Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You are here...two photos, a few words, and ten quotes for Earth Day

Okay, so a couple things before the quotes. The above photo is from the Rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars looking at planet Earth. Does it make you feel small? It does me. The photo at the bottom of the page I took last night from my front porch. It's of the moon, of course, and is zoomed in a cropped. When I took the photo both Venus and Mars were visible to the human eye. Amazing. I thought about the above photo while taking the below one. It helps me in a stupid problems--which seem so paramount at times--and the never-ending thoughts that race around my head, are really so miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Not to sound morose, but it makes me remember that we are but a blip on the radar screen of time and life as we know it. These photos--and when I look in the sky--put things in perspective for me, it helps me appreciate the hear-and-now. But enough about what I think and feel, here's the quotes...

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The only thing that scares me more than space aliens is the idea that there aren't any space aliens. We can't be the best that creation has to offer. I pray we're not all there is. If so, we're in big trouble.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
― Henry David Thoreau 

“I would request that my body in death be buried not cremated, so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined upon flora and fauna during my lifetime”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
― Gary Snyder

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
― Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
― David Brower

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister?
― Jim Morrison

“Waste is Criminal.”
― Kristin Cashore

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mediterranean-Style "Golden" Rice-and-Beans

Okay, so first a couple things. The recipe for this exact dish pictured is at the bottom of this post, but what I really wanted to show here is the method in which to make this; the flavorings and seasonings are interchangeable. Rice-and-beans, of course, are a staple in many cultures around the world. What makes this version truly bursting with flavor is it's use of sofrito, a sort of seasoning blend made with caramelized onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, and spices. And versions of sofrito can be found in many areas of the world as well, but what makes this Mediterranean are the spices that I used...turmeric, Lebanese seven-spice mix (click here for the recipe), smoked paprika, and saffron. The combination of all of these things gives this dish not only an intoxicating aroma, but also it's beautiful golden hue. Rice-and-beans on their own are a complete protein, this is how so many people around the world survive of various combinations of this, and this is why this is also a valuable combination for vegans and vegetarians. While the recipe below is not vegetarian (I used chicken broth) it can be if you use vegetable broth. Inversely, one can easily add chicken, seafood, pork, or even lamb to this dish. I also used brown rice rather than white so it contains more vitamins, but this is also why the longer cooking time. Anyhow, here's how to make it...

Begin by making the sofrito, Heat olive oil in a pot and add diced onion and pepper. Cook them somewhat slowly until they are very cooked and begin to brown slightly. Then add minced garlic and cook that for a few minutes.

Then add whatever herbs or spices you may be using.

Then add tomato. This time of year I use tomato paste because it is already concentrated, but in the summer when my garden is full I often us fresh ripe tomato but have to cook it a bit longer to concentrate the flavors.

Continue to cook the vegetables and spices over moderately low heat until everything is soft and cooked and concentrated. Below is the complete sofrito.

Add the rice and stir it to coat it with the oil and sofrito.

Then add simmering broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the rice for 30-50 minutes (depending on the brand). Do not stir the rice. If using white rice, cook it for 18-20 minutes. 

Check the rice, and about 5 or 10 minutes before it is finished add cooked beans or lentils without stirring. After the rice has cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest (without stirring) for about 5 minutes.

Just before serving, fluff the rice and gently fold in the beans.

Golden Brown Rice-and-Beans 
 Makes 4-6 portions

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch saffron threads
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup brown rice
2-3 cups chicken broth (hot)
1 (15 oz) can white beans, rinsed

Heat the olive oil in a heat pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook slowly for about 10 minutes while stirring. When the onion and pepper is very soft and just begins to brown, add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Lower the heat, then stir in the seven-spice mix, turmeric, paprika, salt, and saffron. Cook the spices for just a few seconds then stir in the tomato paste. Cook the vegetables, spices, and tomato paste over low heat for about 5 minutes while stirring. Then add the rice, stirring it into the seasonings, then add 2 ½ cups broth, stirring it in as well. Raise the heat until the liquid boils, then lower it again to a slow simmer. Cover the pot and cook the rice for 30-50 minutes (depending on the brand), or until it is almost done. If the rice needs more liquid, add the remaining broth. Without stirring, add the beans on top of the rice, re-cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and allow it to rest for 5 or 10 minutes. Just before serving, fluff the rice and gently fold in the beans.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Silo City...Inside and Out

Yesterday evening I rode down to Silo City in Buffalo's Old First Ward to take part in Boom Days. It was such a lovely evening I went to watch some of the bands, particularly the Alison Pipitone Band (pictured below), and to take some photos. Well shortly after I arrived the beer truck ran out of beer (egad!). Luckily I knew one of the bartenders and she was knid enough to find one beer for me. Anyhow, after watching the band for a while I walked around and took some photos of the grain elevators. I was surprised that they were open, so I went inside as well. And as I was in there I couldn't help but think of the generations of men and boys that worked their lives away in these elevators, and indeed, in some cases even lost their lives there. I took dozens of photos but not all came out as it was evening and progressing into night. I did have my tripod but only set it up twice. So most of these photos were shot hand-held. Click any for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Buffalo-Style Tofu Nuggets!

Okay, so I have posted this recipe before, but not in quite a while. Anyhow, I made this for lunch at work the other day and was reminded how good this is and was prompted to post it again. This is so easy to make, and yes (before you ask) the nuggets can be baked rather than fried (I've tried it both ways), the nuggets will be equally delicious just not as crispy. They can be eaten as a snack hot, cold, or at room temperature, or on a salad or in a sandwich. But you'd better make a double batch because they won't last long...

Buffalo-Style Tofu Nuggets
1 (14 oz.) extra firm tofu
1 cup Franks hot sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons granulated onion
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
oil for pan-frying

Drain the tofu and remove it from its package. Place the tofu between two plates and allow it to gently press out some of its moisture for about twenty minutes. Then dice the tofu and place it in a shallow pan. In a separate bowl, mix together the hot sauce, cornstarch, onion, and garlic, making sure that the cornstarch is fully dissolved. Pour this mixture over the tofu and gently lift and move it to insure that is fully coated. Allow it to marinate for about 20 minutes. Then remove the tofu from it's marinade to a clean plate. Heat about 1/2” vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. And when the oil is hot carefully add the marinated tofu. Fry for about 5 minutes, turning as necessary, or until golden and crispy. Transfer the crispy tofu with a slotted spoon to absorbent paper.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A few things I saw while riding my bike today...

Urban Simplicity.

Lebanese-Style Pickled Turnips...

A few turnips, a beet, some water, and a little salt. That's it. That's all you need for this really healthy and bursting-with-flavor recipe. The classic recipe (below) also includes a hot pepper and possible some onion, but I didn't want that in this one...I wanted the brightness of the vegetable itself. 

It's interesting in that as I was slicing the beets and turnip I was listening to The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper and one of her guests today was Maureen Abood, the Lebanese-American author discussing her new book of Lebanese food (it's also on my personal book list). Serendipity, I suppose.

Anyhow, the image above is of the vegetables just added to the saltwater brine; they are not fermented yet. They were just added to the crock, and with warmer temps they should only take about a week to ferment. The single beet will color everything a lovely magenta; I'll post a pic of the finished recipe. 

Anyhow, if you would like more Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here; for more recipes that are fermented, click here; and if you would like to read an article on fermentation, click here.

Lebanese-Style Pickled Turnips

8 turnips, peeled and sliced
1 beet, peeled and sliced
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 jalapenos, peeled and sliced
4 cups water
2 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine the turnips, beets, onions, and jalapeno in a container that is wide enough to fit a few small plates. Press down on the vegetables with your hands to release some of their juices. Combine the water and salt in a bowl and pour over the vegetables. Weight the vegetables with plates; they should be completely covered in salt water. Cover and leave at room temperature. Small bubbles will appear within 2 or 3 days, after about a week or so it will begin to smell and taste distinctively sour. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen the turnip will take between one and three weeks to sour completely. Taste it as often as you like and when the flavor is to your liking transfer the container to the refrigerator to slow its fermentation. 

This is Qulee...

This is Qulee. He and I had coffee together this afternoon, but I have to tell you the back-story for this to have any significance.

I had just been to a beautiful worship service at the church of which I'm a member; it felt really good to be there because—for various reasons—I hadn't been to worship in about a month. I had then stopped for a coffee afterward, as I often do. And as I was sitting enjoying my coffee and reading about a few continuing ed classes I may enroll in I noticed Qulee enter the store. The reason I noticed him is because when he came in he didn't go to the counter and order anything, but instead sat down and started to have conversation with himself. I went back to reading.

About 10 minutes or so after this, Qulee says in a somewhat soft spoken way, “Hey mister, can you buy me a cup of coffee?” So there I am feeling warm and fuzzy from the aftereffects of a great worship service and reading about spiritual classes I want to take—I also know that I have a ten dollar bill in my wallet—and I am always spewing to anyone who will listen that we as humans are all equal and connected in some unfathomable way, and then someone with no money (I'm assuming) asks me to by them a cup of coffee.

This, I am fully aware, is a minor thing to some, but to me it is not. How could I possibly say no.

After getting him his coffee we went back to our chairs (not at the same table). I went back to reading. After a few minutes he then asks what I do for work. I work as a cook to support myself, I told him, but I'm also a writer, photographer, and minister; he seemed impressed. He then thanked for the forth time for buying his coffee. You're very welcome, I told him, and then asked if I could take his photo and hear his story to post on my blog. He immediately jumped up, struck the pose in this photo, and said, “I'm naturally photogenic, what do you want to know?” And this is what I found out...

Qulee (not sure if I'm spelling it correctly) is a West African name, that's where his father was from. He has been in a number of places, most recently in Los Angeles where he started having panic attacks and subsequently found it difficult to hold a job. He currently attends ECC full-time, but spoken word is his true passion. He went on to tell me that he wanted to use his spoken word poems as a way to connect and help others on the street and in the community. He also says that his panic attacks often affect his concentration and it pulls him off track, but he will keep trying because that's really what he feels he was put in this place for, it's what his personal mission is. He kept talking and talking—to the point that he apologized for talking—and finally I had to go.

It's interesting, I think, the way chance encounters happen, but even more so, the circumstances in which we each find ourselves. Things that have happened in my life, for example—the good and the bad—have shaped me to be the person that I am today, just as your experiences have with you. And in this case, so too have they with Qulee. Before I left I told him that I truly hope that he finds the peace and solace to put what's in his head and heart onto paper. I also asked him to remember me when he becomes famous. And with a big grin, he said he would.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Five or twelve quotes from Ram Dass...

Image found here.

 Born Richard Alpert 84 years ago today.

“We're all just walking each other home."

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

“The most exquisite paradox… as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can't have it. The minute you don't want power, you'll have more than you ever dreamed possible.”

“Be here now.”

“Suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise.” 

“Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.” 

“The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal. It can't be organized or regulated. It isn't true that everyone should follow one path. Listen to your own truth.”

“What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.” 

“The next message you need is always right where you are.” 

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we are so deeply interconnected with one another.” 

“It's very different because the Indians live as if they are their souls and Americans live as if they are their egos.” 

“Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for your transformation."

 More five quotes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Paschal Moon (again, but full this time)

I first posted a picture of this moon--the Passover/Easter moon--here, posting about it's relevance to both Easter and Passover and thinking I wouldn't get a chance to see it full. But then last night, amidst a rather turbulent sky, the clouds parted just long enough for me to get a few shots. And here is one of them. Click it for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Our Lady of the Blessed Cupcake...

It's Easter Sunday and I didn't go to church today, but I did last night. I along with a small group of people stood in the snow and passed out cupcakes in front of gay bars. But I'm jumping ahead, which I sometimes do; I'll begin again.

I first heard of this event when it was posted on Facebook a few days ago; it was called the Christian Cupcake Mob (and was picked up by local and national media). It was spearheaded by Rev. Drew Ludwig, Pastor at Lafayette Presbyterian Church, and backed by Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, Executive Director at Coalition for Economic Justice. It was their natural response as Christians to do something when they heard about the “religious freedom act” in Indiana which makes it legal for businesses to refuse a person solely on their sexual orientation. And I believe it began when a bakery refused to sell a gay couple a wedding cake, that it was somehow “un-Christian.” So last night—in a show of solidarity to our LGBT brothers and sisters—we stood in the pouring snow and handed out cake. No preaching. No attempted conversions. No strings attached. Just humans offering free cake to other humans (and laughs and conversation as well).

The event was filled with love and laughter (we had to have a sense of humor given the sudden incredible snow). This was a perfect example—whether certain people care to acknowledge it or notthat we are all children of the same divine source, and in fact connected to one another in some incomprehensible and unexplainable way. The lives of the LGBT community are just as sacred and equal as everyone else's. And for the literalist out there, Jesus never refused anyone; he was about welcoming, not turning away. Christianity is based on inconclusiveness (no matter how it may get highjacked at times).

And so last night this was our church. This is what I thought as I looked around at all the shivering but smiling faces. What could be more sacred than the joyful acknowledgment and worship of the equal divinity in each other. So that is what we did...stood in the snow and handed out cupcakes. We talked, laughed, and a few hugged. But I couldn't help think, as I watched the cupcakes being passed out, that in some casual way this in itself was some sort of Holy Communion. Instead of thin flavorless wafers that suck the spit out of your mouth, or even a loaf of bread, the Host on this night was a simple cupcake. If Jesus could ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was a political statement in itself), then his loving consciousness could be manifest through cake in front of a gay bar on a really snowy night. And the street was our altar.

"For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst."
Matthew 18:20