Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stop Making Sense...a few things I saw while riding my bike today.

"I don't have to prove...that I am creative."
~David Byrne

So I mentioned recently that I--like so many others--have been ill with the common cold. And because of this I have been basically doing nothing around the house...sort of self-sequestered. And because of this my spirits have been low. If there are two things that bring me down they are physical inactivity and creative this has been the perfect storm. Thus said, this evening I bundled up--layer upon layer--and loaded some camera gear on my bike and went out on a very cold evening for a very slow ride and a few photos. Physically I am not cured, but emotionally and spiritually I am. It is, in fact, just what the doctor may have ordered. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#622)...

A camera bag with a camera and extra lens, a plastic bag containing medicine for the common cold, an extra shirt, a tripod, and a cardboard box containing food on it's way to a local food pantry.

Urban Simplicity.

Pasta for a winter's eve...

If you've been to this blog before then you know a few things about me. One is that I like one-pot meals such as rice or pasta...especially pasta. And this is a good example. I've been ill for the past few days (a cold) and actually took the day off work yesterday, which is unlike me. But while being self-sequestered at home had difficulty doing absolutely nothing, so I did something that nourishes both body and soul...I cooked, and also baked bread. Checking my fridge I came up with the ingredients for this dish and it turned out to be just what I needed...perfect comfort food for a winter's evening. And as usual, this recipe is simply a guide and not a is really just a sort of elaborate variation of the many aglio e olio recipes posted on this blog. Add or remove whichever ingredients you have at hand or suit your taste.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Kale

Serves 2-4

½ pound whole wheat spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cups kale, coarsely chopped
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
2 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Boil the spaghetti al dente, drain, and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or shallow sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and mushrooms and sautes them until they begin to brown, then add the garlic and hot pepper and saute another minute or two. Stir in the kale and sun-dried tomatoes, coating it with the oil and seasonings, then add the broth and salt. Bring the broth to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Simmer the broth for 5-10 minutes, or until it reduces by two-thirds and is concentrated in both flavor and viscosity. Add the cooked spaghetti and simmer it while stirring gently for a minute or two, allowing flavors to permeate the pasta. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese.

Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#621)...

A camera bag containing two cameras, a charger, and an extra lens, a gym bag with wet clothes, a cardboard box containing 3 loaves of freshly baked whole wheat bread, and an empty dough rising bucket.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Persian Smokey Eggplant Salad (Yum!)

This recipe is a variation (my interpretation) of a recipe from the book, Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond. I was recently offered the book to review and am pretty excited about it (and it takes a lot for me to get excited about a new cookbook these days). I am not really that familiar with the cuisines of Persia, or modern day Iran (which is one of the oldest cuisines in the world), but I am familiar with the flavors in these recipes...very fresh and bright flavors. And while the recipes may be simple the flavors are complex and multi-layered. At any rate, this recipe is really easy to make and also really is definitely one I will make again (and likely again and again). Plus it is a lot of fun cooking the eggplant over an open flame.

Persian Smokey Eggplant Salad
Serves 8

4 large eggplant
½ red bell pepper, diced small
½ green bell pepper, diced small
¼ red onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Cook the eggplant by placing them directly over an open flame of a gas stove. Turn the eggplant as needed. The skin will blister and blacken; it will look burnt. Continue to cook and turn the eggplant until it is very soft and heated throughout. Transfer the eggplant to a clean surface and allow to cool enough to handle. Gently peel away the blackened skin while placing the flesh of the eggplant in a colander over a sink to drain any excess moisture. Coarse-chop the flesh of the eggplant and transfer it to a bowl with the remainder of the ingredients. Gently stir and fold the salad to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients. Allow the salad to rest for a few minutes prior to serving. Serve warm or chilled with toasted garlic bread or wedges of pita.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#620), and a couple brief comments...

On the bike...Four boxes of food on their way to a local soup kitchen.

So it pains me at times, it really does, to think of the amount of food that is discarded in America when there are so many people in need. And restaurants are some of the worst offenders of this. I didn't always think this way, but I do now. I have to. I--we--have no other choice. This type of thing is in our face--literally and figuratively--whether we like it or not. If we choose to ignore it or not it is still there. As a chef, when I have food left over from a party (or the accumulation of several parties), after offering it to employees (who are mostly low wage earners) I gather it up and carry it to a food pantry. I have to. In my heart I have no other choice. I am not perfect, of course--far from it--and on occasion things are discarded for a variety of reasons, but it hurts me. This is the least I can do. But it is still not enough. This said, my friend, writer, food aficionado, and concerned person, Lauren Newkirk Maynard, recently wrote an excellent but brief article in Block Club regarding this very subject, and mentioned yours truly in it. I'll get off my little soapbox now.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or Nine Quotes from Marian Wright Edelman

Image Credit Nikki Kahn

“You really can change the world if you care enough.”

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.”

“A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back-but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”

“Failure is just another way to learn how to do something right.”

“Service is the rent we pay for living."

“If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

“You were born God's original. Try not to become someone's copy.”

“If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much.”

“It's time for greatness -- not for greed. It's a time for idealism -- not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action.”

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Very Brief Poem About Things...

There are so many things
So many little things
Everyday things
Things ignored or unnoticed
To be grateful for

Fragrant Chicken and Vegetable Ragoût!

This is a basic ragoût recipe, or a main dish stew. Like all of the recipes that I post, this is not carved in stone but should serve more as a guide. The ingredients and seasonings can all be interchanged--added or deleted--to suit your personal tastes. This is perfect middle-of-the-winter comfort food. It's delicious and packed full of nutrients...and the best part is that it will only use one pot to prepare.

Fragrant Chicken and Vegetable Ragoût
Serves 6

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
¼ head green cabbage, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 turnips, diced
1 bunch kale, diced
1 medium potato, diced
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
1 (15 oz) can red beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and cabbage; cook and stir for a few minutes until the vegetables are wilted and just begin to brown, then stir in the grlic and cook another minute or so. Lower the heat and add the spices: cumin, turmeric, coriander, hot pepper, and salt. Stir the spices into the vegetables, then add the turnips, kale, and potato; stirring to coat with spices and oil. Then add the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the diced chicken. Simmer the stew for 20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked and vegetables are tender, then stir in the beans and cook for another minute or so. Lastly, stir in the lemon juice and remove the pot from the heat.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#619)

$130 in groceries.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, January 12, 2015

People in tents on ice, a feral black cat hunting, a herd of city deer, and a few other things I saw while riding my bike yesterday...with a brief but pro-bicycle commentary.

So first a couple things. One is that this post is a sort of continuation of this previous post where I went to Buffalo's Outer Harbor in search of the elusive snowy owl (I didn't see one either day). In the previous post I used a car to get there--which was great because it was dangerously cold and windy--but yesterday I rode my bike the six miles each way as the wind was less and the temperatures were higher (but it was still damn cold). I started to think that maybe I was a little crazy (people are always telling me this--either with words or looks--because I choose to ride a bike year round) but then I saw all those people in tents on ice--entire families--and realized I might be the sane one. Anyhow, and I've said this before, but I see so much more on a bike. When I took the car I basically saw the waterfront (the destination), but on my bike I witnessed--was part of--the entire trip there and back...and the area this is in, which is currently being developed, still has a sort of wild/industrial/feral/post-apocalyptic feel to it; many of the photos were taken along the railroad tracks that run along Ohio Street. A good example of this (seeing more on a bike) are the deer images...these are three of about a dozen photos of them. I had just crested a bridge and thought to myself, "I hope I see a deer or two," as I've seen them in this area before. If I were not on a bike I would have never seen them, but I was close to the side of the bridge and sure enough I glanced over and there was an entire herd of them walking along the tracks. I stopped my bike and watched as they gracefully meandered under the bridge. When they came out the other side I got off my bike and walked to the end of a train that was parked there and watched them. They were so graceful and beautiful to watch; I must have watched them forage for food for about 15 could I ever eat them, I wondered? Cars zipped past, their occupants unaware of this beauty right next to them. Then after a bit, and after I took a few photos, I tried to get closer and they ran away. On my way home I stopped at one of Buffalo's newest hipster bars, Ballyhoo, which is on the far edge of downtown, mainly to warm my hands as I had my gloves off to take photos, and had a couple beers. By the time I left it was almost dark and it started to snow a little; the flakes and cold air felt good against my face the way that a winter evening does, and I stopped to take one last shot, this time of Chippewa Street, which is only a mile from my house. When I got home my middle-aged body was tired from pedaling into the wind (both ways it seems) while wearing heavy clothes. And even though I didn't see a snowy owl I saw a lot more. I feel like I should carry photos with me so that the next time a person asks why I ride a bike year round (or they give me "that look") I can show them the photos and say, here is why...this is why I ride a bike.

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, January 9, 2015

On the waterfront...

Today I went down to Buffalo's Outer Harbor in search of the elusive snowy owl that has taken up home in Western New York. And no, I did not ride my bike the six miles each way in these frigid temperatures, I used Buffalo Car Share. To be honest, I actually contemplated it but am glad I did not...the high today was like 15F and when I got to the shore of the lake the wind was so strong that I had to lean into it and brace myself to take a hands were frozen (as I took my leather mitts off to adjust and snap the camera) and I had to remember to hold the lens cap (which is attached to the camera by a string) or the wind would whip it around and it would smack me in the side of the head. And I purposely went around dusk because this is when not only owls but other animals are said to hunt, but also so I could capture the natural blue hue of a winter's cold sunset...but the temperature was dropping. Thus said, I have to admit that it was nice to find refuge in the warmth of a car in between photos. But alas, I did not see a snowy owl...or a fox, or a coyote, or a deer, or a falcon, or an eagle (all of which live in the area). In fact, the only "animals" I did see were other photographers in search of snowy owls. But, despite the wind burning and bone chilling cold, I really enjoyed myself and was in awe of the power of Mother Nature, and was (and still am) thankful to live in proximity to such an incredible natural resource (it's a 20 minute bike ride in nicer weather). Anyhow, click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A few things I saw while walking and riding my bike recently (before the snow)...

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike on a cold and snowy day (#618)...

A gym bag with wet clothes and a bottle of red wine. And on a side note, as I've mentioned prior, having steel studded snow tires makes riding in the winter much more pleasurable and safe. I really recommend them to any all-weather cyclists out there (I can't believe it took me this long to purchase them).

Urban Simplicity.

Two Chickpeas; Two Recipes

I have posted variations of both these recipes before but these are two recent additions. Both are really simple to make, super delicious, and healthy...chickpeas are really good for you. And yes, the falafel can be baked rather than pan-fried but they would lack the crispy outer shell.

Spicy Avocado and Roast Garlic Hummus  
Makes about 4 cups

 ¼ cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
2 ripe avocado, peeled
2 cans (15 oz. ea.) chickpeas, rinsed
½ cup lemon juice
1 cup tahini
¼ cup water
¾ teaspoon sea salt

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small skillet and place over low heat. Simmer garlic in the oil until golden brown and soft, turning it as necessary. Add the Aleppo pepper, cumin, and coriander to the skillet and remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. 

Transfer the olive oil with the cooked garlic and spices to the bowl of a food processor along with the avocado, chickpeas, lemon, tahini, water and sea salt. Process the hummus until very smooth. 

Spinach and Feta Falafel

Makes about two dozen falafel
1 (15oz) can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked spinach, squeezed of excess moisture
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
½ small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons 7-spice mix
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup whole wheat flour (more as needed)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
sesame seeds for garnish
oil for frying

Combine the chickpeas, spinach, cilantro, parsley, onion, garlic, jalapeno, lemon juice, 7-spice, salt, turmeric, and baking powder in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the first the flour then the feta cheese by hand, keeping small pieces of cheese visible. Allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes; if it feels too moist add more flour. Shape into small balls, then flatten them slightly while pressing them into sesame seeds. Preheat a skillet with about ½ inch of vegetable oil and fry the falafel about two minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden on the outside and cooked throughout. Remove the falafel from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. 

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.


(Tahini-Garlic Sauce)

Makes about 1 cup.

1 cup tahini
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¾ cup cold water
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt 

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. If too thick or too thin, adjust the consistency with water or tahini.

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.