Note to Self:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Rainy Sunday Afternoon at McSorley’s

.
So I was in NY this past weekend for a reprieve from my daily routine, I try to do this once or twice a year and as usual spent most of my time in the East and West Village. If you’ve ever been to the East Village you’ve also likely been to McSorley’s Old Ale House on 7th. I’m drawn to such places not because it is a tourist attraction but because of its history. Indeed, any day after 5pm you’ll find the place packed with tourists from around the globe and also drunken college kids. During this time I feel as though I am in a sort of bar version of Times Square; a Disney bar. This said, early in the afternoon you’ll find it still attracts locals and feels like the corner tavern it once was. This was the case when I was walking in the pouring rain this past Sunday afternoon and went in for a respite from the weather.

Standing there at the bar while the place is nearly empty truly is a sort of time travel experience. There are no televisions and there is no music playing. Just people talking, that’s it. The silence seems to encourage people to talk to one other.

McSorley’s was opened in 1854 by an Irish immigrant named John McSorley. It has been operating as a bar nonstop ever since. It didn’t close for prohibition like most other bars and instead sold what they called “near beer.” 1 Throughout it’s history there have been a list of notables who’ve bellied up to the bar, including presidents such as Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt. 2 But like most places that sell libations, McSorley’s also drew creatives as well. One of the more notable ones was the poet EE Cummings, who wrote his now famous poem there, as a sort of ode to the place, I Was Sitting in McSorley’s. 3 

McSorley’s was also a holdout as a men’s only bar until 1970 (personally, I find this odd as I like to be in the company of women when I am enjoying a drink). After being sued, they begrudgingly allowed women, and the first to walk through the doors was Barbara Shaum, who knew the proprietor and most of the employees because she herself was a business owner and ran a leather goods store just a few steps away. 4 Though they did not install a separate women’s bathroom until 1986. 5 

Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stood on a rainy day leaning against the bar in the East village. The history is palpable and I could feel the presence of those who leaned on the same bar before me. I wanted to take a photo but not without permission, so I asked the bartender. He responded that if it was alright with everyone else it was okay with him. The only people I did not ask were the single table of tourists from Arizona to the left in the picture. Not in the frame are three older guys who live nearby and have come here for years in the afternoon, “before the kids show up,” one mentioned. They were to my right and did not want to be in the be in the photo so I took one step forward and aimed the camera as to honor their request.

I don’t always think this but in some photos I do, that in some instances a photograph is really capturing time, and that’s what this is. For a split second it stopped time. Other than the modern dress of the few patrons this photo could be any time. After snapping the photo the bartender (who turned his back to the lens) asked me if I got what I wanted. I did, I told him. Then I slugged the last of my beer and stepped out into a full downpour on a Sunday New York afternoon.

 This photo was shot a couple years ago



1 The History of the East Village’s McSorley’s Old Ale House https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/The-East-Villages-Historic-McSorleys-Old-Ale-House-415335553.html
2 ibid
3 I Was Sitting in McSorley’s https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/i-was-sitting-mcsorleys
4 The First Woman Let Into McSorley’s https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/nyregion/the-first-woman-let-into-mcsorleys-reminisces-over-an-ale-of-course.html?_r=0
5 McSorley’s History https://mcsorleysoldalehouse.nyc/history/

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Piano Man of Washington Square Park


This is Colin Huggins, AKA the Piano Man of Washington Square Park. A classically trained pianist, and originally from Georgia, he has been busking in NYC parks with full-sized pianos for more than a decade. He began in Father Demo Square in the West Village, then moved on to Union Square but was asked to stop by local residents because of the crowds he drew. At one point he was fined $6000 (source: Wikipedia). These days one can find him in Washington Square Park nearly every weekend; he's there every time I visit the city, even in the cold moths. I've posted on him in the past because one of the things he does--or allows--is for people to crawl under his piano and lay there on mats (which he provides) to get a full concert sound. Anyhow, this photo was shot last night while he was playing his last song of the evening. Another thing that I think is pretty cool is the phrase which he has on both sides of his piano and is visible in this photo. It's the same phrase that Woody Guthrie scrawled on his guitar...This Machine Kills Fascists.


This is Joseph...


This is Joseph, we met on a subway train yesterday evening. I heard him before seeing him though. I was standing at the far end of a crowded car when he got on at the other end announcing himself, “Hello good people of New York, my name is Joseph.” I’ve sort of given up on giving money to street people for a few reasons, one is that I myself have very little of it these days but also I’ve become overwhelmed, especially in a city like NY. But Joseph was different, he wasn’t asking for a lot, just pennies or whatever change we could spare. He held a small plastic baggie with some coins in it as he swayed through the car telling his story. He hears voices, he bellowed, this is why it is difficult for him to keep a job. At first he thought they were real—that everyone could hear them—but then people told him they were not.  Imagine, he suggested to us, the sound of all these voices you hear in this car right now were in your head but you were in a room alone, and they were talking to you directly. As he swayed through the moving car a few people put money in his plastic baggie, but no one seemed to look at him. I thought my stop would arrive before he would get to me but it didn’t. When he approached I reached into my pocket and found a quarter and a penny, 26 cents, and felt a little foolish as I offered it to him and apologized, saying that was all that I had. “No worries,” he relied, “74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.” I told him my name was Joseph as well, and asked if I could take his photo, that I like to document people I meet. He got a big grin on his face and struck a pose. After the shutter clicked he told me to put his face on CNN. We fist bumped and as he parted I said, “Good luck, Joseph.” And as he exited the car he turned and replied, “I’ll be alright, every day is a gift from God. If you believe that, which I do, how bad can things be.” With that he exited into a sea of humanity. Thank you Joseph, I needed to hear that. I often forget and you reminded me. This photo cost me 26 cents, but it is worth so much more. Everyone has a story, today I heard a small part of Joseph's and my life is better because of it.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sister Spring...


Sister Spring
you’ve been gone so long
i didn’t think you’d arrive
but you did
you slipped in unannounced
when winter wasn’t watching
your rain falling like tears
blessing everything
cold winds
turning warmer
you bring life
rebirth
and make me remember


Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Greatest Thing(s)...


It was raining this morning so rather than riding a bike to church I used Lyft as I didn't want to arrive soaking wet. As I left church it was still raining and I snapped this photo just outside the door. It always amazes me when I see buds bursting open after a long winter. How do they know just when to do it? Though it was raining I walked home and it felt good to be in the elements (I also had an umbrella). And as I walked in the rain I thought about a few things. One was how fragile life is; we are here for such an incredibly short time. And also in the end it doesn't matter how much money we have or things that we've acquired. What matters is how we treat each other, right now in this life. If we are made in the image of the creator then how we treat each other reflects on how we treat the one who created us. And this is what I thought about while I walked home in the rain on a chilly Palm Sunday in April...

And then he was questioned by those in power. Taunting him, hoping he would slip up. They asked him: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~Matthew 22:36-40

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

M. Steffan's Sons, Inc


This is Linda Steffan, fifth generation owner of M. Steffan’s Sons, she inherited the shop from her father in 1993. In the above photo she is holding one of the two leather camera straps she just made for me. Her business card states, in addition to her name, number, etc: Wholesalers and Retailers of Leather and Findings; Shoe Shiner and Leather Craft Supplies.

It’s interesting, I have lived in the neighborhood of this store for many years and have probably walked or biked past it literally thousands of times and often wondered about it, and also questioned whether it was still open. It is very much so.

Unhappy with a strap I had for my camera and wanting one specific, I thought I would stop by so I Googled the place for its hours and came across this recent article about her in the Buffalo News. When I went there a couple weeks ago on my lunch break it was like stepping back in time. I showed her my current strap and what I would like and questioned if she could make one for me, “Sure, why not,” is what she said.

While chatting with her and shooing away her tiny dog that kept nipping at my ankles I told her I read that she had ghosts in the basement which she kept at bay with salt on the stairs. “That’s right,” she said a matter-of-factly, “and there’s also a crucifix as well.” When I requested to see them she declined.

Over the course of three visits in the past couple weeks I was surprised how many customers came in. There was someone with a large leather chair having it repaired, someone purchasing strips of leather, and today a guy was picking up his shoes which he has shined there. In retrospect, I remember chatting with a late neighbor, who was repairing his own leather chair, who told be he purchased the leather their as it was the only place he could find in the city.

It really is an interesting experience doing business with Linda. Not only are you doing business with the owner—which is becoming a rarity these days—but she is polite and cheerful and the place is packed floor-to-ceiling with all sorts of tools and merchandise. What you won’t find are any loud or glaring screens, in fact I didn’t see any electronics at all. My receipt is hand written.

Yesterday when I got the call that my straps were ready I told her I would stop by the next day on my lunch hour, which was Wednesday. She mentioned that she was only open until 12:00 or 1:00pm on Wednesdays so I made sure to be on time. When I arrived, we fitted one of my cameras with a strap to make sure it fit correctly—it did—and then she punched a couple more holes in the leather to make it a bit more adjustable.

Thanking her for her work, before leaving I asked why she closed early on Wednesdays. She smiled replied simply, “Because I can.” Thank you Linda for such a pleasurable experience, I felt like an actual person and not just another customer while doing business with you. 




Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (No. 736)...


On the bike, or at least being pulled behind the bike...$167 in groceries. (Note to self...don't stop at the grocery store for "just a couple things" with an empty stomach).

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jeff and His Cross (which he bears)


If you’ve followed any of my photos or random writings—and I’m assuming you have otherwise you wouldn’t be seeing this—then you know that I like to take photos of people that I meet and tell a bit about their story. All types of people.

Thus said, this is Jeff. I met him when I passed an intersection on my bike ride home from work this evening and he was standing there with this large cross inscribed with biblical text. As I approached the intersection I saw him, rather I saw the cross before I saw him. When I stopped at the light he glanced over at me and smiled so I yelled across the street and asked if I could take his photo. He beamed and yelled back, “Sure, why not?”

Jeff is a jovial fellow from the small village of Bemus Point, NY and was all too happy to talk to me. Unfortunately I had an appointment to keep so didn’t talk long. Nonetheless our short conversation was peppered with at least five “Praise the Lords.” Before talking to me he wasn’t yelling anything out or harassing anyone, just standing there with his large cross and a pocket full of tracts. When asked if he’d been harassed he said only a couple times.

When also asked why he was standing here with the cross he smiled and simply said, “To spread the good news.” He also mentioned that he was previously standing inside a subway station but was asked to leave. When I was getting ready to leave I thanked him for talking to me and allowing me to take his photo. “Praise the Lord, Joe” is what he said as I parted. I told him that I tried to and he smiled again. As I pedaled away I glanced back and saw Jeff standing there in the light drizzle, smiling. All I could think is that we all have figurative crosses to bear but Jeff showed his forthright.

There are all types of people in the world and today I met Jeff and my life is better because of him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Journal Entry, 6 February 2019


Sometimes my heart becomes hardened in such a subtle way that I don’t realize, setting up a sort of invisible shield. Shutting the world out and me in. Then a chance encounter cracks its fragile outer shell, letting in light and love out. And in an instant I can see—am reminded—that is all there is. The most important thing. To love one another, no matter what. It’s so simple and equally difficult. But remembering is the most difficult part of all.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

White Magic (seasoning)


When I was a young cook coming up the chef that I trained under would make us mix bins of this stuff and we used it in everything. It is a general purpose seasoning mix and so easy to make but at the same time so flavorful. There are plenty of versions of this which one can purchase but it is very simple to make. At home I use the reduced salt version (which is posted here) but at work I up the salt to equal proportions with the other seasonings. Anyhow, adapt it to your liking, keep a small bowl or container next to your stove and you will always have a simple but flavorful seasoning at hand. 

White Magic Seasoning
Makes just shy of ½ cup

2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Stuffed Bread...


This was delicious. There, I said it. If you notice I also used the past tense as it no longer exists. But yes, it was delicious.

Anyhow, this began as something else. I had a hankering for a vegetarian version of a Lebanese grilled pita sandwich (arayes) but it ended up being more of a calzone or some sort of savory stove-top pie. Anyhow, as stated, it was super delicious. Made with fresh vegetables and 100% whole wheat dough it is healthy, too.  Here's how I made it...


Start by making a quick bread dough. Any one is fine so long as it is one you like. There are plenty on this blog from which to choose (click here for bread dough recipes). You will not need an entire recipe for a single pie; the rest of the dough recipe can be frozen or baked into a loaf of bread.


While the dough is rising make your filling. The pie can literally be filled with whatever you like; I choose all vegetables but meat is also acceptable. For this filling I sauteed (in olive oil) onion, mushrooms, garlic, hot peppers, kale, beet greens, and sun dried tomatoes. I also added cheddar cheese; I would have preferred feta but had none in house. After the filling is done, transfer it to a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.



Roll the dough very thin to a circle shape. Place the filling on half of the dough and fold it over. Crimp the edges to keep everything in. Heat a skillet to high, then lower to medium. Place the pie in the pan (without oil), press it gently, then cover the pan. After a few minutes turn the pie over and recover the pan. Cook and flip the pie a couple times to ensure it is cooked but the dough doesn't burn.

The final instruction is the most important. Eat and enjoy.


Urban Simplicity

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This is Ben


This is Ben. I met him this afternoon on my way back to my hotel for a siesta. I was tired as I had been walking all day, as is my way when in an incredibly vibrant city such as NYC. It doesn't help that in haste this morning I hopped on an express train that took me way out of the way from where I wanted to go. I only mention this to note that I had walked far and hard and was so looking forward to taking a break. Anyhow, as I crossed Cooper Square I saw Ben and a smile came across my face. Without even realizing the words were coming out of my mouth I found myself saying, "Excuse me, can I take your photo?" Then I was even more surprised when he turned and said yes. 

Ben grew up in London but has been living in NYC for some time, he's also dressed like this for as long as he can remember. We chatted about a few of our favorite British punk bands and both agreed that the Clash is one of the best bands that has ever existed. After  taking his photo he asked if I would take one with his phone. After looking at it he thought it was too dark, so we moved to a sunnier spot, you can see the difference in the two photos. I have always been drawn to people that live outside society's norm (whatever that is), and it's interesting that after talking with Ben for a few minutes I felt invigorated (but still took a brief nap at my room). There are people of all walks of life in this world, and that is such a good thing. Life would be so boring otherwise.


This is Denarius.


"Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks."
~1 Thessanolians 5:17-18

If you’ve been to this blog prior then you know that on occasion I profile someone who is living on the street. I used to do this more often but haven’t in recent months simply because I myself have been broke and I usually give them some money—even if it is just a couple bucks—after speaking with them.

This said, I’m in NYC for the weekend and on my way back to my room last night met Denarius. I wasn’t going to stop but her sign caught my attention. It quoted a portion of one of my favorite Bible passages (which is above). So as I was walking I glanced at her sign then at her and as she looked up from a book she was reading our eyes met. Her eyes told me that she was a kind person so I stopped. After introducing myself I commented on her sign and she too agreed it was one of her favorites as well.

Denarius has only been in the city a short while, she took the Greyhound bus here from the west coast to escape a bad situation. That’s all that I know. After chatting for a few minutes I asked if I could take her photo, to which she agreed. She was also patient with me as I fumbled with the camera as I had forgotten I had it set for timed long exposure settings for photos I had just previously taken. We laugh a bit, then I snapped her photo. After chatting a bit more I parted.

The room I stay in in NY is a meager one...a room with a bed, table, and TV that rarely works, and a shared toilet and shower down the hall, but still it is grand compared to Delnarius’ accommodations. And on the way back to my room I kept thinking of the quote she chose for her sign, and the fact that she herself seemed as cheerful and thankful as it suggested. If I were o find myself in her situation I don’t know if I could maintain such positivity. My life is better because of meeting her, I pray she is well.

To read more in this series, Click Here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#734), with brief commentary.



Things on the bike...$62 in groceries, a bag with a change of clothes, a camera and an extra lens.

So this didn’t happen today, it happened last week and hadn’t happened in a while, but for whatever reason I was thinking about it as I loaded my bike with groceries today, and then was thinking about it still as I pedaled to the JCC to sit in the shvitz for a while. It’s something that will inevitably happen to a cyclist. It happens less that it once did, but still it happens. I’m talking about being yelled at out a car window to get off the road. There are, of course, endless variations of the statement with equally endless possibilities to insert various expletives. Sometimes I’ll yell back, stating that I have the same rights as them, but this time was different. This time they didn’t swear, but they ended the sentence with “snowflake,” and yes I am aware of its derogatory implication. “Get off the road, snowflake,” is what he said and it sort of startled me. This is what they assumed of me simply because I was on a bike.

I was so taken aback that I didn’t yell anything in return. But if I did I should have yelled something like, “Well if being a tree-hugging, climate-change-believing, bicycle-riding, Jesus-following, beatnik, hippie, women-loving/supporting, survivor-believing, black/blue/all lives matter-supporting, immigrant-loving, LGTBQ supporting, pro-choice, democratic-socialist makes me a snow flake, then okay. But I still have as much right on this road as you.

While this statement may sound a bit snarky on my part, and I suppose it is, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Golden Rule lately. Especially as I scroll through social media where people can speak their mind or post nonsensical memes without being face-to-face to those they target (which, imho is a real detriment to society), it’s sort of like an electronic version of yelling out a car window, I suppose.

Mostly we think of the Golden Rule as spoken by the Jew from Nazareth who came to be known as the Christ, but it is mentioned by prophets before and after him in the bible, and in the sacred texts of most religions, for that matter. It’s the most simple concept but also the most difficult. What I am referring to, of course, is loving our neighbors as ourselves. This, I suppose, even means loving the guy who yelled at me, and also people who I don’t agree with. This is likely no more easy a concept now that it was two millennia ago. What came to me while sitting and sweating in the steam room is that while yes, I do have to love my neighbor (meaning everyone within the realm of my little life, both real and virtual), that I do need to treat them with respect and dignity as another fellow person on this third rock from the sun. But at the same time I don’t think I need to, or even think I have the ability, to like everyone. We can disagree but still treat each other with respect. We need to if we want our country to survive. I’ll get off my little soapbox now. 


Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fasoulia!


So a couple things. One is that I haven’t posted in more that a month, one of the longest stretches since starting this blog. My apologies; it has been a hot and busy summer. Thus said, here’s a very simple but really delicious and nutritious recipe for a Lebanese-style bean stew. This normally does not have greens in it, I added kale simple because I like it.

It seems like every culture has some sort of rice and beans recipe in their repertoire, the Middle East is no different. This recipe is often eaten for breakfast (I am told) with a fried egg on top, not unlike Mexican huevos rancheros, I suppose. Tonight I ate this for dinner over basmati rice. Lastly, two words of interest here. The word fasoulia is simply the Arabic word for beans, and the word baharat, means spices. If you do not have or do not feel like making baharat, use what you like or have, and the beans can be interchanged to your liking as well. Enjoy.



Fasoulia
(Lebanese Spicy Bean Ragoût)

Serves 3-6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon baharat (7-spice mix), see below
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
5 ounces baby kale, washed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion while stirring for about 5 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two while stirring. Stir in the baharat, soked paprika, and crushed hot pepper; cook for just a minute while stirring. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, lemon juice, salt, and kale. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a very low simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Baharat
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.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Life and Death in the Cemetery


Only when you accept that one day you'll die can you let go, and make the best out of life. And that's the big secret. That's the miracle.”― Gabriel Bá

So first a couple things to preface this post. One is that I really like cemeteries. Okay, "like" may not be the correct word, but I do enjoy them. I find them peaceful and soothing. This said, Buffalo has an incredibly great cemetery, Forest Lawn. It was founded in 1849 and covers a vast 269 acres. It is smack in the middle of the city but because of its vastness it is an unintentional wildlife refuge of sorts (hence the title of this post). I stop here at least a couple times of year to pedal and coast silently through, to stop and contemplate, and to take photos of monuments, gravestones and wildlife. 

Anyhow, I hadn't been there in a while and thought I'd stop by and take photos. I always love when I see deer there. They are so graceful and there is something about seeing them walking among the gravestones that makes them seem even more graceful, it really is a surreal sight. 

Last year I had heard about a white fawn that was seen in the cemetery, and on two occasions had gone there specifically to see it, but to no avail. To be honest I thought it may have been an urban legend of sorts. Today I didn't go there looking for deer, I simply wanted a slow cruise through this shady sanctuary on this incredibly hot summer day (90f/32c). 

As I was coasting down one of the rolling curvy roads I caught a glimpse of a deer off in the distance between some of the stones (the photos above and below are chronological). So I parked the bike and grabbed my camera and began to sort of tiptoe up to it. As I got closer I could see there were a few deer, maybe four (turns out there were a total of six). They saw me but didn't move. I walked very slowly and snapped a few photos. Then, wandering out from behind a stone comes the white fawn. I'm pretty sure I gasped.

After snapping a couple photos and walking closer two buck came trotting in. The one was so large I actually heard him before I saw him (see the third photo below). He was definitely the alpha of the herd. It really startled me because I was pretty close, there was no one else around, and the animal was large. He saw me immediately and began to walk towards me then stopped, putting himself between me and his family. I did not want to even raise the camera because I didn't know what Papa Buck was thinking. As graceful as they are they are prone to charge, especially if they feel their young are threatened. Anyhow, to make a long story short, I sort of backed away and Papa Buck led his family in another direction.

To see some previous postings of Forest Lawn Cemetery, with photos, click here.






Saturday, August 4, 2018

Path of Trinity...a book review


Path of Trinity
Journey into Christian Mysticism
By Travis Wade Zinn

But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the ages for our glory.
– 1 Corinthians 2:7

Before I begin this brief review I have to offer full disclosure. While not having met the author in real life we are Facebook friends online; mystical kindred spirits are drawn to another. I had seen Travis’ posting for the book and it intrigued me so I requested a copy for review, and I wasn’t sorry.

Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism is an interesting and important book. There is a lot of information packed into this slim volume, but at the same time it is not for everyone. What I mean by this is mysticism—as it’s title suggests—is a mystery, and for some this is uncharted and even scary territory. The idea that there is more than we can see and touch with our physical senses may be difficult for some to grasp. But I’m jumping ahead.

What makes this book truly interesting is that it not only discusses Christian mysticism, but it is autobiographical as well. The author openly reveals his personal journey, and some of it was very difficult. He frankly discusses his previous addictions, his bout with homelessness, and also his physical breakdown which almost killed him. But through it all he was connected to Spirit.

What originally drew me to this book, and the sections I found most interesting, are where Mr. Zinn discusses early church history and Christianity’s mystical roots, “Few people are aware of the pervasive influence that Jewish mysticism had on early Christianity. Christian mysticism did not have its primary origins in Greek thought but instead came directly from it’s Jewish roots” (pg. 17). To me this statement is powerful because in today’s Christian culture it is easy to forget that not only was Jesus Jewish—was was born a Jew, lived his life as a Jew, and died on the cross as a Jew—but also he himself was a mystic.

A theme throughout the book, as is common in not only Christian mysticism but also any mystical tradition, is the importance of prayer and meditation. While some may have difficulty and think that meditation is “un-Christian,” it is really part of our heritage not only through Kabbalism but also early Christianity, and the author delves into this and explains it well. He also does a good job comparing the similarities and differences with esoteric teachings of Buddhism and Christianity.

Path of Trinity is really a guide for people to be in relationship with the Spirit which dwells in all of us, and the author writes in a personal way as if he is speaking directly to you disclosing not only information he has learned but also his own personal experiences. For example, “In the physical realm, we are limited by preconditioned options, but if we operate spiritually miracles can happen that translate even to the physical realm. Christ was not speaking merely metaphorically when he said that faith could move mountains. The reality we imagine as fixed is more fluid, more interconnected than we realize” (pg. 69). He then goes on to tell how he healed himself with prayer while on missionary in the Amazon.

As aforementioned, the book is intertwined with historical and factual information but also the author’s experiences, but it also contains practical information as well. It concludes with the sentence: “Tear out the following pages and get to work” (pg. 115). The last pages contain graphically animated directions on how to meditate.

Mr. Zinn holds an honors degree in religion and specializes in Christian mysticism, he has also resided at Zen monasteries. Though the information in this book deep, it is written in a very readable way. This book is an example of the shift Christianity needs to make if we want it to survive. A shift back, in many ways; a shift to our mystical roots. But even more importantly, a shift inward. Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism, is a book that can renew one’s faith in the Spirit that has been there all along.


The book is available in both print and electronic versions, here's an Amazon link if you'd like to order it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Seeds of Love and Compassion...mille mercis


Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.” ~Thomas Merton

As I was walking home yesterday I saw a couple leaves blowing in the light breeze, then one came to a halt in front of me. My first thought was that it is too early for fall foliage. Then I was affected not only by its simple beauty but also the contrast in its metaphoric imagery...the beautiful and frail leaf with a backdrop of stark concrete. For some reason it reminded me of the fragility of life.

I’ve been thinking about writing a lengthy response to the outpouring of people who donated to my GoFundMe campaign which started a couple days ago but have decided against it. Instead I’ll get straight to the point. I am overwhelmed and grateful beyond words. I cannot say thank you enough.

People who analyze crowd-shared fundraisers (yes, there are sites) suggest that you re-post frequently and regularly to keep activity and traffic. I can’t and won’t do that. It was very difficult for me to start the campaign to begin with. While I will not be re-posting it I will keep it active, likely through the month of August as I am 1/3 of the way to the goal. Should anyone like to contribute, it can be found here. At the very least I do hope people continue to share the link for others to see and read my story.

Fr. Merton suggested that every activity plants seeds on our souls. This has planted seeds of compassion and love on mine and yours. My heart is cracked wide open. Thank you so incredibly much for not only supporting my campaign thus far, but more importantly being part of my life.

Peace,
Joe

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#733)...


"There is no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle. A bowl of oatmeal, 30 miles, you can’t come close to that. Put a bowl of oatmeal in your car, you’re not going anywhere, let alone 30 miles." ~Bill Nye

On the bike...$62.00 in groceries

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#732)...


Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.” ~Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin

On the bike:  One 4x4x8 cut into three lengths, two 2x4x10 cut into five foot lengths, 2 loaves of bread, a banana (fuel), two bottles of water, two new pairs of work pants, a new pair of jeans, a camera, and a small bag containing various hardware items.

To view more in the Things on a Bike series, click here.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

United Nations on a Plate!


"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." 
~James Beard

On the plate:

Fresh Beet Hummus...click here for many different hummus recipes.

Batata Harrar (Lebanese spiced potatoes)...click here for a recipe (which will take you away from this blog, a recipe here soon to come).

Guacamole...click here for a simple recipe (which will also take you away from this blog).

Asparagus Aglio e Olio...click here for a recipe.

Also on the plate: fresh diced tomato, raw onion, and crumbled feta cheese. 

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.
For additional Aglio e Olio recipes, click here.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Where I'm At (partie trois), or Going From Point A to Point A

          Yup, that's me in '78 or '79. I would have been 16 or 17. Photo credit: Cheryl Pieczynski

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”   
~Paul David Hewson (Bono)

(This is a third part in an autobiographical series. To read the first parts click here or here.)

“You are so negative! Miserable! And your negativity is exhausting!” I was in the manager's office at work. She was ranting, and these were the words thrown at me. Stomping around the closed-door room with arms flailing. I tried to talk but she didn't want to hear it. She would ask questions but not hear my response. So I just sat there, looking at the floor, and let her get it out. 
   
In some respects she was correct. I was being negative, but mostly to her. I was being passive aggressive; I was taking out my frustrations on her. My frustrations of working too much, of not being entirely happy. Things needed to change. This is what I thought to myself as the manager ranted, and when I say “things” I really mean myself. Not my hairstyle, or clothes, or job...I needed to change. I needed to remember who I was, and that can only come from the inside.
   
Then I noticed that I didn't hear her voice any longer and stopped staring at my shoes and looked up. To my surprise she was looking back at me. Without meaning to or even realizing I was saying it, I said “I'm sorry, I'll try to be more positive. Are we through?” And as I walked back to the kitchen I knew that I needed change, that there was no other choice. The next morning I submitted my letter of resignation. But as I often do, I am jumping ahead. Let me begin again.
   
I never thought that I would be a chef, at least that's not what I set out to be when my nervous and innocent 16-year-old-self faced a stove for the first time. I do, though, remember five years later when I made the conscious decision to pursue restaurant work as a career, at least the first time I spoke it aloud. We were in Clarence Town Park (Clarence, NY). We were with a friend from NYC who played guitar and I was an aspiring bass player. We'd get together to jam now and again, and he wanted to start a band. I couldn’t commit, I told him, because I had plans of attending culinary school. A couple years later this friend had a breakdown and was institutionalized. In retrospect, I know that I make a better professional cook and an amateur musician, rather than the other way around. But I have to start at the beginning—for myself and you—in order to see how cooking for a living found it's way into my life.
   
Before discussing my cooking career, or how it began, I'd be remiss by not mentioning my roots, or at least a bit about my background. I was lucky enough to be born into a family of good cooks (on both sides), but I was also born into a poor family, though I didn't know it at the time. My dad was the eldest son of Lebanese immigrants, and my mom from a linage of east side Buffalo Germans (Prussian and Alsatian). I am the third child of four; two older sisters and one younger. And by the time I came into this world we were living in a public housing project on Buffalo’s east side. But I view these early formative years through Rockwellian glasses. My dad worked at least two jobs and my mom worked full-time while raising my sisters and I. There was always food on the table and presents under the tree at Christmas. I really believe it is from these very earliest years that my love of food and cooking were instilled. We ate kibbeh, grape leaves, and flat bread from my dad's side, and kuchen, fastnachts, and anise cookies on my mom's.
   
I can now see in retrospect that this is the time in my life where I also became aware of spiritual things. My mom took us kids to church every Sunday, where I would mostly daydream. But things changed that would forever altar our family's history; on a cold February evening my dad died suddenly. I was 12 years old. And without getting too New Age-y, this is around the time I first began to have mystical experiences. I mention this for two reasons. One is that I really do not think that spirituality and cooking are mutually exclusive, but also these early experiences are some of what has shaped me as a person and have been with me for all these years. They are in fact influencing my decision making today. But more on that in a bit.
   
Flash forward three years. In the winter of 1977 I was a wild child with little or no supervision. My dad, who was also a cook, had died three years prior, and my mom was home sick in bed from another terrible round of chemotherapy (she joined my dad two years later). 
   
Unlike today, where chefs are celebrities and some akin to rock stars, and where kids from wealthy families attend culinary school with stars in their eyes, I began a restaurant job because I needed the money. My first bill was to pay my mother back the $50 she had just spent to bail me out of jail.
   
It was during this bleak winter that I happened to be sitting in a late 1960's Ford Torino on a dead end street in a half-built suburb of Buffalo. I was in the back seat with a case of beer between me and a friend; three more guys were in the front seat. I had turned 16 just a few weeks earlier, and we were passing around my birthday gift...a water pipe loaded with the best pot we could afford. The radio blasted one of our guitar gods. Then I noticed through the fog of the windows and pot smoke that there were a couple crouched figures slowly approaching the car. I wiped a space in the window but by that time it was too late...there were two police officers just outside the car door and a few more waiting by their cars blocking the street.
   
They took the driver's license and told us to wait in the car; we were all underage. At one point, and after what seemed like a while, one of my friends thought it wold be a good idea to speak with the police. He opened the door and began to step out and an officer drew his gun and told him too get the fuck back in the car. This may have been the excitement this officer needed to break the boredom of being a policeman in 1970's suburbia. This said, the beer and pot was confiscated—along with my birthday present—and we were all arrested. The sound of the officer's voice as he read us our rights while we drove to the police station is still with me today. He sounded proud of himself as he read them. It seemed like a dream then just as it does now, “You have the right to remain silent...”
   
Our parents were called to collect us and pay our fines for release. On the way home the only words my mother spoke were that I was getting a job to pay her back. The next day, she called a friend of my dad who owned a Greek diner and told him of my situation. Two days later I stepped behind a grill for the first time. And this is how I officially began working in restaurants...because I needed a job because I came from a poor family and I needed to pay my mother back from being bailed out because of marijuana procession. Stars were the farthest things from my eyes, but survival was very real. It was December and nearly Christmas.
   
When I stood behind the grill for the first time I was like a fish in water; I didn't have to be taught to swim, it was as natural as breathing. I'm of course not talking about cooking—which I had to learn—but more specifically the culture and lifestyle of restaurant work. I was young and the late hours appealed to me. I could stay out late and sleep in, there were plenty of friends, and also attractive young waitresses. It was, and still is, a business that attracts eccentrics from all walks of life; everything and everyone is accepted, no matter who you are, freaks included. I liked that right from the beginning and still do.
   
It wasn't until about 5 or 6 years into my career that I first considered it as a vocation; it was also around this time that I thought of culinary school. In the early 1980's the only full-fledged culinary school I knew of was the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Being innocent and naive, I never considered how difficult financially it would be. And so, on a hot summer's night after midnight, and after working a large banquet (at my second job, where I worked for European chef for the first time), I sat in an all-night diner drinking coffee and filled out an application to the CIA. Much to my surprise I was accepted, and six months later in the midst of a January snow storm (the storm of '85), I found myself sitting in introductory classes at Roth Hall and my life was forever changed in so many ways. This is also around the time that I began reading Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers in earnest.
   
Since those early days I have been blessed to have worked in so many different venues and in so many different capacities. My first eye-opener was working in a large hotel in the south. Not only was it one of the largest in the country at the time, but I was also plunged into a different culture. The hotel had more than 100 cooks on it's culinary team, many of them from Europe, and I'm pretty sure the chef never learned my name. He would simply call out “Entremetier!” (vegetable cook) or “Tournant!” (rounds-person) when he needed me or one of the other externs. It was also my first time out of the northeast. After a brief return to Buffalo, I traveled to Europe for the first time, and then spent a very short time living and working (and drinking) in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
   
When I returned to Buffalo again, I landed my first chef's job almost immediately, the first job where I was in charge of the kitchen. By this time I was hooked. I quite literally lived and breathed food and cooking. I would work all day everyday and not complain about it. And when I traveled I would seek out book stores known to have good culinary sections. Keep in mind these were pre-internet and Amazon days. At best guess, my culinary library contains more than 1500 books, many of them pertaining to culinary history, which is still a passion of mine. Bed time reading were Larousse Gastonomique, La Cuisine, and Le Repetoire de la Cuisine. My Lebanese-German/French roots reflected my cooking style, and they still do.
   
During this period I was fortunate enough to attend a few brief stints at other cooking schools. The Cordon Bleu in Paris and then in Ottawa, but my favorite and the one in which I am most proud, was being accepted (full scholarship) to study with Madeleline Kamman at the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards. I had entered a menu and recipe contest and much to my surprise, won. This was the first time I saw my recipes in print. It was before the advent of personal computers, so on a rainy spring day I rode a bike with my hand-written menus and recipes wrapped in plastic to a printer to have them typed. I can still remember how professional they looked...my recipes actually in print!
   
I was at work the day I received her call. In heavy French-accented English, “Hello Joseph, this is Madeline. I'm impressed with your menu and would like you to come study with me in California.” My knees went weak but I still managed to jump with joy. Those that know me know that I am a rather reserved person, but on this day I yelled out, “Woo hoo!” as I hung up the phone.
   
It was a two week program (graduate level course as she liked to say) and it had a profound effect on me. I was one of four students nationally. The evening we all met we were were a bit nervous, and I was and still am so impressed by this small but incredibly intelligent and powerful woman. She is a practicing Buddhist and also a feminist. At a time when French kitchens were still dominated by men, she was there. And when the infamous Paul Bocouse stated that (I'm paraphrasing) women do not belong in a professional kitchen, she hung his portrait upside-down in her restaurant's foyer.
   
Our class began with coffee at a table on the edge of the vineyard and then we would go to a small kitchen and cook. When the afternoon sun became too hot we would sometimes retreat to a wine cellar, or on one occasion Madeline’s home. And I can still remember something she said to us that had nothing to do with cooking. Likely seeing how obsessed and driven we all were with our careers she told us (and I'm paraphrasing again) that we have to read all the time but more than just cookbooks, that life is more than just food and cooking. We should enjoy many creative interests, including spirituality.
   
As a chef I am influenced by cooks who write, not just cook. People like Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher, for example. So some years ago I submitted an article with recipes to a local weekly paper and much to my surprise it was published. Before I knew it I had columns in a few local papers and was published nationally. This is a far cry from when my written English was so poor that the waitstaff had to proof read menus, and for Christmas one year one of them gave me a book on grammar. It was also around this time that I began to teach part-time a local college, something else I immediately excelled at. There was one point in my life when I was working full-time as chef, part-time as educator, and had columns in two papers and a magazine. Then, not surprisingly, my marriage collapsed.
   
I still remember the feeling...the feeling as if I were falling and there were no safety net. I had to build wings before I hit bottom, and to do that I had to look inside. I had to grow wings from the inside out. And I did; I still am.
   
Shortly after, on the third Sunday of Advent I returned to church after more than 30 years. I used the excuse that I wanted my son, who was 6 at the time, to be Baptized, which was true, but it was also for myself. Some, I think, were surprised by this but it was not a far stretch. Though I hadn’t gone to church for most of my adult life I was still connected to the Spirit. I would often pray and would, as I do now, feel the presence of something greater than I. But like any person of faith I have had doubt as well. There was one point, a dark time in my life, when I had serious doubt. It was during this time that I had a dream which for lack of better explanation I’ll refer to as a vision. During this vision things were explained to me that I will not discuss here other than it removed my doubt, and when I think of it even now—years later—tears still well in my eyes. It was also around this time that I began thinking that there is more to life than facing a stove all day, I also felt the desire (was called) to attend seminary.
   
The day that I dropped the completed application in the mailbox to One Spirit Interfaith Seminary (OSIS) in NYC is both an exciting memory and also one of anxiety. I really wanted to be accepted, but what if I actually was? How would I do it? I was working full-time as a chef, a single dad, and in debt. I was accepted and somehow I did do it. After traveling back-and-forth across the state 22 times in 24 months from Buffalo to New York, mostly by train, in the spring of 2014 I was ordained an interfaith minister. I am also an ordained deacon in the United Church of Christ and a certified spiritual counselor, through the International Association of Healthcare Professionals. Currently I am enrolled in SUNY Empire State College (ESC) pursuing a bachelors degree in religious and philosophical studies. This, some may think, is an 180 degree turn from my previous vocation, but is it?
   
Between travel and schooling expense in NYC, I found myself in debt so I looked for a part-time job. I found one at a local agency where I cooked in a homeless shelter for battered women and their children. I found it so rewarding and did this while working full-time as chef for an elite women’s city club, the second oldest club in the country, they like to say. The juxtaposition between the wealth of who I served at one job while the poverty of the other was real. I cooked, as I always have, from my heart at both places. It was around this time that I began to realize that I truly wanted to be of service to people rather than be the boss of people (whether you like it or not, when you are the chef you are the boss).


                                   A selfie with the kitchen crew. My last day as chef at the city club.

It became apparent that I needed to change so I resigned my long standing position at the city club, which is where this story began. Since then I have also left the part-time job in order to return to school at ESC. There have been a couple jobs since, but now I find myself working at another residence for the (previously) homeless. I had to take a cut in pay but have not been happier at a job in quite a while.
   
Why am I saying all of this, or even any of this? Honestly, I’m not sure. Sometimes it just needs to come out, sort of a public journal. Which of course is how blogs began. I suppose that what got me thinking of this was a conversation I had a few nights ago. I had stopped out for a couple beers and ran into a woman I had worked with years ago at a restaurant with high critical acclaim. She was with another women (who I did not know) that also worked in the restaurant business. The person I knew introduced me to her friend and began to gush about me and my former achievements. Then she asked where I was working now. After telling her the name of the agency I told her how I was a cook at a homeless residence. After a short pause and blank stare, she replied, “So you’re the food service director?” No, the cook, I told her. Still questioning, she asked, “Like the nutritionist or something?” Nope, I replied, I simply cook good homemade meals—lunch and dinner—for about 20 people a day, people who otherwise would not be able to do this for themselves. After another pause the conversation then went in a different direction.


                                 On the eve of my ordination 2014. Photo credit: Sandra Chelnov
    
So with all of this said, is this it, is this where I’ll finish my career? Nope. I don’t think so. As 60 comes closer into view (in a few years) and 50 fades in the distance I find myself getting motivated for the next act, which I’m still trying to ascertain. Cooking will always be part of me and I part of it, but at the same time there is more for me to do. More to accomplish. In some ways I have gone in a different direction, but more specifically I’ve done a 360 and am returning to myself. The need to look inward before going outward is real. It’s not always the destination so much as it is the journey, and that is something which continues. The future awaits.
    

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#731)...


There is beauty in silence and there is silence in beauty and you can find both in a bicycle!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

On the bike...$22 in groceries and a live tomato plant.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sister Summer...


Sister Summer
You enter so quietly
With subtle beauty
You arrive almost unnoticed
Until you are here

And when you approach
You bring with you
Such vibrancy
Not just in color
But all the senses

Flowers bloom in your presence
Offering themselves to you
Even the weeds bloom
Returning on queue
With you

Your hot days
Yield to gentle evening breeze
Awaking cricketers
And other nocturnal things
Which also yield to you

You turn things
Upside down, right side up
Long days
But then you leave
As quietly as you came

Stay with us
Sister Summer
Your comfort
Is welcoming
Becoming

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Maghmour v2 (Smokey and spicy eggplant and chickpea stew)


 "If my cuisine were to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of subtle, aromatic, extra-virgin olive oil."
~Alain Ducasse


So I've posted another version of this recipe a while back, but this one is more adapted to the summer months using fresh tomatoes instead of canned. This version is also a bit smokier and spicier (I increased the amount of smoked paprika and chili flakes). Anyhow, this is a really delicious and nutritious, but simple-to-prepare, vegetable stew. Eat it on its own, with bread, or over rice, it is delicious and filling (I had it for dinner over turmeric-infused basmati rice). Make a double batch because it tastes better the second day. For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here. The simple recipe is below.

 
Maghmour v2
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 4-6

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
4 cups diced tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes)
1 (15oz. can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small bunch mint, chopped (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and the diced eggplant. Initially the eggplant will absorb the oil and begin to stick to the pan, it is for this reason you should stir nearly continuously for a couple minutes.

Once the eggplant softens, begins to brown, and releases the oil, add the smoked paprika, salt, hot pepper, and cumin seed. Cook the spices for a minute or two.

Stir in the water, tomatoes, and chick peas, and lemon. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for about 30 minutes.

Stir in the mint and remove the stew from the heat. This can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even chilled in the summer months.


Urban Simplicity.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Happiness.


I catch a glance of you
And then you are gone
Like a shy lover
Playing with me

You’ll lift the veil
Briefly
To reveal a glimpse
Of your natural beauty

You make me work for it
Your beauty
Your love
The happiness within

Sometimes you’ll hide
For days weeks or months
Then return
Unannounced

But it’s a riddle
Happiness
Because you are here
Always

Natural
Like a flower
Returning after winter
More vibrant

Closer than my breath
My heartbeat
You are I
And I you

Like a golden pearl
I need only to look inside
Then you’ll glow outward
Lighting the way

The search for you
Happiness
Is endless
But effortless

Only I
My false self
Which is illusion
Make it difficult

I
My True Self
Knows you
Soul deep



Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Stardust...


The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.
― Carl Sagan


The great mystics concur
We are
In some inexplicable way
Connected
And that when we harm one
We harm all

Sacred texts tell us
Too
That the creator is in us
As we in them

Researchers say
That we have common ancestors
From which we’ve all come

Modern science
Proves
That we are all
Made from the same stuff
Stardust

Six of one
A half dozen of another
All of this
Says the same thing
To me
And I am not alone

So if this is true
That we are connected
Related
Stardust
Divine

And we know it

Why, then
Do we do the things we do

For if we truly believed
We should be jumping
For pure joy

Each day
And Every day
Because it is all a gift