Note to Self:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#734), with brief commentary.



Things on the bike...$62 in groceries, a bag with a change of clothes, a camera and an extra lens.

So this didn’t happen today, it happened last week and hadn’t happened in a while, but for whatever reason I was thinking about it as I loaded my bike with groceries today, and then was thinking about it still as I pedaled to the JCC to sit in the shvitz for a while. It’s something that will inevitably happen to a cyclist. It happens less that it once did, but still it happens. I’m talking about being yelled at out a car window to get off the road. There are, of course, endless variations of the statement with equally endless possibilities to insert various expletives. Sometimes I’ll yell back, stating that I have the same rights as them, but this time was different. This time they didn’t swear, but they ended the sentence with “snowflake,” and yes I am aware of its derogatory implication. “Get off the road, snowflake,” is what he said and it sort of startled me. This is what they assumed of me simply because I was on a bike.

I was so taken aback that I didn’t yell anything in return. But if I did I should have yelled something like, “Well if being a tree-hugging, climate-change-believing, bicycle-riding, Jesus-following, beatnik, hippie, women-loving/supporting, survivor-believing, black/blue/all lives matter-supporting, immigrant-loving, LGTBQ supporting, pro-choice, democratic-socialist makes me a snow flake, then okay. But I still have as much right on this road as you.

While this statement may sound a bit snarky on my part, and I suppose it is, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Golden Rule lately. Especially as I scroll through social media where people can speak their mind or post nonsensical memes without being face-to-face to those they target (which, imho is a real detriment to society), it’s sort of like an electronic version of yelling out a car window, I suppose.

Mostly we think of the Golden Rule as spoken by the Jew from Nazareth who came to be known as the Christ, but it is mentioned by prophets before and after him in the bible, and in the sacred texts of most religions, for that matter. It’s the most simple concept but also the most difficult. What I am referring to, of course, is loving our neighbors as ourselves. This, I suppose, even means loving the guy who yelled at me, and also people who I don’t agree with. This is likely no more easy a concept now that it was two millennia ago. What came to me while sitting and sweating in the steam room is that while yes, I do have to love my neighbor (meaning everyone within the realm of my little life, both real and virtual), that I do need to treat them with respect and dignity as another fellow person on this third rock from the sun. But at the same time I don’t think I need to, or even think I have the ability, to like everyone. We can disagree but still treat each other with respect. We need to if we want our country to survive. I’ll get off my little soapbox now. 


Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fasoulia!


So a couple things. One is that I haven’t posted in more that a month, one of the longest stretches since starting this blog. My apologies; it has been a hot and busy summer. Thus said, here’s a very simple but really delicious and nutritious recipe for a Lebanese-style bean stew. This normally does not have greens in it, I added kale simple because I like it.

It seems like every culture has some sort of rice and beans recipe in their repertoire, the Middle East is no different. This recipe is often eaten for breakfast (I am told) with a fried egg on top, not unlike Mexican huevos rancheros, I suppose. Tonight I ate this for dinner over basmati rice. Lastly, two words of interest here. The word fasoulia is simply the Arabic word for beans, and the word baharat, means spices. If you do not have or do not feel like making baharat, use what you like or have, and the beans can be interchanged to your liking as well. Enjoy.



Fasoulia
(Lebanese Spicy Bean Ragoût)

Serves 3-6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon baharat (7-spice mix), see below
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
5 ounces baby kale, washed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion while stirring for about 5 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two while stirring. Stir in the baharat, soked paprika, and crushed hot pepper; cook for just a minute while stirring. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, lemon juice, salt, and kale. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a very low simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Baharat
Lebanese Seven Spice Mix


Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Life and Death in the Cemetery


Only when you accept that one day you'll die can you let go, and make the best out of life. And that's the big secret. That's the miracle.”― Gabriel Bá

So first a couple things to preface this post. One is that I really like cemeteries. Okay, "like" may not be the correct word, but I do enjoy them. I find them peaceful and soothing. This said, Buffalo has an incredibly great cemetery, Forest Lawn. It was founded in 1849 and covers a vast 269 acres. It is smack in the middle of the city but because of its vastness it is an unintentional wildlife refuge of sorts (hence the title of this post). I stop here at least a couple times of year to pedal and coast silently through, to stop and contemplate, and to take photos of monuments, gravestones and wildlife. 

Anyhow, I hadn't been there in a while and thought I'd stop by and take photos. I always love when I see deer there. They are so graceful and there is something about seeing them walking among the gravestones that makes them seem even more graceful, it really is a surreal sight. 

Last year I had heard about a white fawn that was seen in the cemetery, and on two occasions had gone there specifically to see it, but to no avail. To be honest I thought it may have been an urban legend of sorts. Today I didn't go there looking for deer, I simply wanted a slow cruise through this shady sanctuary on this incredibly hot summer day (90f/32c). 

As I was coasting down one of the rolling curvy roads I caught a glimpse of a deer off in the distance between some of the stones (the photos above and below are chronological). So I parked the bike and grabbed my camera and began to sort of tiptoe up to it. As I got closer I could see there were a few deer, maybe four (turns out there were a total of six). They saw me but didn't move. I walked very slowly and snapped a few photos. Then, wandering out from behind a stone comes the white fawn. I'm pretty sure I gasped.

After snapping a couple photos and walking closer two buck came trotting in. The one was so large I actually heard him before I saw him (see the third photo below). He was definitely the alpha of the herd. It really startled me because I was pretty close, there was no one else around, and the animal was large. He saw me immediately and began to walk towards me then stopped, putting himself between me and his family. I did not want to even raise the camera because I didn't know what Papa Buck was thinking. As graceful as they are they are prone to charge, especially if they feel their young are threatened. Anyhow, to make a long story short, I sort of backed away and Papa Buck led his family in another direction.

To see some previous postings of Forest Lawn Cemetery, with photos, click here.






Saturday, August 4, 2018

Path of Trinity...a book review


Path of Trinity
Journey into Christian Mysticism
By Travis Wade Zinn

But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the ages for our glory.
– 1 Corinthians 2:7

Before I begin this brief review I have to offer full disclosure. While not having met the author in real life we are Facebook friends online; mystical kindred spirits are drawn to another. I had seen Travis’ posting for the book and it intrigued me so I requested a copy for review, and I wasn’t sorry.

Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism is an interesting and important book. There is a lot of information packed into this slim volume, but at the same time it is not for everyone. What I mean by this is mysticism—as it’s title suggests—is a mystery, and for some this is uncharted and even scary territory. The idea that there is more than we can see and touch with our physical senses may be difficult for some to grasp. But I’m jumping ahead.

What makes this book truly interesting is that it not only discusses Christian mysticism, but it is autobiographical as well. The author openly reveals his personal journey, and some of it was very difficult. He frankly discusses his previous addictions, his bout with homelessness, and also his physical breakdown which almost killed him. But through it all he was connected to Spirit.

What originally drew me to this book, and the sections I found most interesting, are where Mr. Zinn discusses early church history and Christianity’s mystical roots, “Few people are aware of the pervasive influence that Jewish mysticism had on early Christianity. Christian mysticism did not have its primary origins in Greek thought but instead came directly from it’s Jewish roots” (pg. 17). To me this statement is powerful because in today’s Christian culture it is easy to forget that not only was Jesus Jewish—was was born a Jew, lived his life as a Jew, and died on the cross as a Jew—but also he himself was a mystic.

A theme throughout the book, as is common in not only Christian mysticism but also any mystical tradition, is the importance of prayer and meditation. While some may have difficulty and think that meditation is “un-Christian,” it is really part of our heritage not only through Kabbalism but also early Christianity, and the author delves into this and explains it well. He also does a good job comparing the similarities and differences with esoteric teachings of Buddhism and Christianity.

Path of Trinity is really a guide for people to be in relationship with the Spirit which dwells in all of us, and the author writes in a personal way as if he is speaking directly to you disclosing not only information he has learned but also his own personal experiences. For example, “In the physical realm, we are limited by preconditioned options, but if we operate spiritually miracles can happen that translate even to the physical realm. Christ was not speaking merely metaphorically when he said that faith could move mountains. The reality we imagine as fixed is more fluid, more interconnected than we realize” (pg. 69). He then goes on to tell how he healed himself with prayer while on missionary in the Amazon.

As aforementioned, the book is intertwined with historical and factual information but also the author’s experiences, but it also contains practical information as well. It concludes with the sentence: “Tear out the following pages and get to work” (pg. 115). The last pages contain graphically animated directions on how to meditate.

Mr. Zinn holds an honors degree in religion and specializes in Christian mysticism, he has also resided at Zen monasteries. Though the information in this book deep, it is written in a very readable way. This book is an example of the shift Christianity needs to make if we want it to survive. A shift back, in many ways; a shift to our mystical roots. But even more importantly, a shift inward. Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism, is a book that can renew one’s faith in the Spirit that has been there all along.


The book is available in both print and electronic versions, here's an Amazon link if you'd like to order it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Seeds of Love and Compassion...mille mercis


Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.” ~Thomas Merton

As I was walking home yesterday I saw a couple leaves blowing in the light breeze, then one came to a halt in front of me. My first thought was that it is too early for fall foliage. Then I was affected not only by its simple beauty but also the contrast in its metaphoric imagery...the beautiful and frail leaf with a backdrop of stark concrete. For some reason it reminded me of the fragility of life.

I’ve been thinking about writing a lengthy response to the outpouring of people who donated to my GoFundMe campaign which started a couple days ago but have decided against it. Instead I’ll get straight to the point. I am overwhelmed and grateful beyond words. I cannot say thank you enough.

People who analyze crowd-shared fundraisers (yes, there are sites) suggest that you re-post frequently and regularly to keep activity and traffic. I can’t and won’t do that. It was very difficult for me to start the campaign to begin with. While I will not be re-posting it I will keep it active, likely through the month of August as I am 1/3 of the way to the goal. Should anyone like to contribute, it can be found here. At the very least I do hope people continue to share the link for others to see and read my story.

Fr. Merton suggested that every activity plants seeds on our souls. This has planted seeds of compassion and love on mine and yours. My heart is cracked wide open. Thank you so incredibly much for not only supporting my campaign thus far, but more importantly being part of my life.

Peace,
Joe

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Help Joe Complete His Degree!

Photo credit: Isaac George

I've organized GoFundMe Campaigns for others, now it's for me. This was difficult for me to post this. Please take the couple minutes to read my story. If you cannot contribute please consider sharing this. Here is a link to the GoFundMe campaign page. Thank you.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#733)...


"There is no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle. A bowl of oatmeal, 30 miles, you can’t come close to that. Put a bowl of oatmeal in your car, you’re not going anywhere, let alone 30 miles." ~Bill Nye

On the bike...$62.00 in groceries

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#732)...


Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.” ~Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin

On the bike:  One 4x4x8 cut into three lengths, two 2x4x10 cut into five foot lengths, 2 loaves of bread, a banana (fuel), two bottles of water, two new pairs of work pants, a new pair of jeans, a camera, and a small bag containing various hardware items.

To view more in the Things on a Bike series, click here.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

United Nations on a Plate!


"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." 
~James Beard

On the plate:

Fresh Beet Hummus...click here for many different hummus recipes.

Batata Harrar (Lebanese spiced potatoes)...click here for a recipe (which will take you away from this blog, a recipe here soon to come).

Guacamole...click here for a simple recipe (which will also take you away from this blog).

Asparagus Aglio e Olio...click here for a recipe.

Also on the plate: fresh diced tomato, raw onion, and crumbled feta cheese. 

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.
For additional Aglio e Olio recipes, click here.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Where I'm At (partie trois), or Going From Point A to Point A

          Yup, that's me in '78 or '79. I would have been 16 or 17. Photo credit: Cheryl Pieczynski

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”   
~Paul David Hewson (Bono)

(This is a third part in an autobiographical series. To read the first parts click here or here.)

“You are so negative! Miserable! And your negativity is exhausting!” I was in the manager's office at work. She was ranting, and these were the words thrown at me. Stomping around the closed-door room with arms flailing. I tried to talk but she didn't want to hear it. She would ask questions but not hear my response. So I just sat there, looking at the floor, and let her get it out. 
   
In some respects she was correct. I was being negative, but mostly to her. I was being passive aggressive; I was taking out my frustrations on her. My frustrations of working too much, of not being entirely happy. Things needed to change. This is what I thought to myself as the manager ranted, and when I say “things” I really mean myself. Not my hairstyle, or clothes, or job...I needed to change. I needed to remember who I was, and that can only come from the inside.
   
Then I noticed that I didn't hear her voice any longer and stopped staring at my shoes and looked up. To my surprise she was looking back at me. Without meaning to or even realizing I was saying it, I said “I'm sorry, I'll try to be more positive. Are we through?” And as I walked back to the kitchen I knew that I needed change, that there was no other choice. The next morning I submitted my letter of resignation. But as I often do, I am jumping ahead. Let me begin again.
   
I never thought that I would be a chef, at least that's not what I set out to be when my nervous and innocent 16-year-old-self faced a stove for the first time. I do, though, remember five years later when I made the conscious decision to pursue restaurant work as a career, at least the first time I spoke it aloud. We were in Clarence Town Park (Clarence, NY). We were with a friend from NYC who played guitar and I was an aspiring bass player. We'd get together to jam now and again, and he wanted to start a band. I couldn’t commit, I told him, because I had plans of attending culinary school. A couple years later this friend had a breakdown and was institutionalized. In retrospect, I know that I make a better professional cook and an amateur musician, rather than the other way around. But I have to start at the beginning—for myself and you—in order to see how cooking for a living found it's way into my life.
   
Before discussing my cooking career, or how it began, I'd be remiss by not mentioning my roots, or at least a bit about my background. I was lucky enough to be born into a family of good cooks (on both sides), but I was also born into a poor family, though I didn't know it at the time. My dad was the eldest son of Lebanese immigrants, and my mom from a linage of east side Buffalo Germans (Prussian and Alsatian). I am the third child of four; two older sisters and one younger. And by the time I came into this world we were living in a public housing project on Buffalo’s east side. But I view these early formative years through Rockwellian glasses. My dad worked at least two jobs and my mom worked full-time while raising my sisters and I. There was always food on the table and presents under the tree at Christmas. I really believe it is from these very earliest years that my love of food and cooking were instilled. We ate kibbeh, grape leaves, and flat bread from my dad's side, and kuchen, fastnachts, and anise cookies on my mom's.
   
I can now see in retrospect that this is the time in my life where I also became aware of spiritual things. My mom took us kids to church every Sunday, where I would mostly daydream. But things changed that would forever altar our family's history; on a cold February evening my dad died suddenly. I was 12 years old. And without getting too New Age-y, this is around the time I first began to have mystical experiences. I mention this for two reasons. One is that I really do not think that spirituality and cooking are mutually exclusive, but also these early experiences are some of what has shaped me as a person and have been with me for all these years. They are in fact influencing my decision making today. But more on that in a bit.
   
Flash forward three years. In the winter of 1977 I was a wild child with little or no supervision. My dad, who was also a cook, had died three years prior, and my mom was home sick in bed from another terrible round of chemotherapy (she joined my dad two years later). 
   
Unlike today, where chefs are celebrities and some akin to rock stars, and where kids from wealthy families attend culinary school with stars in their eyes, I began a restaurant job because I needed the money. My first bill was to pay my mother back the $50 she had just spent to bail me out of jail.
   
It was during this bleak winter that I happened to be sitting in a late 1960's Ford Torino on a dead end street in a half-built suburb of Buffalo. I was in the back seat with a case of beer between me and a friend; three more guys were in the front seat. I had turned 16 just a few weeks earlier, and we were passing around my birthday gift...a water pipe loaded with the best pot we could afford. The radio blasted one of our guitar gods. Then I noticed through the fog of the windows and pot smoke that there were a couple crouched figures slowly approaching the car. I wiped a space in the window but by that time it was too late...there were two police officers just outside the car door and a few more waiting by their cars blocking the street.
   
They took the driver's license and told us to wait in the car; we were all underage. At one point, and after what seemed like a while, one of my friends thought it wold be a good idea to speak with the police. He opened the door and began to step out and an officer drew his gun and told him too get the fuck back in the car. This may have been the excitement this officer needed to break the boredom of being a policeman in 1970's suburbia. This said, the beer and pot was confiscated—along with my birthday present—and we were all arrested. The sound of the officer's voice as he read us our rights while we drove to the police station is still with me today. He sounded proud of himself as he read them. It seemed like a dream then just as it does now, “You have the right to remain silent...”
   
Our parents were called to collect us and pay our fines for release. On the way home the only words my mother spoke were that I was getting a job to pay her back. The next day, she called a friend of my dad who owned a Greek diner and told him of my situation. Two days later I stepped behind a grill for the first time. And this is how I officially began working in restaurants...because I needed a job because I came from a poor family and I needed to pay my mother back from being bailed out because of marijuana procession. Stars were the farthest things from my eyes, but survival was very real. It was December and nearly Christmas.
   
When I stood behind the grill for the first time I was like a fish in water; I didn't have to be taught to swim, it was as natural as breathing. I'm of course not talking about cooking—which I had to learn—but more specifically the culture and lifestyle of restaurant work. I was young and the late hours appealed to me. I could stay out late and sleep in, there were plenty of friends, and also attractive young waitresses. It was, and still is, a business that attracts eccentrics from all walks of life; everything and everyone is accepted, no matter who you are, freaks included. I liked that right from the beginning and still do.
   
It wasn't until about 5 or 6 years into my career that I first considered it as a vocation; it was also around this time that I thought of culinary school. In the early 1980's the only full-fledged culinary school I knew of was the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Being innocent and naive, I never considered how difficult financially it would be. And so, on a hot summer's night after midnight, and after working a large banquet (at my second job, where I worked for European chef for the first time), I sat in an all-night diner drinking coffee and filled out an application to the CIA. Much to my surprise I was accepted, and six months later in the midst of a January snow storm (the storm of '85), I found myself sitting in introductory classes at Roth Hall and my life was forever changed in so many ways. This is also around the time that I began reading Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers in earnest.
   
Since those early days I have been blessed to have worked in so many different venues and in so many different capacities. My first eye-opener was working in a large hotel in the south. Not only was it one of the largest in the country at the time, but I was also plunged into a different culture. The hotel had more than 100 cooks on it's culinary team, many of them from Europe, and I'm pretty sure the chef never learned my name. He would simply call out “Entremetier!” (vegetable cook) or “Tournant!” (rounds-person) when he needed me or one of the other externs. It was also my first time out of the northeast. After a brief return to Buffalo, I traveled to Europe for the first time, and then spent a very short time living and working (and drinking) in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
   
When I returned to Buffalo again, I landed my first chef's job almost immediately, the first job where I was in charge of the kitchen. By this time I was hooked. I quite literally lived and breathed food and cooking. I would work all day everyday and not complain about it. And when I traveled I would seek out book stores known to have good culinary sections. Keep in mind these were pre-internet and Amazon days. At best guess, my culinary library contains more than 1500 books, many of them pertaining to culinary history, which is still a passion of mine. Bed time reading were Larousse Gastonomique, La Cuisine, and Le Repetoire de la Cuisine. My Lebanese-German/French roots reflected my cooking style, and they still do.
   
During this period I was fortunate enough to attend a few brief stints at other cooking schools. The Cordon Bleu in Paris and then in Ottawa, but my favorite and the one in which I am most proud, was being accepted (full scholarship) to study with Madeleline Kamman at the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards. I had entered a menu and recipe contest and much to my surprise, won. This was the first time I saw my recipes in print. It was before the advent of personal computers, so on a rainy spring day I rode a bike with my hand-written menus and recipes wrapped in plastic to a printer to have them typed. I can still remember how professional they looked...my recipes actually in print!
   
I was at work the day I received her call. In heavy French-accented English, “Hello Joseph, this is Madeline. I'm impressed with your menu and would like you to come study with me in California.” My knees went weak but I still managed to jump with joy. Those that know me know that I am a rather reserved person, but on this day I yelled out, “Woo hoo!” as I hung up the phone.
   
It was a two week program (graduate level course as she liked to say) and it had a profound effect on me. I was one of four students nationally. The evening we all met we were were a bit nervous, and I was and still am so impressed by this small but incredibly intelligent and powerful woman. She is a practicing Buddhist and also a feminist. At a time when French kitchens were still dominated by men, she was there. And when the infamous Paul Bocouse stated that (I'm paraphrasing) women do not belong in a professional kitchen, she hung his portrait upside-down in her restaurant's foyer.
   
Our class began with coffee at a table on the edge of the vineyard and then we would go to a small kitchen and cook. When the afternoon sun became too hot we would sometimes retreat to a wine cellar, or on one occasion Madeline’s home. And I can still remember something she said to us that had nothing to do with cooking. Likely seeing how obsessed and driven we all were with our careers she told us (and I'm paraphrasing again) that we have to read all the time but more than just cookbooks, that life is more than just food and cooking. We should enjoy many creative interests, including spirituality.
   
As a chef I am influenced by cooks who write, not just cook. People like Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher, for example. So some years ago I submitted an article with recipes to a local weekly paper and much to my surprise it was published. Before I knew it I had columns in a few local papers and was published nationally. This is a far cry from when my written English was so poor that the waitstaff had to proof read menus, and for Christmas one year one of them gave me a book on grammar. It was also around this time that I began to teach part-time a local college, something else I immediately excelled at. There was one point in my life when I was working full-time as chef, part-time as educator, and had columns in two papers and a magazine. Then, not surprisingly, my marriage collapsed.
   
I still remember the feeling...the feeling as if I were falling and there were no safety net. I had to build wings before I hit bottom, and to do that I had to look inside. I had to grow wings from the inside out. And I did; I still am.
   
Shortly after, on the third Sunday of Advent I returned to church after more than 30 years. I used the excuse that I wanted my son, who was 6 at the time, to be Baptized, which was true, but it was also for myself. Some, I think, were surprised by this but it was not a far stretch. Though I hadn’t gone to church for most of my adult life I was still connected to the Spirit. I would often pray and would, as I do now, feel the presence of something greater than I. But like any person of faith I have had doubt as well. There was one point, a dark time in my life, when I had serious doubt. It was during this time that I had a dream which for lack of better explanation I’ll refer to as a vision. During this vision things were explained to me that I will not discuss here other than it removed my doubt, and when I think of it even now—years later—tears still well in my eyes. It was also around this time that I began thinking that there is more to life than facing a stove all day, I also felt the desire (was called) to attend seminary.
   
The day that I dropped the completed application in the mailbox to One Spirit Interfaith Seminary (OSIS) in NYC is both an exciting memory and also one of anxiety. I really wanted to be accepted, but what if I actually was? How would I do it? I was working full-time as a chef, a single dad, and in debt. I was accepted and somehow I did do it. After traveling back-and-forth across the state 22 times in 24 months from Buffalo to New York, mostly by train, in the spring of 2014 I was ordained an interfaith minister. I am also an ordained deacon in the United Church of Christ and a certified spiritual counselor, through the International Association of Healthcare Professionals. Currently I am enrolled in SUNY Empire State College (ESC) pursuing a bachelors degree in religious and philosophical studies. This, some may think, is an 180 degree turn from my previous vocation, but is it?
   
Between travel and schooling expense in NYC, I found myself in debt so I looked for a part-time job. I found one at a local agency where I cooked in a homeless shelter for battered women and their children. I found it so rewarding and did this while working full-time as chef for an elite women’s city club, the second oldest club in the country, they like to say. The juxtaposition between the wealth of who I served at one job while the poverty of the other was real. I cooked, as I always have, from my heart at both places. It was around this time that I began to realize that I truly wanted to be of service to people rather than be the boss of people (whether you like it or not, when you are the chef you are the boss).


                                   A selfie with the kitchen crew. My last day as chef at the city club.

It became apparent that I needed to change so I resigned my long standing position at the city club, which is where this story began. Since then I have also left the part-time job in order to return to school at ESC. There have been a couple jobs since, but now I find myself working at another residence for the (previously) homeless. I had to take a cut in pay but have not been happier at a job in quite a while.
   
Why am I saying all of this, or even any of this? Honestly, I’m not sure. Sometimes it just needs to come out, sort of a public journal. Which of course is how blogs began. I suppose that what got me thinking of this was a conversation I had a few nights ago. I had stopped out for a couple beers and ran into a woman I had worked with years ago at a restaurant with high critical acclaim. She was with another women (who I did not know) that also worked in the restaurant business. The person I knew introduced me to her friend and began to gush about me and my former achievements. Then she asked where I was working now. After telling her the name of the agency I told her how I was a cook at a homeless residence. After a short pause and blank stare, she replied, “So you’re the food service director?” No, the cook, I told her. Still questioning, she asked, “Like the nutritionist or something?” Nope, I replied, I simply cook good homemade meals—lunch and dinner—for about 20 people a day, people who otherwise would not be able to do this for themselves. After another pause the conversation then went in a different direction.


                                 On the eve of my ordination 2014. Photo credit: Sandra Chelnov
    
So with all of this said, is this it, is this where I’ll finish my career? Nope. I don’t think so. As 60 comes closer into view (in a few years) and 50 fades in the distance I find myself getting motivated for the next act, which I’m still trying to ascertain. Cooking will always be part of me and I part of it, but at the same time there is more for me to do. More to accomplish. In some ways I have gone in a different direction, but more specifically I’ve done a 360 and am returning to myself. The need to look inward before going outward is real. It’s not always the destination so much as it is the journey, and that is something which continues. The future awaits.
    

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#731)...


There is beauty in silence and there is silence in beauty and you can find both in a bicycle!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

On the bike...$22 in groceries and a live tomato plant.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sister Summer...


Sister Summer
You enter so quietly
With subtle beauty
You arrive almost unnoticed
Until you are here

And when you approach
You bring with you
Such vibrancy
Not just in color
But all the senses

Flowers bloom in your presence
Offering themselves to you
Even the weeds bloom
Returning on queue
With you

Your hot days
Yield to gentle evening breeze
Awaking cricketers
And other nocturnal things
Which also yield to you

You turn things
Upside down, right side up
Long days
But then you leave
As quietly as you came

Stay with us
Sister Summer
Your comfort
Is welcoming
Becoming

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Maghmour v2 (Smokey and spicy eggplant and chickpea stew)


 "If my cuisine were to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of subtle, aromatic, extra-virgin olive oil."
~Alain Ducasse


So I've posted another version of this recipe a while back, but this one is more adapted to the summer months using fresh tomatoes instead of canned. This version is also a bit smokier and spicier (I increased the amount of smoked paprika and chili flakes). Anyhow, this is a really delicious and nutritious, but simple-to-prepare, vegetable stew. Eat it on its own, with bread, or over rice, it is delicious and filling (I had it for dinner over turmeric-infused basmati rice). Make a double batch because it tastes better the second day. For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here. The simple recipe is below.

 
Maghmour v2
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 4-6

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
4 cups diced tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes)
1 (15oz. can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small bunch mint, chopped (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and the diced eggplant. Initially the eggplant will absorb the oil and begin to stick to the pan, it is for this reason you should stir nearly continuously for a couple minutes.

Once the eggplant softens, begins to brown, and releases the oil, add the smoked paprika, salt, hot pepper, and cumin seed. Cook the spices for a minute or two.

Stir in the water, tomatoes, and chick peas, and lemon. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for about 30 minutes.

Stir in the mint and remove the stew from the heat. This can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even chilled in the summer months.


Urban Simplicity.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Happiness.


I catch a glance of you
And then you are gone
Like a shy lover
Playing with me

You’ll lift the veil
Briefly
To reveal a glimpse
Of your natural beauty

You make me work for it
Your beauty
Your love
The happiness within

Sometimes you’ll hide
For days weeks or months
Then return
Unannounced

But it’s a riddle
Happiness
Because you are here
Always

Natural
Like a flower
Returning after winter
More vibrant

Closer than my breath
My heartbeat
You are I
And I you

Like a golden pearl
I need only to look inside
Then you’ll glow outward
Lighting the way

The search for you
Happiness
Is endless
But effortless

Only I
My false self
Which is illusion
Make it difficult

I
My True Self
Knows you
Soul deep



Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Stardust...


The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.
― Carl Sagan


The great mystics concur
We are
In some inexplicable way
Connected
And that when we harm one
We harm all

Sacred texts tell us
Too
That the creator is in us
As we in them

Researchers say
That we have common ancestors
From which we’ve all come

Modern science
Proves
That we are all
Made from the same stuff
Stardust

Six of one
A half dozen of another
All of this
Says the same thing
To me
And I am not alone

So if this is true
That we are connected
Related
Stardust
Divine

And we know it

Why, then
Do we do the things we do

For if we truly believed
We should be jumping
For pure joy

Each day
And Every day
Because it is all a gift
 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

After the rain...


"The kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it."
The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 113

When I rode to work this morning it was raining. I didn't get soaked but I was rather wet. Thankfully I brought extra clothes in a plastic bag. I stopped home during lunch break and it was just after the rain. Steam rose from the pavement and there was dew everywhere. I snapped these photos from a tiger lily plant in my front yard, the words I wrote later this evening.

After the Rain
after the rain things are different
if not just for a short time
everything is lush
green
steam rises
droplets glisten
for just a few moments
maybe more
the veil is lifted
ever so slightly


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#730)...


"There is no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle.  A bowl of oatmeal, 30 miles, you can’t come close to that."
~Bill Nye

On The Bike...
A bottle of red wine and all the ingredients for whole wheat-roast vegetable pizza. Click here for recipes.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sweet Crispy-Crunchy Cheddar Corn Fritters.


These are so simple to prepare you'll wonder why you never have before. And by the way, they are super delicious...bet ya can't eat just one.

Corn Fritters
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
½ cup milk
¾ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
vegetable oil for frying

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and milk. Add the egg-milk mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until it forms a thick batter. Add the cheese and corn and mix thoroughly.

Heat a couple inches of  vegetable oil to 350F, then carefully add spoonfuls of the corn batter into the oil. Fry until golden and cooked throughout. Drain on absorbent paper.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Synchronicity on 72nd Street.


Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.” ~ Carl Jung

I was in New York for an extended weekend last week. That’s not unusual, I try to get there at least once but usually twice a year. What is unusual is an idiosyncratic experience I had, and for reasons I am not entirely sure, feel the need to share it. So here it is.

As per usual with me these days, before I travel to NY or anywhere I jot down a few or more places I want to photograph. I’ll do a bit of research prior and then plan my days around it. Two of the places I wanted to photograph were the 125th Street Viaduct (pictured above) and Bethesda Terrace in Central Park (pictured below). I’m more of a “downtown guy” and hang out in the east or west village, so it was sort of interesting for me to travel that far uptown.


On my second day there I took the train up to 72nd Street and walked the short distance through the park to the terrace. It was beautiful, but being nice out and also a Saturday it was packed. I wanted to get a shot of of it with few or no people. So I decided to come back the following day. I also decided that I would not travel to 125th Street to photograph the viaduct simply because it took time and my time was somewhat limited (as I wanted to visit a few other locations).

So the next day after lunch I took the train from 14th Street, which is close to my hotel, and headed uptown. After the train started I could hear the conductor announce something but couldn’t make out what he was saying. The person next to me told me this train which is usually a local is now an express, which means they only make a few stops. The next stop was 42nd Street; there normally would have been 2 or 3 stops before that. No problem, I thought, as most trains—even express—seem to stop at 86th. Worst case scenario I’ll either hop a local the 14 blocks back or walk (which is something I love to do).  As it turns out the train didn’t stop at 86th; the next stop was 125th Street, the very place I had decided not to go. Okay then, I guess the Universe wants me to take a photo of the viaduct after all, so I did. Then I hopped another train back to 72nd Street, where it did stop this time. And this is where it gets a little strange.

I have to preface this next part with a few things. Firstly I’ve had some things that have been weighing heavy on me lately and was thinking about them as I walked. Secondly, and this is where some overt religious speak comes in, I also have to qualify the next few statements. I am a person of faith. Meaning I believe (know) that there is something greater than I. Name it whatever you like...God, Universe, Spirit, Divine; I use them all interchangeably. What I don’t believe is that God is an old white guy sitting up on a cloud looking down and judging. Quite the opposite, actually. My belief is that God/Universe/Spirit is all that there is...that we live within Its presence.

This said, I also consider myself a Christian. Meaning that I follow the teachings of Yeshua ben Yosef (Jesus the son of Joseph), the poor Jew from Nazareth who latter became known as Jesus the Christ. And this is where it gets a bit tricky for me. What I mean by this is that I question things. So many things. I’ll just say that I read the bible as metaphor more than anything, that it is meant as an inwardly spirit-pointing book to guide and change us. Reading it literally is where many problems arrive. These of course are simply my own humble opinions. Now I have to qualify these statements with a request...if you do not share the same views as I this is fine, but please don’t try to save or convert me or send me hate mail.

Anyhow, There I was walking down 72nd Street on a lovely warm NY spring evening and thinking about these things that were weighing heavy on me. In fact, I was praying. Not aloud, of course, but to myself. I wanted some things to change and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone, in many ways I was surrendering to the Divine as I walked down the street. As I walked I was speaking (mentally) the Universe and thinking how maybe it would be better if I prayed to Jesus like a “good Christian.” The problem was that I have problems with that. This is actually what I was thinking when as I walked and saw something etched in chalk which is pictured below. It stopped me in my tracks. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I questioned (aloud this time). Passersby looked at me as I repeated myself.


Now if you are not familiar with John 3:16, it is one of the most quoted bible passages, especially by evangelicals. This is why I have a problem with it. For me it sounds exclusive rather than inclusive to other faiths (or no faith) and this is where (one of) my problems lie.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16

So what’s to make of this? Is it just silly mumbojumbo? Maybe, but I do think there is something to it. At the time, as I do now, I felt the Spirit was sort of giving me a shake to wake me up and remind me that everything will be fine.

I relayed this story to a friend this past week and he commented how it’s not uncommon to see people write biblical passages around. True, I suppose, but what are the chances that I would be walking down a street in our country’s largest city when I saw this. That I came from an opposite direction because of the train mishap; I would have been on different part of the street and not seen this if not for the express train. Though more importantly, what are the chances of me coming across this while I was actually thinking the inverse of what this passage has to say? Slight at best. Anyhow, this is something that happened to me the other day which I felt compelled to share.

Synchronicity: A meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”
~ Carl Jung

Monday, May 7, 2018

Cocovan and Her Love Letter to the World



“Letter writing can be seen as a gift because someone has taken his/her time to write and think and express love.”
― Soraya Diase Coffelt


So this is Cocovan, or simply Coco, as she introduced herself. I first saw her when I was walking through Washington Square Park the other day and she was kneeling an arranging her scroll-like letter on the ground, and then sat at the heart-shaped chair and desk at the head of it. I was mesmerized in a way and had to see what was up. "It's a love letter to the world from the world," she said with a smile when I questioned her. She is originally from Paris and has taken the letter across Europe thus far and plans on taking it to all seven continents, collecting signatures and letters of love and drawings along the way. Beautiful, I thought to myself before signing it. It is interesting to think that my short letter to the world is on this scroll along with thousands others and will travel the globe. Safe travels Cocovan, and thank you for spreading love. To read more about the project and the artist, visit Cocovan's website here.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Question to self (how far would you go)



how far would you go
if you lacked resources
for basic necessities
what
would you do
to survive
how far would you go
to help
offer aid
if you
had too much
would your heart
be hardened
or
cracked wide open


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Life Flows...


This is a short poem I wrote today. As hokey as it sounds it was inspired by this tulip leaf growing in my teeny front yard. I've lived in this house for nearly 20 years and have not planted tulips. Mostly I plant vegetables. But each year this single tulip re-emerges. And today when I came home from a coffee shop, on a particularly unseasonably cool and wet day, I noticed the tulip leaf which had pushed through the cold ground reaching for the cloud-shrouded sun. The flower will soon follow, as it does each year.

life flows
like a river
after a spring thaw
from one event
to the next
life flows
sometimes in bursts
sometimes in wanes
life flows
from one lifetime
to the next
we learn
from everything
each thing

every one
life continues
it is continuous 


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Jeremy's Vision...



“Space and time are the framework within which the mind is constrained to construct its experience of reality.”

Recently I had the opportunity to preview a new restaurant/performance space which will open very soon here in Buffalo. It is an extension of a longstanding funky coffee shop on our West Side, Sweetness7, which is owned by Prish Moran. 

The new space, which is adjacent to the coffee shop is called the Tabernacle, because...well, that's what it originally was. It was built around the turn of the (last) century and at one point was used as a place for the famed preacher Billy Sunday to proclaim his message. Today one would never know by its unassuming facade what an incredible wonderland awaits within. 

While the place may be owned by Prish, the art is the creation of one-time cook and house philosopher, Jeremy Twiss. When I stopped in recently he showed me a few of his favorites and told me it took him about a year to accomplish, sometimes working as many as 15 hours a day on his art. But here's the best part...this is his first work of art, prior to this he claimed the "he couldn't paint." Well, I guess he proved himself wrong. 

Being in the space I felt like I was in some sort of mystical Alice in Wonderland Sistine Chapel, it is truly inspiring. I love the vibe of the coffee shop and the Tabernacle is an extension of that same feel. I am really looking forward the the Tabernacle opening, this will be a great addition to Buffalo's flourishing cultural scene. 

Click any photo for a slightly larger view. To read a recent story in the Buffalo News regarding Jeremy's art and the Tabernacle, click here. Here is a link to Sweetness 7's Facebook page, and here is a link to their website.






Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

evening


the day fades
night slithers in
another day in life
tomorrow is new
another chance
to be alive
to live
moment by moment
but for now
it is evening


Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Day of the Resurrection (Journal Entry: 1 April 2018)

The Day's First Light

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”  ~ Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

This morning while doing some reading I stumbled upon the above quote and it could not have been more appropriate, and this, I suppose, can be interpreted in a number of ways. While I woke in a dark place today I also find inspiration in the darkness, but I’m jumping ahead.

Today is Easter morning, the celebration of the resurrection, a celebration of all that is light and hope. But I woke to internal darkness. It wasn’t sudden, it’s been stalking me for a while. I could feel it, sense it, see it lurking behind corners just behind me. Then like a thief in the night it engulfed me. This is not to say that I am in despair, as I have been before, just like so many others. I can still see the light, and know that the light is achievable, it’s just that it is in the distance, slightly out of reach.

The darkness, which can take many forms, has been a mild feeling of uncertainty for a while...weeks or months, I can’t recall. But now it is time to grab hold of certainty. As a natural observer and creatively inclined, it’s easy for me to see things then capture them in a photo, or words, or a drawing, but at the same time it is difficulty to observe myself. Not just my physical actions but internally as well, and that’s where things begin, on the inside.

There are some changes that need to take place in my life, which I am aware of, and that can only happen from the inside out through introspection first, then action. Easter is the day of resurrection, a day of hope and rebirth, thus it is also a good day to begin again, and likely tomorrow begin again, and then again. The light is within reach, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Now it’s up to me to reach for it.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” ~ Romans 12:2


Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Second March Moon...what's in a name?


Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
~ Mark Twain


The above photo is one I shot last night from the sidewalk in front of my small and disheveled Allentown (Buffalo, NY) home. The moon was 99.7% full last night and tonight it will be 100%. I took the photo last night while I had the chance as it is supposed to be overcast this evening. 

Anyhow, this is the second full moon this month, which makes it a blue moon. Some Native American tribes refer to this as the worm moon because it is the time of year that the ground softens enough for earth worms reappear, which then brings birds. The early American Colonists referred to this moon as the sap moon because it was at this time of the year that maple sap really began to run. It is also sometimes called the Lenten moon, because it signifies the end of the Christian period of Lent.

This brings me to the next brief topic, and some of you may already know this, but this moon is also the reason that the date of Easter changes each year. Easter is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, which of course shows the early Pagan roots of Easter and Christianity (please don't send me hate mail or try to "save me," this is fact-based information).  Anyhow, this is pretty interesting stuff, I think. But I'll get off my little soap box now.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Things that can be carried on a bike (#729)...


“[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.
~James L. Jones, Barack Obama’s former national security advisor


On the bike: nearly $80 in groceries and a bottle of wine.