Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two things I'll talk about (but shouldn't) and one I won't (because it's exhausting)


So a couple things. Three actually. This is a response to the infiltration (near total domination) of politically focused posts on Facebook and elsewhere. It's odd, I suppose...writing a blog post about Facebook but they are both a form of "social media," and I find it easier to type here. But let me begin again.

There are--I have read--three things one is not supposed to discuss in public...religion, money, and politics. But I'm prepared to discuss, or at least disclose my views, regarding two of them here.

Religion. This is a touchy one. I don't even like the sound of it. But here's my view. If I had to put a single label on myself I would without hesitation say that I am a Christian. I am an active member of a very liberal Christian church and try to follow the teachings of Jesus the best I can (and usually fail miserably on a daily basis). But it goes beyond this (Christianity). I believe that all the major religions share the same Truth at their core. I also believe (know in my heart) that there is something greater than I and all of us. Call him/her God if you like, but I also find it easy to use the words Spirit, Divine, Source, just to name a few. In short, I believe that this Source or Holy Vibration is all that there is...that we in fact live and move within It and live out our lives in this manner. Okay, I'll stop and get off my new age-y metaphysical soapbox. But there it is. I talked about religion.

Money. This is an easy one for me. I don't have any. Or at least not much (at all). Despite what food TV and culinary schools will tell you, working as a cook does not generate a lot of income. Oh sure, a small few in any business will make lots of money but I'm not one of them. Each time I save up a few thousand either something happens to deplete it or I take a trip or do a major home repair or take a class or or or.  This is not a complaint, it just is. I'm fairly content, I am able to pay my bills, and I find if I don't have money then I don't have money to worry about. So here this is. I talked about money.

And lastly, politics. This is one area where I refuse to talk. Why? because I am so burnt out on the arguments, accusations, and lectures I am seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. In some instances I am surprised and others downright shocked by what some are saying or the reactions they are having. What is most shocking I suppose is that some of these negative and angry posts are coming from people I would least expect. I will exercise my right as an American and vote this November, but I will not discuss it. I will not add to the argument. So there this is. I didn't talk about politics.

But one more thing. I was actually considering leaving Facebook for a while, and I still may, but probably not. What I will do is post what I believe to be the opposite. Pictures of beauty. Poems. Positive quotes and affirmations.  With this said, the above image is one I took a few days ago. I rode my bike to the Bird Island Pier, then hopped the low railing and walked another mile out the crumbling break-wall. This is the very point where Lake Erie ends and the Niagara River begins. The Great Lakes are said to contain 21% of all the earth's fresh water, and they all rush through this point every day. To me, this is something to ponder.

Peace.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Things that can be carried o a bike (704)...


A camera bag with a camera and an extra lens, two pairs of pants, a pair of work clogs, about $20 in groceries, three paint brushes, and two gallons of paint.

Urban Simplicity.

Gazpacho (on a plate)



Gazpacho. Is it a soup or salad? Maybe both. Or maybe a sauce of sorts (salsa). It’s interesting, I think, that sauce, salad, and salary all share the same common root, sal, which is Latin for salt. A sauce was originally a form of salted liquid to season foods, and salting is what one did to their lettuce (and other vegetables) to bring out its natural flavors. And the English word salary is said to derive from sal because this is what slaves were often given in return for their back breaking work during Roman times.  But I’m jumping ahead..

Like the rest of America, and the world no doubt, it has been hot, consistently hot this summer. I no longer work in a sweltering kitchen; the one in which I toil these days is an open kitchen. It gets warm but not hot. Yes, it is uncomfortable at times but not the...I hope I make it through this shift without passing out hot...that I was accustomed to. But for that my heart goes out to all my fellow culinarians who are working through those conditions in this hot summer.

With thus said, my house is not air conditioned. Not at all. Speaking with a neighbor recently I commented that I think I’m 1 of like 10 people in the city—ironically, the city in which air conditioning was invented—that didn’t have an air conditioner. He responded by saying I was also probably like 1 of 10 people who didn’t own a car. Neither of these are accurate, of course, but I thought it was funny.

Anyhow, the thought of cooking dinner in my sweltering home kitchen was less than appealing, so before I left the glassed-in air conditioned room which is the fancy grocery store in which I am currently employed, I bought a few things to make an easy dinner. Surveying the shelves that were overflowing with heirloom tomatoes and golden peppers, gazpacho came to mind. But I didn’t want soup, per se, but more of a chunky salad. And as I meandered the produce selection I thought about gazpacho, the recipe of course, but also it’s origin...like most foods it grew out of locality and possibly necessity. Use what you have to feed people. 

Gazpacho is a recipe that has been around in various forms for a very long time, but the path to what we know it as today is likely convoluted. It’s said to have existed in Spain for more than a thousand years (possibly Moorish or Arab in origin), but prior to the fifteenth century it didn’t contain tomatoes and wasn’t red (tomatoes are a New World ingredient; they didn’t find their way into European cooking until the 1500’s). It most likely began as a vegetable, garlic, and herb soup that was thickened with breadcrumbs and ground almonds. Or possibly a chunky salad with bread in it to “stretch” the meal and utilize stale bread, not unlike the Italian panzanella or Middle Eastern fattoush I suppose. It’s truly an archaic recipe, a sort of edible archeological dig for food historians. Interestingly, the word soup is derived from the Middle English, sop, or sup, referring to a stale piece of bread onto which broth is poured to give a slight meal some substance. Today—because of the “gluten scare” and other reasons, I suppose—gazpacho is often made without bread. There are no hard and fast rules as to what gazpacho is or should be, but it’s often based on many of the same ingredients from its original versions: vegetables, garlic, vinegar, oil, and sometimes bread.

Tonight for dinner I made gazpacho which was more salad-like than it was a soup. It was delicious and took about 10 minutes to prepare. I ate it with large dollops of guacamole and Greek yogurt, and toasted slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of red wine. And as I sat eating I couldn’t think of abetter or more appropriate dinner to have on a sweltering July evening. Below is how I made this gazpacho salad (pictured above), and below that is a traditional recipe for gazpacho as a soup.


Gazpacho on a plate
Dice one or two large ripe tomatoes, a piece of cucumber, a small onion, a bell pepper, one or two jalapeno, a clove or two of garlic, parsley, and cilantro. Combine everything together in a bowl and add a quarter-cup of virgin olive oil and 2 or 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper and mix together. Allow the flavors to mingle for about 5 minutes while you pour a glass a wine or slice some bread or set the table. Eat the salad straight from a bowl or transfer to a plate with other ingredients.

Gazpacho
Makes about 4 cups
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 hot peppers
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to:  diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.

Urban Simplicity

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno


Let me just say this straight away...these crispy crunchy burgers are really easy to make and super-delicious. Simply mix everything together and pan-fry them. While I was lap-swimming this afternoon I was thinking of what I should make for dinner and these came to mind...they made me swim faster to get home and make them. I made them burger sized and ate them on a plate with a fork and knife and with other foods like an entree. But they could easily be eaten on a roll like a traditional burger, or made small for a salad garnish or an appetizer with a dipping sauce. And as usual, change up ingredients and flavoring to suit your taste.


Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno

Makes about 8-10 burgers

1 (15oz can) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 eggs
2 jalapeno, minced
½ small onion, diced small
½ red bell pepper, diced small
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarse chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
   canola oil for pan-frying



Place the beans in a bowl, and using a wire whip, mash the beans to a coarse consistency. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the oil, which is for frying). Mix thoroughly, then allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat about ¼ inch of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape the burgers as you place them in the pan, doing this in batches if necessary. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning as necessary. The burgers are done when crispy golden brown, and the centers are hot and cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper to drain.


Urban Simplicity.

This is Mike.


This is Mike.

I saw him across the street as I was locking up my bike at the coffee shop this morning. His sign caught my attention, and as I glanced over at him he looked back at me. So after locking my bike I walked over to him.

After introducing myself and shaking hands I asked him straight out, “So what’s your story? How is it that you find yourself out here asking for help.” And then I apologized for being so forward. No need to apologize, he said, and then he told me his story. And while he did—while we talked and I asked him questions—people rushed past us.

He’s from Buffalo, the Old First Ward, born and raised. But he wanted to travel and a few years ago he landed a job as a dock worker in Hawaii. He loved it, and the pay was good. But it’s because of this job that he finds himself standing on the corner. While working he fell through a dock. He broke his back, messed up his head (showed me the massive scare on his head), and was in a coma for six months.

I couldn’t help but notice the large lump under his sock. A police monitoring device, no doubt. So I asked hi straight out about it. And he had no problem talking about it. It monitors alcohol consumption, and it is rated at zero tolerance. It also costs him $220 a month. “It’s a weird thing,” he told me, “waking up from a coma. Sometimes I still don’t know whether I am awake or dreaming.” He then went on to tell me that between the physical pain, the effects of the coma, and depression, he developed a drinking problem and “got into some trouble.” We didn’t talk about that too much.  But, he added, that he hasn’t had a drink in 6 months and is getting himself together.

After offering him a couple dollars, he shook my hand and said, while looking me in the eye, “Thank you brother, and God bless you.” I asked if he minded if I took his photo, and before I took out my phone he struck a pose, which made me smile. He even asked if the lighting was ok, if he was positioned correctly with the sun.

But the same question(s) you the reader may have asked yourself in the past is/are floating in the air again...is this guy’s story for real? And is Joe just being a sucker again? I don’t know if he was telling the truth, I would like to think that at least some or most of it was true. But I’m not stupid, some of his story doesn’t add up. Such as if he was injured so terribly while on the job wouldn’t he be taken care of financially? And that bracelet on his ankle was very real. But, on the other hand, his limp was also real, so was the massive scar on his head, and so was the look on his face when he grimaced in pain at one point. Who am I to judge? We are all part of the same human race. But some of us have had better breaks and/or have made better decisions and choices than others. We all deserve respect.

We talked for about 5 minutes. When I p
arted we shook hands again. And as I was walking away Mike thanked me and said it was really nice talking to me, I bid him the same. And then he smiled and simply said, “Peace Joe.”


Friday, July 15, 2016

The Cat Under My House (a true story)


There was a cat under my house today.
Apparently it had been there for quite some time.
It scared the hell out of me when I first saw it.
But I need to back up and start at the beginning.

I had hired someone to do work on my house.
And I say "my house" as if I've always lived here.
As if I was the only one who has ever lived here.
The house was built in 1860; civil war times.
There have been a lot of souls in this house.
But this is my time.

The contractor removed the front porch.
When I came home from work it was simply gone.
Out with the old and in with the new.
Time to rebuild.

You could see clear under the house.
All the way back to the small fruit cellar.
Which was likely useful when first built.

When I got off my bicycle I squatted to look.
It was difficult to see with the summer sun.
So I squinted and surveyed.
Cool, musty, basement smell wafted out.
Then my eyes adjusted.
And there she was, right in front of me.
Sprawled out under my house in the coolness.
Laying there looking peaceful.

The reason I know that she had been there for a while,
is that she was dead.

Oddly, it wasn't grotesque.
She wasn't rotting or smelly.
She was sort of mummified.
And she looked at peace.

But I can't help but wonder.
What was your demise?
Was it the frigid winter,
and you sought refuge under the house.
Was it simply old age?
Or were you sick and stray and feral.
But you did look peaceful,
as if you simply went to sleep.

But one of the first things I thought was your location.
Directly under the threshold; the front door.
Were you some sort of omen.
A good one I hope.
Because one floor up, directly from where you lay,
Is where I lie every night.
You were directly under my bed.
But for how long?

Were you lying there as I lay above you?
Did you take your last breath as I slept 12 feet above?

I scooped her up with a shovel,
And buried her in a shallow grave in my unkept backyard.
I covered the grave with bricks,
And placed a tiger lily on it, which grew nearby.
And said a prayer.
Aloud and silently.
All her feral friends can visit now, I thought.

Then this morning,
when I opened the back door at the day's first light.
To let the dogs out.
There was a gray cat sitting at the grave.
He looked at me and I at he.
And then in one great leap hopped the fence.
The dogs barked and scampered.
And I smiled.
She's now a permanent resident, I thought.
And then I went back in,
and made coffee.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Those eyes...

This is not my photo nor a photo of the person mentioned in this post. This free image was found here.

"The eye is the lamp of the body.”
Matthew 6:22

So today I was working at my second job; it’s part-time and just a few hours a week. It's at a shelter for people—women and their children, mostly—that are in transition. I find it rewarding on many levels. And I only mention this because it is pertinent to this story. Anyhow, today I was working a full shift and was the only one in the kitchen. I really enjoy working alone in a kitchen.

Anyhow, after checking the resident's fridge in the morning I saw there were some leftover wings from last night's dinner. Knowing no one would eat them, and rather than throw them in the trash, I put them in a small pot along with a few vegetable scraps, and covered them with cold water. After bringing the pot to a boil, I skimmed the liquid's surface, and then lowered the heat to a simmer. Soon, the kitchen was filled with the intoxicating aroma of chicken stock. Even though I am primarily a vegetarian these days I still love the smell of stock cooking on the stove. It is, in many ways, the foundation to cooking. And as I cut and trimmed chicken quarters for roast chicken for dinner this evening I added the scraps to the pot as well.

After a few hours, when the stock was sufficiently cooked, I strained it, reserving the rich broth and discarding the skin, bones, and other scraps in the trash. Not wanting the garbage to leak any residual liquid I took it to the dumpster, which is just outside the kitchen door. The dumpster has two doors; one on each side of it. When I went out I immediately felt the hot summer afternoon sun. And holding the sloppy, steaming bag in one hand, I flung open the waist-high door with the other. And when I did there was a man leaning halfway in the hot smelly dumpster on this hot Sunday afternoon. He stood up and our eyes locked. I'm not sure who was more surprised. It was odd. Two men—two humans—staring at each other through opposite sides of a dumpster. His eye's, so soulful, pierced my soul. He was elderly and looked like he has been through a lot. Hi, was all my surprised brain could muster. I'm not sure what he was searching for, maybe cans or clothes, but I set the steamy bag of chicken off to the side so he could keep searching if he wanted.

As I walked the few feet back to the kitchen door I wondered who he was. How did his life’s journey result to him searching through dumpsters in the hot sun. I wondered his story, but knew I wouldn't ask him. And then I reached for my wallet. Looking in it I saw I had a $10, a $5, and a couple singles. I grabbed the two singles and turned back. He looked nervous when he saw me re-approach. Maybe he thought I was going to yell at him or take a swing at him; who knows what he's seen. I held out my hand and offered the two dollars, “Here you go, man,” was what I said. Hesitantly, he took the money and said thank you. That was the extent of our conversation.

Some of you are likely thinking one of two things as you read this. You may be thinking that I am gullible or even stupid for offering money to people when I work so very hard for it. Well I’m sure I have been scammed in the past, but mostly no. I generally do not give people money who are drunk, high, or just seem like lairs. And this guy didn’t ask for money, I offered it. The look in his eyes truly did move me...a quiet guy old enough to be someone’s grampa rummaging through garbage.

The other thing is that you may think I am being self-righteous often writing on this blog about how I sometimes offer the homeless cash. My response is...um, no I don’t think so. Firstly, these stories have to come out of me, they simply do. And this blog is a good platform for it. If you know anything about me you know that I have a soft spot for the homeless. And if you recall earlier in this post I said straight out how much money was in my wallet and how much I gave him. Me losing two dollars and him gaining it probably makes a bigger impact in his life than mine. And If I was truly the man of faith that I claim to be I would have given him everything I had. But I still can’t get past that surprised and sad look on his face when I first flung open the dumpster door...eyes that have seen a lot in this world.

About ten years ago I bought a small postcard from an artist/urban activist in Toronto. On the card is a night-time photo of a person sleeping in a sort of self-built cardboard igloo. It was dark, snowy, and blustery; snow was pushed right up the sides of make-shift sleeping quarters. And the caption reads, “A person cannot be lazy or stupid to survive life on the street.” And this is what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s eve.


Urban Simplicity.

Nutella-White Chocolate Cookies


Because sometimes I simply need to go to my happy place :)

Nutella-White Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup Nutella
¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups white chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 350F (325F if it is a convection oven).

In the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the Nutella, butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Start on low, and then turn  to medium. Beat the ingredients until light and fluffy (usually about 5 minutes). Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix on medium another couple minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl again, then add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn the mixer to low and mix for a minute or two, just until everything is combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix until combined. Scoop the cookies onto baking trays that are lined with parchment or have been lightly sprayed with pan release. Leave two inches between the rows of cookies to allow them to spread as the cook. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until set and lightly brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The cup is full...and it always has been.


“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
~ Søren Kierkegaard

I used to be such a pessimist. It's true. The glass was always half-empty. And the irony is that I've always had so much to be grateful for. But for so many years I couldn't see it. Oh sure, I'd catch glimpses of good things, in my life and around me, but only temporarily. Some days it was as if I viewed life through a monochrome lens. Everything was black-and-white (with a lot of grayness). Maybe that’s why my photos are so filled with color these days.

There was one point in my life that was particularly dark. While I never actually considered ending my life, it was during this point that the I thought that if I should perish...so what? The end of me would not make any difference to me or anyone. But I of course know this is not true.

But then something happened. I started to do some inner work...reading, praying, meditating, simplifying. Trying to figure out what it was like to be me and what my place is in this world. I'm still trying to figure that out. But somewhere over the past ten years or so I've come to realize that my happiness comes from within. And that I truly have everything I need (and more). My feet and back hurt from abusing my body in hot bustling kitchens for the past 30-plus years, and I still don't have any money (which has always been a source of stress and darkness for me), but I am wealthy in so many ways.

Over time I've come to realize that self-care is not only not-selfish but a necessity...in order for me to love and do good to others I first have to love and do good to myself (no one can give what they don’t have). I'm not perfect in this area (but who is). I still eat chocolate chip cookies even though my cholesterol is elevated, and I probably drink more beer and wine than I should. But the biggest (and most important) thing I did was to embrace myself with all my flaws. Rather than try to overcome my introvert-ness, I embrace it. I am in fact 98% INFJ, and when I discovered and accepted this it explained so much. My only regret is that I wished I acknowledged this at an earlier age; it may have influenced some decisions I've made. Nonetheless, the life I've led thus far, and the experiences that I’ve had internally and externally, have made me and continue to make me the person I am today. And I, just as we all do I suppose, continue to grow into myself.

Is it always easy? No, of course not. Is everything perfect? Hardly. But it is still good. Even when it is bad it is still good if I allow it to be. I am finding when I focus on the good then good will happen. Even if I don't see it right away.

So why do I share this? I don't know. I really don't. Sometimes I just feel compelled to. It's cathartic
in a way , sort of like a baptism I suppose, to post this stuff (and aren't most blogs self-indulgent). But really, I think I share this stuff because I do believe that there is light in the darkness. No matter how dark it may be. The cup is not only full, it overflows.

And this is what I was thinking while I sat typing into my phone while I sipped a glass of wine in an air conditioned cafe on a particular balmy evening.


"My cup overflows."
~Psalm 23:5b 


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Five or eleven quotes from Elie Wiesel.


Eliezer Wiesel
September 30, 1928 - July 2, 2016

“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

“One person of integrity can make a difference.”

“Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.”

“I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.”

“Think higher, feel deeper.”

“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.”

“Indifference is the sign of sickness, a sickness of the soul more contagious than any other.”

“Love makes everything complicated.”

“No human being is illegal.”

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Kitchen.


So I just came across the below story which I first wrote in '89 or '90. It's sort of memory lane for me. And I find it interesting in that pushing thirty years on, while I write differently now to a degree, my voice is still present in this early work. Even the recipe shows where I was at the time (literally and figuratively)...I had just returned from being in Europe for my first time and then spending time in New Orleans, where I worked as cook at Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel. What's special about it (to me) is that it is the first story I ever wrote with the intention of publication. I was taking a writing class at the time. It was later published in Artvoice. I ended up writing for Artvoice for more than 15 years. That jump-started a side job as a food writer at the time where I was published in weeklies across the country. Anyhow, the story was written while I was sitting in the kitchen office of the Park Lane Restaurant, where I was chef for a very brief period. The photos are more recent and taken during my fourteen year tenure as chef at the 20th Century Club.


The Kitchen

Sitting in my office before dawn I look out through faded glass to see the half lit restaurant kitchen and wonder how many chefs and cooks have sat here in this old and battered chair. Pieces of their past remain--old notes, books, tools and hand written menus dated New Years Eve 1974.

The kitchen staff has not yet arrived, except for one early dishwasher, who diligently empties last nights trash. The heat has not yet begun.

Looking out the office window, at the far end of the kitchen, I can see the stairway and the loading dock. The stairs lead down to the basement, under the entire building, or up to the secret passage behind the banquet rooms. Chaos often happens in this passageway, without the guests' knowledge, just inches from a formal party.

Directly opposite the office and to the left, next to the stairway, is the old ice machine. As usual it is making its all too familiar rattle and constant dripping sound. It is this sound that always gave me the urge to turn off water faucets when I was first employed here. Past the ice machine and to the left is where the main kitchen begins, this is where most of the food preparation is done. 

It's kind of odd, but when I look out the office in this early morning light, the kitchen looks tranquil--almost as if it were at peace with itself. When the restaurant is open and banquets are in progress, it looks as though the whole building were wrestling with itself and the kitchen were its core; like a heart, pumping life into the building.

Walking through the kitchen I see the massive steam kettle, sitting lifeless and cold. As I light the ovens, and the row of cast steel flattops that sit upon them, I hear the usual whoomph sound. This sound, a ball of igniting gas, can be a little unnerving at times. Now that they are all lit you can here the crackling sound they make from the steel heating and expanding. It's kind of like the sound your car engine makes after it's been shut off and begins to cool.

I walk to the dish machine area at the far end of the kitchen and greet Francisco. Even through the loud chattering hum of the dish machine, and the steam that seemingly pours from everywhere, his cheery "buenos dias amigo" is reassuring.

As I go out into the still dark dining room, to get a cup of coffee, the air conditioning hits me and feels cool and fresh. I look around and try to picture the room festive and full of people.

Back in the kitchen I turn on the rest of the lights which gives it a fake fluorescent glow. The walls that at one time were white are now yellowed and the stoves are black from years of constant heat. No longer are the flattops crackling, but are now hot and radiating--the heat can actually be smelled.

Walking back to the office I stop and turn to look at the kitchen in my full view. It is now lit and all of the equipment is  running. I notice the beads of perspiration, that never fully disappear this time of year, on the red-brown tiles of the floor. The other end of the kitchen is a surreal scene of steam rising from the entire dish machine area and Francisco moving amidst it all. The heat has now begun.

I unlock and open the door to the loading dock to allow some cool morning air in. The air rushes in but, being in the hallway, doesn't quite make it through the kitchen. It is broad daylight now, almost 7:00 am.; the rest of the staff should be arriving soon.

I settle back into the old creaking chair in my office to have my morning coffee. As I begin to write the days menu, and the first gulp of coffee goes down, a phrase a Frenchman said to say to me a few years back comes to mind, "le cuisine est votre maison" ("the kitchen is your home").

Crawfish Beignets

Yield: approximately 25 beignets

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup cold water
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz. cooked and diced crawfish tails
(shrimp or lobster may be substituted)

In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder and water; stir until it forms a smooth paste. Stir in the garlic, bell pepper, green onion, Tabasco, salt and crawfish tails. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

Heat approximately 1 inch of vegetable oil, in a deep cast iron pan, to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Drop the beignet batter, a spoonful at a time, into the preheated oil. Fry approximately 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through.

Drain on absorbent paper and serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Connected. A Story About a Story.


So I went to the waterfront to have a couple beers and take a few photos last night. It was a beautiful night. The day was hot and it had begun to cool off a little. The breeze off the lake was lovely. And it's simply a coincidence that I am writing this post after the previous, but this is something I felt compelled to share. Though I'm jumping ahead, as I sometimes do. Let me begin again. I'll start with the part of the story that is unrelated, or is it?

For the past six months or so, much to my dismay, I've been put on an early morning shift at work. This means my alarm goes off at 4:30am each morning. For me this is early, too early. I am constantly tired and usually run on about five hours sleep; I have not adjusted my sleep time yet. Often—as was the case yesterday—when I get home in the late afternoon or early evening I'll take a nap. This is what I did yesterday. After showering and turning on the fan for both white noise and cooling, I laid on my bed. It was as if someone flipped a switch. I'm pretty sure I was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. I slept deep for about an hour; usually I only nap for about 20 rejuvenating minutes.

So what does any of this have to do with anything, you may be asking yourself? A dream I had when I slept is the reason I mention this. The dream is vague to me now but at the time it was one of those dreams that was more real than real. In it I was sitting a large table. And at the table were other people who I do not know now but in the dream they were familiar to me. We were having a conversation and were discussing angels. Someone across from me was telling me—not lecturing, but nonetheless was rather serious—that there are angels and they are in contact with us all the time. The other people looked at him and I as he talked. And I distinctively remember him saying, “You know that we are all connected, to everyone and everything.” We all nodded in agreement.

I awoke with a start. Disorientated and sweating. It was odd for me to wake from such a deep sleep and it be a hot and sunny day out. I felt slightly hungover, though I'd had nothing to drink prior. I sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes gathering my wits. Processing. Then I sort of disregarded the dream and got up. After dinner I rode to the waterfront just before sun set to capture a few photos.

I often try to arrive just before sunset as it is my favorite time of the day to photograph. And on this evening it was extra special. Buffalo's Main Lighthouse was being lit for the first time in 102 years. Built in 1833 it is our city's oldest standing structure. The lamp was originally fueled by whale fat, but then the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1914 and has sat dark until tonight.

Anyhow, I arrived before sunset. Had a beer and was reading a book by Marcus Borg where he was describing his mystical experiences. I snapped a few pictures; it was still light enough to hand-hold the camera. Then I went and ordered a second beer, before the light changed, and was setting up my tripod. When natural light dips to a certain dimmness a tripod is required for a long enough exposure to manipulate the light. While I was setting up the tripod I did as I often do and set one leg of the tripod between the spindles of the rail so I can get closer to the edge. It was rather crowded because it was such a nice night and there were people on both sides of me at the rail. The light was changing from day to dusk now. And as I started to set the camera on my tripod something caught my eye. The women to my left had dropped something and it bounced and was now on the other side of the rail and beyond her reach; it lay near the ledge of a 10-foot drop into the lake.

I looked at it and couldn't see what it was and then I looked over at her. She was distraught; tears streamed down her face. What is it, I asked her. It's my angel, my sister gave it to me and I've had it since 1974. How will I ever get it, she asked. She wasn't looking at me because she hadn't taken her eyes off her angel.

The rail is probably about 3 feet tall. I could easily stand on a chair and hop the rail to retrieve this, I thought. Then I quickly surveyed the situation. I had already had two pints of beer and was beginning my third, I'm not as young as I once was and hopping back over the rail would be difficult. And as I scanned the edge, which is a sheer drop into the lake, I saw there were no ladders in the wall to climb out should I fall. I actually thought this. In my younger years I wouldn't have hesitated. At any rate, within maybe 4 seconds I realized hopping the rail was not a good choice. So I removed the camera from the tripod, and holding the tripod over the rail, was able to sort of scratch and drag her cherished object back a few inches at a time. It took a couple minutes but the operation was successful. When it was within reach she grabbed it, held it to her heart, kissed it, and then literally jumped with joy. She then showed it to me and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek exclaiming how much this meant to her.

I went back to setting up my camera. And while I was doing so the woman's husband approached. He, too, thanked me. It was no big deal, I said, but I'm glad I was able to help. He then asked if he could tell me a story. I said yes. He told me how they had met in San Bernardino when they were both just teens. He was in love with her the moment he laid eyes on her, and he still is after all these years. He apologized as he wiped away tears. But then tears welled in my own eyes as he continued. His wife and her sister had exchanged these little angel medallions in the early 70's, and they promised to always keep them with each other. To remind them of each other. Her sister is now deceased and she often holds the angel while she prays. They grew up near the ocean in Mexico and her sister loved the water. So that's what she was doing..holding the angel while praying to her sister. So this, he said, is why this little angel is so important to her. To her it is her sister. And then he parted.

Wow. I was floored. I still am as I type these words. I had my beer perched on the railing while I took photos. I do this often and have never spilled one. But just after this man and woman parted another younger woman approached with a young man. She leans against the railing and knocked my full beer over onto the pavement. She looks at it, then at me, and simply says, that sucks. And she walked away. Under normal circumstances I would have been upset, but I was still on a sort of high from my conversation with the previous man and women (never did get their names). High on humanity. All I could do is laugh.

So, was my dream some sort of prophetic vision? I don't know. I really don't. But I'm not discounting it. Do I believe in angels? Umm...sort of. Yes, I suppose I do. But not necessarily invisible mystical beings (though I don't rule them out either), but more so angels in the flesh. On this evening I was able to do this very small act of kindness for this person and in turn got to listen to this man's truly moving story. Two grown men were both moved to tears amidst a crowd of people on a hot Saturday night on the shore of one of the great lakes. With all this said there is one thing that I am sure of. And it was reminded to me earlier in the day while I slept in the hot afternoon heat. I was reminded that we are all connected in some indescribable way. Sometimes I forget this, and then sometimes I am reminded. And this is a series of events that happened yesterday afternoon and evening. The below photo is one in a series I shot last evening. Click it for a slightly larger view.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Angels are real!


You may have seen or heard about these angels, but before I discuss them I have to mention a brief conversation I had with someone a few years ago. I was talking to someone I worked with at the time who openly spoke of communicating with her guardian angels. Yes, plural. I mentioned to her that I thought that I may have guardian angel because of certain circumstances I had been through in my life. Without missing so much as a breath she replied, "What, do you think you're special? Of course you do. We all do."

This said, these images are of real angels in my opinion...people donning wings to shield families and mourners of the dead in Orlando so they can grieve in peace. But who are they being shielded from, you may ask? That evil organization that calls themselves a church but goes around the country tormenting people at funerals. Their name shan't be glorified by mentioning it here.

The Angels Action Project began in Laramie Wyoming back in 1999 to protect family and friends at the funeral of Matthew Shephard. Since then they've provided support at multiple services. They even offer a free PDF file on how to build angel wings. At the Orlando services the angels are a result of a collaborative effort from the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and others in the theatrical community.

Sometimes I really do believe that I have a guardian angel. But when I see this I know that the people that perished, and their friends and families do. Angels in the flesh. Humans being kind to other humans. This, to me is beautiful. And I can say without exaggeration it brings tears to my eyes. In all circumstances we have a choice to how we want to feel and think. And there is always the choice between love and hate. I choose love.

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
~Mahatma Gandhi


Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The lake at sunset...five photos, a poem, two quotes, and a few words.


“Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.”
~ Ansel Adams


I went to the lake last night, as I often do. I feel blessed in that this is a mere 10 minute bike ride from my front door. This is the place where--bordered by the US on one side and Canada on the other--Lake Erie and the Buffalo River converge and then empty into the Niagara River only to tumble over the Falls 20 miles down route. The sunset was--as you can see by these photos--breathtaking. It's interesting, I think, in that as I was sitting having a beer at an outdoor cafe, and while this sunset was happening and was so incredibly tranquil, there was commotion happening all around me.

But as the sun began to touch the horizon and the sky virtually exploded with color, people simply stopped to look at it in awe. One had to. And I did too. I never tire of it, and every time I go there the sunset is different. As the sun set and the light changed so did the sky. Seemingly every few minutes was a completely different view from the same location.

The last photo on the bottom is of the lighthouse that stands opposite where I sat. It was built in 1833 and is said to be the oldest standing architecture of our city (which was burned to the ground during the war of 1812). The above quote is one I've used before and is my favorite regarding photography. And the quote below really represents how I felt when I looked at these photos this morning. The poem below is one I was inspired to write last spring while visiting the same location. Click any photo for a larger view.


“Every sunset is different, because every day sun is different, clouds are different, space is different, reflections are different, mountains are different, fogs are different, and above all, we are different!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan


The Lake at Sunset
I stood on the shore of the lake at sunset.
And beheld its beauty.
The sun set and the moon rose.
A cycle that the lake has known from the very beginning.
It was cold while the wind swept over me.
I had come to find solace; a reprieve from my daily life.
And I did.
I was on the farthest end of the lake in Buffalo.
Was this the same wind that also blew through Toledo, Cleveland, and Erie?
Seagulls seemingly hung in the air as they glided into it.
I tried to imagine this place before European explorers.
Proud Iroquoians plying the water in canoes.
Living near the lake's shore.
And what must the first Europeans have thought?
Surely they were in awe.
Just as I am still.
As the original natives were.
Reverence.
But did they feel this wind.
This same wind.
As it washed over me like a baptism.
Washing away my worries.


Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Falafel with Jalapeno!


So I've posted recipes for falafel on many occasions, and this is another variation. I used the traditional recipe and added extra cilantro and parsley and also a couple jalapeno peppers. The outcome--if I do say so myself--is delicious. I ate it over a salad with a cooling yogurt dressing. Anyhow, if you have a food processor making these tasty, crunchy, and healthy little nuggets are about as simple as it gets.  I have a small and really inefficient food processor which was given to me ore than 20 years ago and I am still able to make these simply  in my teeny home kitchen. Like most the recipes I post, this one is not carved in stone; it's more of a guide rather than a blueprint. Other than the chickpeas you really can add or delete whatever ingredients suit you. A printable recipe is listed below, but the method goes like this:

1. Soak chickpeas overnight.
2 Mix them with other ingredients.
3. Grind them in a food processor.
4. Pan-fry them.

Yup, it's that simple. And I bet you can't eat just one (or 4 or 5).


Falafel with Jalapeno

Makes about 2 dozen small patties

1 cup dried chickpeas
3 cups water
½ small onion, diced
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 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 and discard the water. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil, which is for cooking) and mix. Transfer to a food processor (in batches if necessary) and process until a mealy consistency. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes.

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 or tzatziki sauce.


And one final note. People often ask me if these cannot be baked rather than fried. And I always answer yes they can, but they would not be the same. They wouldn't be as crunchy crispy. There is, in fact, a chain of restaurants in NYC that specializes in falafel that is baked. They are tasty but not crispy. To prove a point I did a little experiment when I cooked [a half-batch] of these, and I've done this in the past. I measured the oil before and after frying and the amount missing (presumably absorbed into the food) was so negligible it is nearly un-measurable. I of course am not suggesting one to eat fried food everyday, but now and again I think is ok. If the oil is at temperature and clean not that much absorbs into the food. Anyhow, I am not in the medical field so I really do not speak on authority, these are just my observations and this is all that I will say on the subject.

Five or fourteen quotes about bread...


So first a couple things. One is that I was likely prompted to post these quotes because (a) I love bread--eating it and making it--and (b) I just came across the photo below which was taken in '08 or thereabouts. That was my first official cargo bike, when I graduated from carrying all sorts of things rather precariously on a "regular bike." I still had a car at the time but didn't use it very often and was testing the waters to see what it would be like to live without one (it's great, by the way). And also, why this photo is relevant to this post, is that it was just a year or so prior that I started this blog. And in the early stages of my blogging I was uncertain as what to name it. One of the names in the ring at the time was "The Biking Baker," because I baked a lot of bread and was gravitating towards going car-free. Ultimately I found the title too limiting, and later settled on the current name of Urban Simplicity. Because of a job change last year I don't have the opportunity to bake bread as often as I once did or as often as I'd like. But as I sit here in a coffee shop typing these words on a beautiful spring morning there is a wonderful and fragrant loaf fermenting and rising on my kitchen counter. That's likely the real reason I was prompted to post these quotes. With this said, if you'd like recipes for all sorts of bread (but mostly made with 100% whole wheat flour), click here. For more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

“No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.”
~MFK Fisher

“Bread is an object of unparalleled worship and decorum. It embodies the full cycle of life and seasons, from the death of the wheat kernel in the earth to the resurrection as a stalk, from its ordeal in the mill to its journey through the oven and its offering at the table. Bread is a part of all major events in many lives, from birth, to betrothal and marriage, to death and resurrection.”
~Bernard Dupaigne

"God made yeast, as well as dough, and he loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread."
~Bishop Desmond Tutu

"Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new."
~Ursula K. LeGuin

"A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety."
~Aesop

"There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."
~Mahatma Gandhi

"We have learned to see in bread an instrument of community between men—the flavour of bread shared has no equal."
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk."
~M.F.K. Fisher

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens."
~Robert Browning

"Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures. It's not coincidence that we say bread is the staff of life."
~Lionel Poilâne

"Bread and water—these are the things nature requires. For such things no man is too poor, and whosoever can limit his desire to them alone can rival Jupiter for happiness."
~Seneca

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."
~James Beard

"Without bread all is misery."
~William Cobbett

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Three People; Three Stories; Three Lives.


If you've been to this blog on more than one occasion then you probably know a few things about me, and one of them is that I have a soft spot in my heart for the homeless. I don't always give people money (indeed I don't always have it to give) and I don't always stop to talk to them. But sometimes I do give them money and sometimes I do stop to talk.  And in the same way it bothers me when I hear a racist or homophobic remark--painting an entire group of people with a wide and fearful brush--it also disturbs me when I hear a disparaging remark against the homeless. I certainly cannot judge another person because of the predicament they find themselves in. And in fact if I were to suddenly lose a way to make an income it would only be a month or so before I was unable to pay my most basic bills. Anyhow, as I write this I am on a very brief vacation in NYC and here are stories about three people whose lives intersected with mine in the past day.

Last evening, after arriving and checking into my room, I walked to my favorite Thai restaurant on the corner of 15th and 1st. It was hot and the floor-to-ceiling windows were open, so essentially it was as if my table were on the edge of the sidewalk. And as I sat there enjoying a beer and a plate  of spicy noodles I watched a guy across the street. He was interacting with passersby and had two plastic drinking straws still in their wrappers sticking out of his ears. It made me chuckle, but knew it was only a matter of time before he would make it across the street. And when he did he approached and asked for a dollar so he could get a cup of coffee. He had the look of someone who spends time on the street, and he still had the straws sticking out of his ears. My first response was that I didn't have a dollar. And as the waitress brought my second beer he looked at me and said, aww com' on man. I'm getting better at asking people if I can take their photos, so I told him I will give him a dollar but I'd like to take his photo. And as I pulled the camera out he turned and began to walk away. Forget it man, I don't want my picture taken, he muttered. Why would I want to do that anyway, he asked. I like to take pictures, I told him, and the straws in his ears made me laugh (he still had them there).  Alright here's a dollar, I won't take your photo. Thanks for making me laugh, I added. He turned around and I handed him two dollars. He looks at it, and says, I only asked for a dollar, here's some change, and he puts two quarters on the table. I told him to keep it but he wouldn't. He walked back across the street to where I initially saw him, and when he did he handed one of the dollars to another guy who was sitting there in a wheelchair.

Then this morning I was on the subway when a guy comes on the train carrying what was probably everything he owned. The train wasn't crowded but it was full. He stood near the door and asked people if they could spare some money, that he had none and really needed some. His voice was soft and he never looked anyone in the eye. From a distance I could tell from his pungent odor that he hadn't showered in a while. No one looked at him and no one gave him money. He sank down to a seat and put his head in his hands. I might have given him some change had he made his way through the car down to where I was seated but he didn't. He just hung his head and looked ashamed. As is often the case on a NYC subway, when the doors open it is a mad and discombobulated dash of people coming and going every which way. And as fate would have it my path crossed this man's path and as I saw him coming I reached in my pocket and found some change. He wasn't looking at me so I said, here you go man, and held out my hand with the change in it. Looking surprised, he held out his hand and accepted it. And when he did there were tears in his eyes. Thank you was all he said.

And then, lastly, this is a story from this afternoon. I had gone to the 911 memorial site and then stopped at a Starbucks for a reprieve from the afternoon heat. And after sitting I came out of the door and Nicole was standing next to the door. I know her name because I stopped to talk to her and ask her name. When I saw her and her sign I couldn't not stop. Hi I said. Hi she said back. I don't mean to be so forward, but do you mind me asking how you find yourself standing out here on this hot day. I don't mind, she said. And then she told me her story, while she cried. Her mom passed away last year and her dad was abusive so she left. She stayed in a shelter for a while, but it was there that she was raped and that is why she is pregnant. She does get some help but it's not enough, that's why she's asking for some. She wouldn't say where she was staying other that someone form a church was helping her. She was now afraid of shelters for obvious reasons. She was trying to get a job, but it's difficult to do that when you're homeless and impossible when you are pregnant also. I asked her if I could take her photo, and would it be ok if I told her story on my blog. She agreed on both accounts. And after wiping her tears for the photo she thanked me for telling her story.

So are these stories true? Yes, the ones I just told are. Are the stories I've heard from street people true (the ones I've just told and others at home, too)? Probably, but maybe not always. I can be gullible sometimes. Sometimes--when I'm in Buffalo--if people ask me for money to get something to eat I'll offer to buy them food. Sometimes they refuse, which is a sign I am being scammed. So I don't always know if these stories are true or not. But I do know this. When I spoke to Nicole today in the hot sun while she had a baby in her belly. She looked me in the eyes when we spoke. And when she did there were tears streaming from hers, which in turn made them well in mine. And that to me is truth enough. I gave her my card with this blog's address on it so she could see where I would post this story. She told me she had Internet access at the library. So Nicole, if you are reading this I do hope you and your unborn child find the help you need. I pray you are healthy and safe. And thank you for helping me remember what is real and true. Peace.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A poem by Jane Kenyon and a few photos...


The above photo was taken from my front porch last evening as the sun set. The photos below were taken as I rode my bike to and from work this morning on a quiet Sunday morning and evening. When I came across this poem I thought it fit these photos nicely. So here it is.

Let Evening Come

By Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving  
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing  
as a woman takes up her needles  
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned  
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.  
Let the wind die down. Let the shed  
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop  
in the oats, to air in the lung  
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t  
be afraid. God does not leave us  
comfortless, so let evening come.




Urban Simplicity.