Sunday, October 4, 2015

La Luna Roja!

"Shine and shimmer my harvest moon, Illuminate the shadows of the sky."
A.F. Stewart, Reflections of Poetry

These photos were all shot a week ago, on the evening of the harvest moon/blood moon/super moon/lunar eclipse. Some were shot on Buffalo's beautiful waterfront, while others were shot from the sidewalk in front of my house. They are not all of the moon, of course, but that was the real star of the show that evening. It was a pretty incredible sight. Anyhow, click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

But who is my neighbor?

Photo taken from the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The above words are what is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It's a portion of the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus. I've been thinking about these words a lot lately. Mostly, I think, because of what has been in the news, and by this I really mean some some of the things spoken by people "in power" with hardened hearts that can't seem to see beyond their own egos.

Some weeks ago one of these--I shan't glorify him by mentioning his name, but you know him...the brother and son of former presidents and is in fact running for office himself--referred to first born immigrant children as "anchor babies." Meaning, I suppose, that the American born baby can anchor it's immigrant parents here without deportation.

And then just this morning I saw a video clip of that other guy--you know, the one with the fake looking hair who is always yelling--where he said if he wins he will deport every Syrian immigrant because they don't belong here and they can't be trusted. What really broke my heart, though, was when he said this the crowd to which he spoke broke out in applause.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but both of these guys--among countless others--would like to "build a wall" to keep immigrants from coming through our southern borders.

If you are like me, and countless other Americans (including the two guys I just mentioned), ancestors on both sides of my family came through New York harbor as they entered this country for the first time. It is doubtful that, even if they could see it, they could read the inscription on the statue because it was written in English, but she is likley one of the first things they saw...welcoming them.

I'm the son of an "anchor baby." And my anchor-baby-daddy fought in the second world war, and in fact lost hearing in one of his ears defending our country. Two of his brothers (also anchor babies by that politician's definition) also fought in the war.

I just can't help but wonder if people (not just the two mentioned above) who are so afraid of others coming to this country (who may seem different than themselves) ever consider what the words on Lady Liberty say, and the fact that our country was founded and populated by immigrants.

And on a different slant, I also can't figure out how so many of these people, who like to quote the bible (yes, I'm aware that I'm generalizing), don't see that the very message of Jesus was not segregation, hate, or exclusion, and that his entire short ministry while on this earthly plane can be distilled down to one word...Love.

Some of my favorite passages in the gospel are the parables, which are told in such a way that makes you think but are also meant to be so simple that anyone can understand them, if they listen. And one of my favorites is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

It begins by an "expert in the law" (today, could this be one of the men aforementioned?) asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. And by this, I take it as not so much in the next life but this one, what must he do to be free, or to use other terminology, enlightened. And clever as he was, Jesus answered the question with a question, to make the person think for himself. He asked him, "What is written, and how do you read it?" The expert of course was able to recite the scripture exactly..."Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

"You answered correctly," Jesus told him, "do this and you will live" (do this and you will live...let those words sink in for a moment).

But the expert needed to justify himself, so he asked, "Who is my neighbor?

And this time Jesus answered him with a story (parable), and I am began with a man who was walking down a deserted section of road where he encountered thieves. They stripped him, robbed him, beat him, and left him for dead on the side of the road. As people passed the dying man they crossed to the other side of the road and looked the other way. One of the people was a priest, the other was a Levite (I may be wrong, but I believe the beaten man was also a Levite). Anyhow, finally a Samaritan came along, and correct me if I'm wrong again, but I believe during those times a Samaritan was not supposed to socialize with, let alone physically touch, a Levite. But the Samaritan, being filled with compassion, cleansed the man's wounds with oil and wine and bandaged him. He then carried the man on his own donkey to an inn, where he paid the inn-keeper money to care for the man, and even went so far as to tell the inn-keeper that he will return and pay additional money if needed.

After telling this story Jesus then posed another question to the expert..."Which of these men do you think were a neighbor to the fallen man?" He answered correctly again..."The one who had mercy on him."

To which Jesus replied simply..."Go and do likewise."

Our nation was founded and populated by immigrants, yet there are many who forgot this (or choose not to remember or acknowledge it).

And there are some who hold the bible as a shield and claim (incorrectly) that we are a "Christian nation," yet fail to show compassion, or to quote directly..."Go and do likewise."

And yes, I know many of these statements (my personal statements) are rash generalizations, but it seems (to me) that somewhere along the journey--with all of our technology allowing us to be connected 24/7--we have become less connected than ever before. In many respects we have lost our way. We as a nation have become more about "I" than "we."

The fear that I have is not of being over-run by immigrants, my fear is that one of the men previously mentioned actually wins the presidency.

Sorry for my mini-rant; I'll get off my soapbox now. But before I do I have to pose this question that was spoken more than two millennia ago... Who is my neighbor?

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a coffee shop on the first chilly day of autumn.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#675), and a recipe.

On the bike...a camera bag with an extra lens, a jean jacket, a pair of socks, a chef's coat, an apron, a book bag with various items, a bucket of raw (and rising) bread dough, and four bread pans (recipe below).

100% Whole Wheat Bread 
Makes 2 loaves

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Autumn Solstice...

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons."
~Jim Bishop

Happy Autumn Solstice...
Photo taken in my front yard, city lights and all.
Allentown (Buffalo), NY
78% Full, Waxing Gibbous

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, September 21, 2015


A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

~T.H. Hulme 1909 

Urban Simplicity.

International Day of Peace...

"All we are saying, is give peace a chance."
John Lennon

Today, as designated by the United Nations, is International Day of Peace.

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
Isaiah 2:4

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

It's all around you...

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

So some of you may already know this because you've either read a Facebook post or I told you in person, but three days ago a wasp collided with me while on a bike going about 18mph. It entered a vent in my helmet and stung me two, possibly three times. Without going into too much detail I'll just say that I learned the hard way that I am allergic to wasps. Last night was my second and hopefully last visit to the ER at a local hospital; I was there till 5am and almost admitted. So why am I mentioning all this? Because as I was walking to a coffee shop this afternoon after getting only a few hours sleep I was feeling depleted...physically, emotionally, and spiritually (and soon, financially, given healthcare costs). It's a rainy and grey day and I was walking in my own personal fog. Just walking but not seeing anything. But even though I was feeling low and sort of zombie-like I was still thinking how we and everything are all connected, I just couldn't feel it right now. So I sent a thought-vibration out into the Universe on this grey, grey day...Show me your beauty, I really need it right now. And before the thought even left me I got response. Not a voice, more of a hunch...a knowing. And the response was simply...It's all around you. Arrogantly, I thought to myself that I already knew this, but I needed proof. And then I looked down and saw the leaf pictured above, it was on the wet sidewalk directly in my path. All I needed to do was look at what's right in front of me. 

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, September 11, 2015


I've posted variations of falafel various times on this blog (click here to see them), but they all employed the use of cooked chickpeas in the recipe. I've seen recipes making this recipe where the chickpeas are not previously cooked, but simply soaked. And I've watched my friend Emad, who is from Bagdad, make this version. What's different about this version and Emad's is that he seasons in the Iraqi fashion with ground star anise, whereas I used the Lebanese spice mix known simply as "seven-spice," or baharat in Arabic. what I like about making this with the chickpeas simply soaked rather than pre-cooked, is how crunchy they are. The recipes for baharat, along with taratoor (lemony tahini sauce), are both listed at the bottom of this page. If you do not have the seven spices, or don't have the initiative to make it, simply substitute with 1/2 teaspoon cumin and a 1/2 teaspoon allspice. Also, while I made my son a traditional falafel sandwich in rolled flatbread for lunch, I ate mine on a salad...sliced summer tomato, avocado, sliced raw onion, feta cheese, fresh parsley and cilantro, and then drizzled with taratoor, hot sauce, and virgin olive oil (yum!). Anyhow, the easy and super-crunchy recipe and pics are below. If you've ever wanted to make restaurant or food-truck quality falafel in your home kitchen, this is it. To see other Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.


Makes about 2 dozen small patties
1 cup dried chickpeas
3 cups water
½ small onion, diced
½ bunch Italian parsley, washed and chopped
½ bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Lebanese-style baharat mix
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine the chickpeas and water together in a bowl overnight and leave them at room-temperature to reconstitute. 

  Drain the chickpeas, discarding the water, and combine them with the onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, salt, baharat, turmeric, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

Transfer the ingredients to a food processor (in batches if necessary) and process until a mealy consistency. Return the falafel mix to a bowl and mix in the flour by hand. Cover and refrigerate for about ½ hour.

Shape into patties, preheat about a half-inch of oil in a skillet, and pan-fry (in batches) on both sides until golden and cooked through. Transfer to absorbent paper and serve with Taratoor sauce.

Lebanese Seven Spice Mix 

Makes about 4 tablespoons
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.

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.

This is Sly...

"Hey Allentown!" That's what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That's what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, "I'm not allowed in Allentown anymore." But that's an entire neighborhood, I'd think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that's putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some--with closed minds and hearts--get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I've heard is also the reason he's "not allowed" in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times--when he is lucid--a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, "Hey Allentown,"  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. "Oh you know you know." Where you staying I asked. "Right here, man, right here on the street." How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. "Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places." He has a mental disability, and I've heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don't know if that is true. I've also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don't know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it's interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, "Hey man, that's a nice bike, you didn't tell me you got a new bike." Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that's a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less "Donalds" (sorry, there's my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, "Hey can you help me out with a little something, I'm trying to get something to eat." When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that's what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer's night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Thoughts from a pew...

My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
~Jimmy Carter

I sat in a pew this morning, the first time in more than a month. I'm not sure why it's been this long without attending the church which I love, but it has. But it doesn't mean I haven't been to worship since then. I like to think that I worship the Divine (or God, or Universe, or Spirit, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with) on a daily basis. I worship this Presence when I ride my bike, for example, and when I take photos, and when I have a meaningful interaction with someone, be it a friend, family, co-worker, or complete stranger. I also worship this Presence when I lay in bed in the morning just after the alarm goes off and it's the beginning of a new day. Because, to me, God is in all things (including you and I) and is, in fact, what makes each one of us connected to and inseparable from not only each other in some indescribable way, but also the very source (or consciousness) from which we came and will return. So today I worshiped the Divine more formally, in church. And it felt good.

The guest preacher spoke on the Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books in the New Testament and is attributed to James the brother of Jesus. It's a somewhat small book but has a powerful and straightforward message. Some say it is a blueprint for daily living. Personally, it has had a profound effect on me and I return to it often. To me, the book is a synopsis of what Christianity at it's core is about...not just having faith in a Higher Power, but having action as well.

Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” 
James 2:17

This morning, before leaving the house, as I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook I came across a photo of Hungarian citizens lining a highway with crates of food and other necessities. They were just average citizens and not affiliated with any government organization. They were lining the highway with food because they knew that soon, very soon, there would be thousands of refugees walking that road. The image was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Humans helping other humans is faith in action. But it goes beyond that, I think. Because this is something that is written on each of our hearts, whether or not you have faith in anything, or whether or not you care to admit it. Deep down each of us knows this.

Inversely, a judge denying other humans of a very basic right because of “her religion” is not faith at all. And deep down—somewhere beneath the crust of her hardened heart—she knows this too. But she will not allow herself to see it. If she did read the scriptures of her so called religion she would see that Jesus spoke of inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

Prior to the preacher's sermon this morning, a deacon read from the Book of Matthew...

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
Matthew 7:12a

What's interesting, I think is that this statement—which is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule—is stated in many variations in nearly every major religion and spiritual movement. Jesus himself says this rather bluntly at the end of the statement…“For this sums up the law of the profits.” Matthew 7:12b

Here's a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself. 
Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. 
Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. 
Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. 
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
Native American: Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself. 

Then, during worship this morning, as the congregation stood and recited the Lord's Prayer in unison, it moved me as it often does. The words themselves move me, but so does the thought of so many others around the globe saying this prayer (possibly at that same moment). I hope that some of us—myself included—listened to what we were saying, letting the words sink in and take root.

Last year when I was in NYC I witnessed something I will never forget. A homeless man asked a person to buy him a hotdog from a street vender because he was hungry. The person he asked (wearing a suit) not only bought him food, but he bought himself some as well and then sat on the sidewalk and ate with the man. To me that was not only worship, it was holy communion (Namaste...the soul within me acknowledges the soul within you).

Just being nice to one another—and seeing each person as an equal—can make such a difference in someone's day (including your own). It's not always easy but it is possible. When I write these things I am doing so because sometimes they just need to come out, but mostly because I need reminders for myself. And in a way, this in itself, I suppose, is a form of worship, and when you read this we are in sanctuary together.

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a pew on a hot and humid Sunday morning in September.

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness."
~The Dalai Lama 

Urban Simplicity.