Friday, May 22, 2015

Five or Eight Quotes from Harvey Milk...

May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978
“All men are created equal. Now matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”

 “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you...And you...And you...Gotta give em hope.” 

“It takes no compromise to give people their takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Politics is theater. It doesn't matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, "I'm here, pay attention to me”

“Hope is never silent.”

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution. Let my tax money go for the protection of me. Protect my home, protect my streets, protect my car, protect my life, protect my property...worry about becoming a human being and not about how you can prevent others from enjoying their lives because of your own inability to adjust to life.” 

Urban Simplicity. 

More in the Five Quote Series.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Seven fading flowers and a quote...

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.

~Hermann Hesse 
The Glass Bead Game

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A simple but powerful prayer...

This is a prayer I carry with me in my wallet, I have for a couple years now. It's so simple but at the same time so powerful...a prayer of transformation and service. It helps center me and remind me what is real and important. You'd think by now I'd have it memorized, but I don't. Thus every now and again I take it out and read it. And sometimes it's just what is needed...

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (634)...

A gym bag full of wet clothes and a case of red wine.

Urban Simplicity.

The sun also sets...

These photos were taken over the course of two days. And they are from one of my favorite spots...the beautiful Buffalo waterfront. The weather has been so incredibly nice this past week, and I have been working way too much, so whenever I've had the chance I have been heading to the water. I bring my camera and sometimes a journal or a book...and simply decompress. And it doesn't hurt that there's an outdoor bar with some of my favorite local beers on tap :)  Anyhow, I've taken a bunch of photos of the harbor this past week and these are a few of my favorites.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Flowers in the morning, and a few words...

Like many of us, I have a stressful job. Some days offer more stress than others. Wednesdays are one of my more stressful days of the week. Today was/is Wednesday. But today (at my place of employment) was a special Wednesday (no need for explanation here, it just was), which made it even more stressful. I knew this when I went in this morning; I knew this when I woke this morning; I knew this as I left my house this morning. And then I saw these flowers growing (blooming) in my neighbor's front yard. These same flowers come back every year. These same flowers buried just beneath the ground's surface survived one of the harshest winters on record. But here they are. They are tightly closed in the morning, still dripping with dew. But in the evening they are fully opened reaching for the sun. They look--to me--so pure and innocent in the morning. Anyhow, before I left for work this morning I snapped a few photos of them. It was a sort of meditation for me, focusing on them in the early hours. My day was still crazy and hectic and stressful, but this took the sting out of it. At least a little bit.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mului...and a few other people

So first some brief introduction. Pictured above is three-quarters of our motley kitchen crew. From left-to-right: Adam, Elizabeth, myself, Mului, and Senait (absent are Dylan, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan). And even though this post is essentially about Mului, it is really--in the broader picture--about humanity. But I'm jumping ahead.

You may remember Mului from this Go Fund Me campaign I posted a little more than a year ago. I was trying to raise money to get him a bike. I had anticipated the campaign to take about a took 20 minutes! No joke. I had to cut it off. The outpouring of human gratitude at the time quite literally brought tears to my eyes, and as I recall it now it still does.

I first met Mului through the International Institute of Buffalo when they assisted him in securing a job. Mului, along with Senait, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan are all from Eritrea, that small country just above Ethiopia. Over the years we've also employed people from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, the Congo, and Tanzania. As far as I know all of them had been refugees. And their personal stories are incredibly moving. It took Mului, for example, 5 attempts to cross the barren Sahara before he finally made it to a refugee camp in Israel. He nearly died and indeed lost family members along the way, either to the harsh dessert conditions or land pirates.

When Mului started with us he barely spoke English, but over the past year-and-a-half this has improved immensely. And during this time he has--on a dishwasher's salary--supported his wife and two children. Over this time he had really become part of our kitchen family. So it was bittersweet the other day when we snapped this was on his last day of work with us. He has recently landed a factory job which nearly doubled his hourly pay. Before leaving he gave us plenty of notice and even found us his replacement and trained her.

Coincidentally, the factory in which Mului is now employed is also the same factory that for a while employed my father, who was the eldest first born son to immigrant parents. That was more than 40 years ago and, on the weekends when my dad would work extra hours cleaning, he would bring me with him on occasion to the factory. I have vague memories of following my dad around the stuffy factory offices on hot summer Sunday afternoons.

The reason I mention this is that we as Americans are often proud to proclaim our ethnicity and our family heritage--romanticizing what our parents and grandparents went through and where they hailed from--but at the same time sometimes shun the current wave of immigrants. Most American cities have ethnic neighborhoods and in Buffalo the most diverse these days is the West Side...Grant Street, for example, is lined with shops and restaurants offering goods and foods from the Far East and all points in Africa, and English certainly is the "second language" at times.

Ethnically speaking, I myself am Lebanese and German (with some French, I recently found out). But it is the Lebanese side that I have often Identified with. Mostly I think, because when I was a kid it was like something out of the movies (of course I didn't think that then, but now I view it through Rockwellian rose-colored glasses). My dad and his brothers and sisters and all their families would congregate at our sitti's house (grandmother's house). There were tons of kids, my aunts were always in the kitchen, the table was always full, and the adults spoke Arabic more than they did English.

And this is what I see when I look at these newly arrived refugees. All that I have met and employed have been hard workers and extremely polite. They all are family oriented. They love to talk to me about their food. And they are all striving to earn American citizenship that I myself arrogantly take for granted. A simple Google search will reveal the very real reasons why they risk their lives to get inside our borders. In parallel, I suppose it is not unlike the reasons my family did the same thing about 100 years ago when the border was finally opened after the Famine of Mount Lebanon.

This current wave of immigrants is being called the "browning of America," and I personally find the diversity exciting. And I know right now there is some white guy reading this and getting a little nervous. Ok, here's something's predicted that within less than 30 years white folks will be the minority in the good ol' U.S. of A. Yup true. And I also find this inspiring. I'm inspired when I look at the people, and talk to them, and hear their stories. But mostly I am inspired by their work ethic and family values. These are the faces of the future Americans. Mului tells me his older daughter already prefers to "speak American.," even to her parents.

And so, while this post is about Mului, it's also about humanity as a whole. We are one people, and whether we all like it or not, we also come in all different colors and speak many different languages, but we are still part of the same human race. So on this day, the day that this photo was taken, it was bittersweet. We were all happy for Mului because of his financial advancement, but we were also sorry to see him go. Good luck friend!

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Pictures and words...


What is life?
This life?
That's what I find myself wondering.
A series of events?
People drift in.
And they drift out.
We work.
And like drops of water finding our way,
we eventually return.
We return to the great ocean from whence we came.
Dissolving into one.
Becoming one,
again with the great flowing source.
But this…
This very concept...
This is what we should strive for now.
That's what I think.
What I feel.
Here and now.
But it is so difficult.
To remember.
Because we've simply forgotten.
Though we may seem separate,
we are still from the same source.
The same living ocean of life.
But for now we appear as droplets.

Urban Simplicity.

Weapons of Mass Instruction...

So this is pretty cool. And though the story is more than a month old I just came across it and had to share. The Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff was inspired (for World Book Day) to modify his 1979 Ford Falcon into a mock tank-like vehicle, but the weapons he carries are books...900 of them! He calls the books his Weapons of Mass Instruction and cruises through Argentina's urban centers offering free books to anyone who wants one. The only requirement is that you promise to read it. This, to me, is really inspiring; it made my day. To read the full article and watch a short video of the artist click here (this is also where these photos were borrowed). If you'd like to read about other inspiring people that distribute books--but by bicycle--click any of the links on this page.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#632)...

A new bathroom sink, a set of faucets, all the tools and hardware needed to install it, and four tacos from Cantina Loco.

Urban Simplicity.

The Most Delicious Salmon Salad You'll Ever Make

This posting and recipe is really more about method than it is actual recipe. But don't let that scare you off because this is still very simple to prepare. The salmon is steamed/poached in white wine and on a bed of onions and garlic. And though I may refer to this as a court-bouillon (the classic French poaching broth for fish, which is, by the way, completely different than the Louisiana version), a French person--and I'm totally aware that I am making a rash and generalized statement here--may be horrified by my inclusion of garlic and hot peppers. 

The word—or phrase actually—translates literally as “short boil,” making reference, I suppose, to the short time it takes to cook fish. At any rate, when you steam or poach fish in a court-bouillon the fish itself takes on the flavor of that in which it was poached. So in the case of this today, the fish took on a light wine/garlic/onion flavor (the liquid is then either discarded or used as a base for a soup; it can be frozen for future use).

 And when the fish is done it is delicious as is, either warm or chilled. To turn this beautifully flavored fish into a salad one needs only to flake it and mix it with whatever ingredients you prefer. The one pictured, I mixed it with red onion, parsley, red pepper, and mayonnaise. If you have an aversion to mayonnaise the salad can also be made with a light vinaigrette (and possibly capers). Poached potatoes can be diced and added with a bit of mustard and dill, or even diced and seeded cucumber after the fish has cooled. So you should get the picture...this is really about the cooked fish rather than the recipe itself. Once the fish is poached or steamed it will be flavorful enough that whatever you mix with with will only be an enhancement. The sky is the limit.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Employee Meal 4.27.15

One of the great things about being a chef is not only being able to cook for others but also for one's self. And on slower days--such as today--I do just that, so today I served food that I like to eat. There was salad, of course, and (labneh) thick yogurt, but also moudardara (rice and lentils), and kabees el lift (pickled turnip colored with beet). Yum.

If you would like to make your own yogurt, click here for a recipe.
For the moudardara recipe, click here.
And for the fermented turnip pickles, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You are here...two photos, a few words, and ten quotes for Earth Day

Okay, so a couple things before the quotes. The above photo is from the Rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars looking at planet Earth. Does it make you feel small? It does me. The photo at the bottom of the page I took last night from my front porch. It's of the moon, of course, and is zoomed in a cropped. When I took the photo both Venus and Mars were visible to the human eye. Amazing. I thought about the above photo while taking the below one. It helps me in a stupid problems--which seem so paramount at times--and the never-ending thoughts that race around my head, are really so miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Not to sound morose, but it makes me remember that we are but a blip on the radar screen of time and life as we know it. These photos--and when I look in the sky--put things in perspective for me, it helps me appreciate the hear-and-now. But enough about what I think and feel, here's the quotes...

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The only thing that scares me more than space aliens is the idea that there aren't any space aliens. We can't be the best that creation has to offer. I pray we're not all there is. If so, we're in big trouble.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
― Henry David Thoreau 

“I would request that my body in death be buried not cremated, so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined upon flora and fauna during my lifetime”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
― Gary Snyder

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
― Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
― David Brower

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister?
― Jim Morrison

“Waste is Criminal.”
― Kristin Cashore

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mediterranean-Style "Golden" Rice-and-Beans

Okay, so first a couple things. The recipe for this exact dish pictured is at the bottom of this post, but what I really wanted to show here is the method in which to make this; the flavorings and seasonings are interchangeable. Rice-and-beans, of course, are a staple in many cultures around the world. What makes this version truly bursting with flavor is it's use of sofrito, a sort of seasoning blend made with caramelized onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, and spices. And versions of sofrito can be found in many areas of the world as well, but what makes this Mediterranean are the spices that I used...turmeric, Lebanese seven-spice mix (click here for the recipe), smoked paprika, and saffron. The combination of all of these things gives this dish not only an intoxicating aroma, but also it's beautiful golden hue. Rice-and-beans on their own are a complete protein, this is how so many people around the world survive of various combinations of this, and this is why this is also a valuable combination for vegans and vegetarians. While the recipe below is not vegetarian (I used chicken broth) it can be if you use vegetable broth. Inversely, one can easily add chicken, seafood, pork, or even lamb to this dish. I also used brown rice rather than white so it contains more vitamins, but this is also why the longer cooking time. Anyhow, here's how to make it...

Begin by making the sofrito, Heat olive oil in a pot and add diced onion and pepper. Cook them somewhat slowly until they are very cooked and begin to brown slightly. Then add minced garlic and cook that for a few minutes.

Then add whatever herbs or spices you may be using.

Then add tomato. This time of year I use tomato paste because it is already concentrated, but in the summer when my garden is full I often us fresh ripe tomato but have to cook it a bit longer to concentrate the flavors.

Continue to cook the vegetables and spices over moderately low heat until everything is soft and cooked and concentrated. Below is the complete sofrito.

Add the rice and stir it to coat it with the oil and sofrito.

Then add simmering broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the rice for 30-50 minutes (depending on the brand). Do not stir the rice. If using white rice, cook it for 18-20 minutes. 

Check the rice, and about 5 or 10 minutes before it is finished add cooked beans or lentils without stirring. After the rice has cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest (without stirring) for about 5 minutes.

Just before serving, fluff the rice and gently fold in the beans.

Golden Brown Rice-and-Beans 
 Makes 4-6 portions

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch saffron threads
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup brown rice
2-3 cups chicken broth (hot)
1 (15 oz) can white beans, rinsed

Heat the olive oil in a heat pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook slowly for about 10 minutes while stirring. When the onion and pepper is very soft and just begins to brown, add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Lower the heat, then stir in the seven-spice mix, turmeric, paprika, salt, and saffron. Cook the spices for just a few seconds then stir in the tomato paste. Cook the vegetables, spices, and tomato paste over low heat for about 5 minutes while stirring. Then add the rice, stirring it into the seasonings, then add 2 ½ cups broth, stirring it in as well. Raise the heat until the liquid boils, then lower it again to a slow simmer. Cover the pot and cook the rice for 30-50 minutes (depending on the brand), or until it is almost done. If the rice needs more liquid, add the remaining broth. Without stirring, add the beans on top of the rice, re-cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and allow it to rest for 5 or 10 minutes. Just before serving, fluff the rice and gently fold in the beans.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Silo City...Inside and Out

Yesterday evening I rode down to Silo City in Buffalo's Old First Ward to take part in Boom Days. It was such a lovely evening I went to watch some of the bands, particularly the Alison Pipitone Band (pictured below), and to take some photos. Well shortly after I arrived the beer truck ran out of beer (egad!). Luckily I knew one of the bartenders and she was knid enough to find one beer for me. Anyhow, after watching the band for a while I walked around and took some photos of the grain elevators. I was surprised that they were open, so I went inside as well. And as I was in there I couldn't help but think of the generations of men and boys that worked their lives away in these elevators, and indeed, in some cases even lost their lives there. I took dozens of photos but not all came out as it was evening and progressing into night. I did have my tripod but only set it up twice. So most of these photos were shot hand-held. Click any for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.