ small onion, diced
1 small bunch parsley, washed and course chopped

Combine the garlic and olive oil in a small skillet and place it over a low flame. Heat the oil until the garlic begins to simmer. Cook the garlic very slowly until it is golden brown, then remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool in the oil to room temperature. Once the garlic and oil are cooled, combine them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.