Monday, July 28, 2014

After the rain...

Urban Simplicity.

Four faces, how a fifth one restores my faith in humanity, and a prophetic dream, too...

Image Credit 

This post is another in an accidental series on the homeless I've been encountering in Buffalo (click here or here to read previous posts). I had written about this briefly on my Facebook page last night, but here's the rest of the story. 

I had gone out for a long walk (4 miles), which I interspersed with beers (hey I get thirsty). And I was almost home. I just turned the corner onto Allen Street (which is the street adjacent to mine), had the Velvet Underground blasting in my headphones, when I stumbled upon—nearly tripped over—a women and three children sitting in a doorway. She was sitting in the doorway with her legs out on the sidewalk and two of her children—an infant and a toddler—where sleeping in her lap, while a boy of maybe 5 or 6 stood at her side. So surprised at this scene I walked past them for maybe 10 feet but I couldn't keep going. I turned around. And what struck me was the look in the boy's face; his eyes...they broke my heart. I went back and asked her if everything was ok. She wore African attire and had a thick accent but said everything was ok. I asked her if she had someplace to go or a place to sleep with her children, she shook her head no. In my head I panicked a little. What should I do, I wondered...there has to be an agency to contact. My first impulse was to just give her money, but then I remembered I only had a couple dollars left in my wallet. I couldn't just walk away. But just as I was thinking this I heard a car door close. A women pulled over when she saw this same scene. She asked similar questions as I, then said with a certain authority (and urgency), as she reached to help the woman up with her children, “Tomorrow we will find you someplace to go. Tonight you are staying at my house where I have an extra bed for you and your kids, a shower if you'd like, and plenty of food.” They all got in her car and drove away. With all the incredibly bad news that the media presents to us (which they thrive on), instances like this truly restore my faith in humanity. This was such a beautiful sight to witness, but I really hope and pray that the family does find it's way to comfort and safety. 

Then, last night I must have been thinking of this when I lay down to bed because I had a night full of really crazy dreams. But in the one dream I dreamt that I was in fact homeless and asking people for money. And at one point in the dream I was in a large room and there was cash all over the floor but I couldn't have any...there was a person with a vacuum vacuuming it all up. But then out of nowhere a women appeared, the same woman I witnessed help the family in the above story. She smiled at me, bent down and picked up an armful of money and handed it to me. She then turned to leave, and as she did I could see that she had wings on her back, angels wings. Am I crazy (likely a bit, yes) or did I witness an angel in our midst? I'll let you do your own analyzing

Abigail...too cute for words

This is Abigail, I met her on my walk home from work today. The human that she owns was walking with her and she was being stubborn, not wanting to move. It's all I could do is smile. I asked her human if I could take Abagail's photo to which he agreed, but he also said that she didn't like people much so she would likely ignore me. After I pet her (at which she did basically ignore me) I knelt down with the camera and she came right up to it and posed. Just for a few seconds of course, but long enough for me to snap a few photos. These are two of my favorites. Thank you Abigail for making my day, and for your human to allowing me to take your photo.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Great Blue Heron and a Brace of Ducks...

This morning was so beautiful (as was/is the rest of the day. I had to work for just a few hours in the afternoon and evening and really didn't feel like going in. To wash away the "work blues" I rode my bike over to Bird Island Pier to take a few photos. If you are reading this post from another area of the world, I have to describe this "pier" to you. It's a break-wall more than a pier really, and it just out into Lake Erie. And if you hop the railing and continue walking out to where you are not supposed to (as I did this morning) it goes out even further (a total of two miles I am told) to the intersection of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Buffalo Harbor, and the Black Rock Channel (click here to see the map). It really is quite breathtaking when your out there. Anyhow, along the way I saw so many ducks, but also the great blue heron that is pictured. It would only let me get a hundred feet from it before it would fly away. But I did manage to get a few shots of it. It was quite magnificent to watch. Any how, I thought I'd share a few photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Five or Seven Quotes from Malala Yousafzai

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced”

“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons."

“I don't want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. they are afraid of women.”

“I raise up my voice-not so that I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard.”

“I don't want to be thought of as the "girl who was shot by the Taliban" but the "girl who fought for education." This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

More Five Quotes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Spice is Right...Two Recipes Inspired by the Near East

So one thing you likely know about me by now if you've visited here before is that I like ethnic food. A lot. Herbs and spices can change everything. The most mundane foods (like chicken and lentils, for example) become something really special when seasoned with exotic spices. Anyhow, I made these for staff lunch today and served it with saffron-infused brown rice...delicious. There is a simple curry recipe at the bottom of this post but a good quality store-bought brand would be fine...or use your own flavor combination. Enjoy.

Tandoori Chicken Stir-Fry

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 small onion, sliced
4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced

oil for sauteing
black sesame seeds for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil for sauteing and the black sesame seeds) and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for one hour. Heat a small amount of oil over high heat in a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great). When to oil is hot, add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Allow the chicken to cook for a minute before stirring, Then gently stir the chicken and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Curried Red Lentils with Potatoes and Peas

Makes 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1½ cups red lentils

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup peas

Heat the oil in a heavy sauce-pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and green pepper and saute for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute a minute longer. Stir in the curry and cook it for a minute or two, and then stir in the lentils, broth, tomatoes, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a low simmer; cook the lentils for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and lemon juice and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are thoroughly cooked. Stir in the peas and remove the pot from the heat. 

Simple Madras-Style Curry Powder

Makes about 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons ground cumin 

3 tablespoons quality chili powder

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground fenugreek

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all the spices thoroughly and store away from direct sunlight in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Manipulating Light (and how it nearly broke me)...

As you may have figured out by now I am fascinated by photography for so many reasons. And the more I learn about it the more I am understanding that it is (A) all about light, and (B) learning how to manipulate light. With that in mind, these are a few photos I shot with an ND filter (which is sort of like putting sunglasses on your camera) allows you to take really long exposures in the day time. And when photographing something like moving water it sort of slows it down. But the interesting thing about this series (I think) is how they came about. I really wanted to photograph some moving water and the closest (other than the Niagara River) is Serenity Falls in Forest Lawn Cemetery. I had never been to this particular location and after finding it I was a bit surprised to see that I had to traverse a small and muddy incline. With my tripod and camera slung over my shoulder I took one step, and then another. My third step slipped out from beneath me and for a brief moment I was airborne, only coming to rest on my camera and tripod which were on my back (ouch!). I then proceeded to slip and slide and sort of roll down the muddy path until I came to rest on the edge of what is known as Serenity Falls. Is the name a sort of joke, I wondered? Anyhow, after regaining composure (I was by myself) and brushing myself off a bit, I was able to check my camera to see that it was not broke. Nor was I...but I am rather sore today.  And this is what happened just before snapping these photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Sometimes only white bread will do...

So as you likely know if you've visited this blog before, I bake and eat a lot of bread but rarely the white variety. But sometimes the soft squishiness (yes, that is a word) is all that will suffice. An example of this is when making sandwich loaf (yes, that's a thing also...these are the types of things one must make when working at a private club). To make a "proper" sandwich loaf the bread must be white of course, but also soft and airy. So if you are the type of person that enjoys really soft white bread (soft enough to rival store-bought) then this recipe is for you. Keep in mind that unlike store-bought bread--with its dough conditioners and preservatives--this will only stay really soft and squishy for a day or two. Nonetheless, this is a really delectable loaf.

Butter and Egg Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups bread flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoon melted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 lightly beaten egg

Combine the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of flour; stir to form a batter. Allow to ferment for 1 hour. Stir in the 2 large eggs and melted butter, then add the remaining 2 cups of flour along with the salt. Mix then knead the dough for 10-12 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl at room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to ferment for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Remove the dough from the bowl, shape it into a loaf, and place it into a lightly oiled bread pan. Preheat an oven to 350F while waiting for the bread to rise (about 45 minutes). Brush the bread with the beaten egg and bake it for about 30 minutes, or until golden and sounds hollow when tapped upon. Remove the bread from the oven and it's pan and allow to cool before slicing. This recipe can be multiplied.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another face, another very real story...

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister...she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She's a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father--in an alcoholic rage--threw her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn's disease and is concerned about her daughter's safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did...but trust me it wasn't much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can't help but wonder how I couldn't be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it...what if their stories are true. I'll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it's only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Buffaloes Fly...recollections of chicken wings

By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn't think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I've previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I'm sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef's request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu'est-ce que c'est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo (pronouncing it boof-ah-loh) and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don't need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get...simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing...butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements). 

Traditional Wings 

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce. 

Urban Simplicity.