Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Things that can be carried on a bike (#637)...

A large cardboard box containing 4 loaves of freshly baked bread, 2 chicken and cheddar burgers, a camera tripod, a camera bag with a camera and extra lens, and an empty dough rising bucket.

Urban Simplicity.

Chicken and Cheddar Burgers with Green Onions and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

So as you can imagine these are seriously good. I made them for staff lunch at work today. Simply mix all the ingredients together and cook them. Rather than having it on a sandwich, I diced mine and tossed it into a salad. Anyhow...really, really delicious (did I mention how good these are). 

Chicken and Cheddar Burgers with Green Onions and Sun-Dried Tomatoes 

Makes about 10 burgers 

2 pounds ground chicken
2 cups shredded cheddar
2 large eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, sliced thin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Combine all of the ingredients together and mix thoroughly. Let stand 5 minutes, then mix again. Divide and shape the burgers, then saute, grill, or bake them until cooked throughout.

Urban Simplicity.

Four Ingredients / Four Loaves

It only takes four basic ingredients to make a really good loaf of bread...flour, water, yeast and salt. Everything else is extra. With that said, when I make bread using 100% whole wheat flour (which is pretty much all I do these days) I like to add a couple or few additional ingredients. The first is a couple tablespoons vital wheat gluten as whole wheat flour has a lower gluten content than process white flour. The gluten helps the bread stay risen. I also like to add a splash of olive oil for richness and suppleness, and a bit of honey for flavor and color to the crust. So today when I made this I used seven ingredients and doubled the recipe, hence the four loaves. Anyhow, bread is easier than you may think to make, and it's so delicious. Don't be daunted or intimidated, just do it. You won't be sorry. For more recipes like this click here.

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.

Souvlaki-Style Tofu (version 2.0)

Okay. So this tofu recipe is so delicious even a dedicated "tofu hater" will like this. Seriously. This is a slight variation of this original version where the tofu was baked. What's different with this version (and is not represented in the printed recipe below), is that I added a couple teaspoons of smoked paprika to the marinade, diced the tofu (instead of slicing it, and after marinating it I rolled each piece in cornmeal. Then instead of baking it I pan-fried them in olive oil to crunchy deliciousness (yum!). And yes, before you ask, this recipe can also be baked but it will not be as crispy (I tried it both ways). Anyhow, try this recipe and I dare you to try to just eat one.

Souvlaki-Style Tofu 

Makes about 6 servings 

1 pound extra-firm tofu
souvlaki marinade (recipe below)

Remove the tofu from its package and drain it. Set the tofu on a plate with 2 or 3 plates on top of it, gently squeezing out some of it's moisture. Leave the tofu to drain for 10-15 minutes. Slice the tofu about ½ inch thick. Lay the tofu in a pan and pour enough of the marinade over the tofu to cover it, turning it to coat all sides. Marinate the tofu for at least 30minutes. Preheat an oven to 350F. Transfer the tofu to a baking sheet that is fitted with a wire rack, leaving some of the marinade on the tofu. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the tofu begins to brown at its edges. For firmer tofu, turn it over and bake another 10 minutes. This is delicious straight from the oven, at room temperature, or chilled as a snack, on a sandwich, or salad.
Roast Garlic Souvlaki Marinade 

Makes about 2 cups

12 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ small onion, diced
1 small bunch parsley, washed and course chopped

Combine the garlic and olive oil in a small skillet and place it over a low flame. Heat the oil until the garlic begins to simmer. Cook the garlic very slowly until it is golden brown, then remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool in the oil to room temperature. Once the garlic and oil are cooled, combine them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On the waterfront (bis) and words

So a couple things first. These photos were taken over a two day period. The night shots were taken on one evening, and the daytime shots were taken on another (today). And they are in no particular order. As usual, on a day off when the weather is nice (or even if it is not nice) I was drawn to Buffalo's waterfront, specifically the Canalside area the last few days. The reason I highlight this is that this area has gone through such a resurgence it is almost unbelievable. Just a few years ago this was like an industrial and desolate wasteland, and now it is (and quite literally was today) a carnival. A little more than ten years ago I remember riding my bike down to this area and being somewhat concerned for my safety in broad daylight. I said a few sentences ago that the photos were in no particular order but that is only partly true. I purposely chose the above photo to be first as a juxtaposition...a tilt-a-whirl in the spot that was once a destitute area. And just below is pictured the new bicycle and pedestrian water taxi, which takes one to the Outer Harbor and Times Nature Preserve. For one dollar and a 10 minute ride your distance is shortened by 6 or 8 miles. This is where the picture of the deer is from...beautiful and totally wild deer 5 minutes from downtown. There's also a photo of our lighthouse (from both sides of the river) which was built in 1833, the SS Littlerock, and or course the newest public art in that area; Plensa's Silent Poets. Anyhow, I feel truly blessed to have this beautiful public space a mere 10 or 15 minute bike ride from my front door. 

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Five or Eight Quotes from Harvey Milk...

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

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

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

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

“Hope is never silent.”

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

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

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

Urban Simplicity. 

More in the Five Quote Series.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Seven fading flowers and a quote...

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

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

~Hermann Hesse 
The Glass Bead Game

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A simple but powerful prayer...

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

Urban Simplicity.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

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

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

Urban Simplicity.

The sun also sets...

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

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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

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

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mului...and a few other people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Pictures and words...


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

Urban Simplicity.

Weapons of Mass Instruction...

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

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

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

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

Urban Simplicity.

The Most Delicious Salmon Salad You'll Ever Make

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

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

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