Saturday, December 13, 2014

Things that can be carries on a bike (#616)...


A Christmas tree...


Urban Simplicity.

Der Kuchen...


This story, recipe, and photos was first published at ChefTalk.com. To view it there please click here

Der Kuchen 

It's 8:15 on a chilly November morning and I'm standing in a large empty kitchen stirring flour, yeast, and water in a small bowl and feeling a little stressed. I'm also thinking of my mother. She, of course, is not the reason I am feeling stressed; it's because of the busy day ahead of me. Though my mother has been gone for many years the thought of her still comforts me. The recipe that I'm making—kuchen, or German coffee cake—is hers, and this is the reason I think of her at this moment.

Whenever I make this recipe I also cannot help but think of Christmastime; this is the traditional time to eat this pastry, at least it was and still is in our family. And when I think of the Christmases of my youth I remember them through rose colored almost Rockwellian glasses. We were poor, that’s for sure (not that I realized it then), but there was always plenty of food on the table…especially homemade baked goods.

My mother was of German decent and grew up on Buffalo’s East Side. She took pride in her baking skills, and even though she had a houseful of kids and worked full time she still managed to bake mountains of cookies and trays of kuchen for the holidays. Kuchen (pronounced kooken) is the German word for cake, and is more closely related to coffee cake than traditional cake or flaky pastry. I’m sure there are as many variations as there are those who make them. This is about the one I grew up with.

What’s distinctive about kuchen, or at least this kuchen recipe—opposed to some of the other coffee cakes—is that it’s made with yeast-leavened dough rather than a chemically-leavened batter. And though the dough is rolled flat, filled, and rolled into a log or crescent, it’s not a strudel because strudel utilizes a buttery unleavened flaky dough that more close resembles phyllo.

The recipe that I make is one that my mother learned from her mother who learned it from her mother and so on. And while I suppose one could say that I learned the recipe through osmosis—absorbing it at my very core while I played in the kitchen as my mother kneaded the dough and the sweet smell of yeast wafted in the air—but that's not how it happened. Years ago I inherited a small notebook that was hand-penned by my grandmother, my mother's mother. There are only a dozen or so recipes in the slim volume and one of them is for “foundation dough,” which is the basic sweet yeast dough that is used for not only kuchen but also the delectable German doughnuts fastnachts kuekles, which are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday just before Lent.

I can still picture the brown terracotta bowls resting on the radiator with towels shrouding the pillow-like dough. I was told not to touch the bowl or leave the kitchen door open too long, lest it become drafty and the dough fall. It was such a mystery, seeming almost magical, how the dough would grow. I can only speculate that this recipe—and being in the kitchen as a child while my mother made it—is in fact the basis for my fascination of yeast-leavened doughs.

I tweaked my grandmother's original recipe for foundation dough. The most obvious changes are accurate measurements, meaning rather than a pinch of this or a handful of that I added measured ingredients. I also replaced the shortening in the original recipe with butter. But another less overt change was in the method in which it's made. Rather than using the traditional straight dough method for this—which of course has yielded a delicious kuchen for generations—I incorporated a pre-fermet, or mixing together a portion of the flour with the liquid and yeast and allowing it to ferment prior to mixing the dough. This, in my opinion, offers a dough that is both more supple to knead and also one with a bit more flavor. And I also generally mix the dough in an electric mixer with a dough hook, I can still picture my mother kneading the dough on our flour-covered kitchen table.

So this morning after mixing together the pre-ferment, and after the rest of the kitchen staff had arrived, it bubbled away for an hour or so as our day began. Then as the day bustled along I mixed and kneaded the pre-ferment into a dough and it silently rose through the busy lunch hour. Then, a bit later, after rolling the dough flat I filled and shaped it, and then—after letting it rest a bit—baked the kuchen. After it cooled some, I drizzled it with a simple sugar icing. Then I sliced it and offered it to the staff in the calm of the afternoon that follows a busy lunch.

It is said that the sense of smell and taste are the two most powerful memory senses. And on this day—while standing in the midst of a bustling commercial kitchen lined with stainless steel—when I bit in I was still just that little kid in my mother's tiny home kitchen in a public housing project with steamed up windows...and I was full of anticipation because I knew that Christmas was just around the corner.




Cherry, Raisin, and Walnut Kuchen

Yield: 3 kuchen 
For the dough: 
1 cup water (room temperature)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt 

For the filling: 
melted unsalted butter
granulated sugar
ground cinnamon
maraschino cherries, rinsed and chopped
dark raisins
chopped walnuts 

Topping: 
1 egg mixed with a little milk
poppy seeds
powdered sugar
milk

To make the dough, combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. 


Preheat an oven to 350F. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large ovals about 1/4 inch thick. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle with cherries, raisis, and walnuts.


Roll into logs then shape into crescents. Transfer to baking sheets lined with oiled parchment. Brush the with the egg/milk mixture and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Make small slices about every two inches.


 Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until a skewer pulls out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool 15 minutes. Mix powdered sugar with just enough milk to make an icing the consistency of heavy cream. Drizzle over the kuchen and let dry for 15 minutes before slicing. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Examples A, B, and C...


Living car free is possible, and in all weather conditions (dress accordingly and studded snow tires help). Examples (top-to-bottom)...on my way to work in the morning, arriving at my second job, and out for beers in the evening. It is possible.I'm jus' sayin'.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One photo, one short video, one quote, and just a few other words...


“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
~John Lennon
October 9, 1940 - December 8, 1980


It seems as if the lyrics to the below video/song are just as relevant today--maybe even more so--than when they were originally written and sung. This video/song give me goose bumps. Turn up your speakers before you hit play.



Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A few photos, a few words, and a bit of synchronicity...


"Coincidences may seem strange, but they are never a result of caprice. They are orderly laws in the spiritual life of man [or women]. They affect and influence our lives profoundly."
~Norman Vincent Peale

I went on a bike ride this morning through Buffalo's East Side. This is not unusual, I do this relatively frequently as I enjoy the history. And some of my own family's personal history as well. But I'm jumping ahead as I often do. All of these are shot on Genessee Street, which is a main corridor through the East side. Both sides of my family lived on streets off this street at some point. The image below is of the Baltimore Fish and Oyster Company, which one of my aunts operated in the 60's and 70's. And above is the small wooden church that my family--including me as an infant--worshiped at. Ahh, but I'm jumping ahead again. Sorry. I'll start over. This morning I slept in and missed worship at the church of which I am currently a member. I had intended to go but it just didn't happen. So I went out for coffee and did a bit of journaling. And as I wrote I reflected on how today--the second Sunday of Advent--was the anniversary of my returning to church regularly as an adult (it's been 10 or 12 years I think). I don't want to get into my personal stuff too greatly, but I was thinking of how finding my way to this church, particularly our meditation group, has had such an incredible effect on my life...and in many respects actually saved it. Anyhow, being in a reflective mood I thought I would go for a ride and take some photos. And then I found myself standing in front of the above church. As I stood peering through my view finder, it dawned on me that--given my birthday is in November--it was likely around this time that as an infant my parents first started to take me to church...this church. So after snapping a few photos and lowering the camera I stood there on this brisk December morning and pictured the neighborhood back then and my parents with their three little children entering the church (I am one of four...my younger sister would not have been born at this time). Alright, so I'll cut to the chase. I thought of this on the ride home, and arriving there I checked some family records. As it turns out it was on this date 53 years ago that I was in fact Baptized in this church. So I can only ask myself (and the Universe), what led me to this church today to take photos...more than five decades after my baptism but on the same day. And what led me to my current church on this day 10 or 12 years ago. Anyhow, my head is starting to hurt. I'll get of my New Age soapbox now. Enjoy the photos.






Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Something I like about owning a cell phone...


"We live in an age of smart phones and stupid people"
~Unknown

Let me first preface this post with three things...one is that I have only owned a cell phome for just a few years and have gone from never using one to using it all the time. Also, as of two weeks ago I have dedicated Sundays as an "electronic-fast" day. And thirdly, though it is called a phone, making phone calls is the least activity/action that I use it for.

This said, I'll say something I really like about owning a cellphone...mainly reading. Being the introvert that I am I like to read in short spurts to pass the time, even when out for a beer or glass of wine. Yes, it's true...I read in bars. And I always have. Previously I would carry a small pocket-sized book with me, but as I've gotten older--and my eyesight has begun to lessen--I have found it increasingly difficult to read in a dimly lit bar. But with the back-light of a phone this is not a problem. And I don't stand out as a nerd with a book as much as just another person dumbly staring at their phone. I'm jus' sayin'....

"To cultivate joy, pay attention to what you like."
~The Afterlife of Billy Fingers

Urban Simplicity.

Tofu...Buffalo-Style


Okay, so first a few things. One thing that I have to get off my chest straight away is that this is not Buffalo-Style Tofu...it doesn't exist. It seems anything that is fried and spicy these days is tagged as "Buffalo-Style." But I will say that these crispy little morsels are addictingly delicious. Also, as I've mentioned on many previous occasions, I am not a vegetarian but am always looking for non-meat options. Thus said, are these any more healthy than chicken wings? Maybe, but who knows. They are still fried (and before you comment or email to ask, yes these can be baked and would be equally flavorful just not as crispy). But it's okay to indulge now and again, right? And don't forget to serve them with blue cheese dressing and celery and carrot sticks (if you want to go all out "Buffalo-style"), or eat them over a salad with blue cheese dressing as I did today (yum!). Anyhow, these are really easy to make--just a few ingredients--and so delicious even a tofu hater will like them. 

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.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent...and a few words from Paramahansa Yogananda

This image of Paramahansa Yogananda at Niagara Falls was found here.

Meditation for Christmas

Celebrate the birth of Christ in the cradle of your consciousness during the Christmas season. Let His vast perception in Nature, in space, and in universal love be felt within your heart.

Break the limitations of caste, color, race, religious prejudice,and inharmony, that the cradle of your heart be big enough to hold within you the Christ-love for all creation.

On every Christmas morn of your inner perception, prepare precious packages of divine qualities and deliver them to the beloved souls who gather around the Christmas tree of inner awakening, to commemorate His birth in understanding, truth, and bliss.

Celebrating the birth of omniscient, omnipresent Christ Consciousness on the joyous Christmas festivity of your inner awakening, you will find the unbroken happiness of your dreams.

Let the omniscient Christ Consciousness come to earth a second time and be born in you, even as it was manifested in the mind of Jesus.

(Metaphysical Meditations) by Paramahansa Yogananda

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bouillon de dinde...


Nearly every year after the Thanksgiving feast at my sister's house I lug the turkey carcass home, leave it on my porch overnight (as my fridge isn't large enough to accommodate it), and make broth with it the next day. The simmering broth makes my house smell delicious and drives my two dogs nuts (but I do put some on their food as a treat). After packaging it in increments I freeze it and use it for a few weeks--or months--thereafter for whatever recipe calls for chicken broth. It's so easy to make and offers a really delicious flavor. The simple recipe for broth is below, but if you'd like to read an article I wrote for Artvoice sometime ago regarding other Thanksgiving leftovers, click here; and here's a link to an article on broth itself.

Turkey Broth 

1 cooked turkey carcass, and any scraps, juices, and pan scrapings
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into thirds
4 ribs celery, cut into thirds
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns 

Combine the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and cover with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for a few hours, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain and refrigerate until needed.  

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Choices...


We all have choices, and I've made mine... 

“I do not believe making money in order to consume goods is mankind’s sole purpose on this planet.  If you’re wondering what I believe our purpose on this planet is, I’ll give you a hint…It has to do with creating & sharing.” ~ Bill Hicks

Consume: 
verb (used with object), consumed, consuming.

1. to destroy or expend by use; use up.
2. to eat or drink up; devour.
3. to destroy, as by decomposition or burning.
4. to spend (money, time, etc.) wastefully.
5. to absorb; engross: consumed with curiosity.
verb (used without object), consumed, consuming.
6. to undergo destruction; waste away.
7. to use or use up consumer goods.

Thankful...


I've posted this image of the above painting before at this blog--a few years ago--and I like it so much I thought I would re-post it for Thanksgiving. I personally find it a very moving image. You may already be familiar with it, it is a painting by Henry Tanner and titled The Thankful Poor (read about it here).

"If thank you is the only prayer you say, that will be enough."
-- Meister Eckhart


Urban Simplicity.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Two views from my handlebars (coming and going)...


It's amazing what a couple of days (and a few hours) can make. As you likely know, south and east of the city of Buffalo was hit with a near-record breaking snow storm...while the city itself received less than a foot. And today was above 60F. Anyhow, these are a couple of shots taken on my way to work and on my way home. The one below is technically not from my handlebars...I had just arrived home and it is a shot from my front porch.


Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#613)...


More than $100 in groceries, sundries, and dog food.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Caramelized Butternut Squash and Onion with Garlic, Hot Pepper, and Lemon!


This simple and really delicious and healthy squash recipe is really a variation on "all things aglio e olio." I had this for dinner this evening as as side to moudardara. Often when I cook squash or potatoes like this I add a few cumin and coriander seeds along with the hot pepper to give it a Near East flavor (but had neither in the house this evening). Nonetheless, this is really easy and delicious, and it can be made using many other hard winter vegetables. 


Caramelized Butternut Squash and Onion with Garlic, Hot Pepper, and Lemon

Serves 2-4, depending on the size of the squash

4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced thinly
1 small onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet that is large enough to hold the sliced squash in a single layer. When the oil is hot add the squash and saute it for a few minutes. Then add the onion and saute a few more minutes. When the squash and onion just begin to brown add the garlic, hot pepper, and salt; saute another minute or two. Stir in the lemon and remove from the heat. 


A not-so-crazy man with a message....

Ok, so I dare you to try and not smile while watching this 4 minute video. While he may appear to be a crazy street person, he's not. His name is Matthew Silver and is a street performer. He's also a man with a message. In this short video he's going from store to store in New York's Union Square beating a drum, dancing, and chanting the mantra, "Love is the answer, stop buying stuff." Just in time for Grey Thursday and Black Friday. Okay, maybe he is crazy, but this is still great. Anyhow, if you want to be cheered up a bit, this'll surly do the trick.



Urban Simplicity.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Things that can be carried on a bike (#612), some studs, and a couple other things...


So first of all before I say anything about the snow I have to say that my heart and prayers go out to those who may be still stranded, and especially to the families that have lost loved ones in this storm.

Though I have moved away a few times I have always found my way back to my hometown of Buffalo and have weathered many storms in my 53 years, including the Blizzard of '77 when I was a teenager. But this storm was different. The path it cut was more like a tornado snow storm, this is why people are referring to it as the "knife." It's path was somewhat narrow and direct. And the thunder and lightening it produced was really eerie. The media keeps saying that Buffalo is buried in snow but truth be told only one area of the city is actually buried (South Buffalo). From what I can tell most of the brunt of the storm hit south and east of the city. The most that we (most of the city) received was 10" or less. In some places it was just a dusting. But a few miles away the snow was and is life threatening (to date ten people have perished). Two of my sisters live east of the city where there is more than five feet of snow...not drifting because of the wind but just simply five feet deep of snow! (and I rarely use exclamation points.) There is no way to push it out of the way--because of it's mass--in the traditional snow plow way, it has to be scooped into trucks and hauled away.

My heart and prayers go out to those still stranded. And what is even more worrisome is that the temperatures are supposed to rise, which will cause flooding. And the weight of wet snow is also a concern for roofs collapsing (some have already collapsed, including that of a nursing home which resulted in two deaths) .

Pictured above is my bike as I went grocery shopping last evening; I had just put on the steel studded snow tires. But it seems too trite to even talk about this with the devastation happening just a few miles from where I type these words. If you believe in prayer I ask you to pray for the people south and east of this city, and if you don't please just send kind and healing thoughts (which of course is a type of prayer in itself).

Peace, and thank you.




Urban Simplicity.

Advice on writing from Charles Bukowski...

Image found here.

So you want to be a writer...

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.

if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don't do it.

if you're doing it for money or
fame,
don't do it.

if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.

if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.

if you're trying to write like somebody
else, forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,then wait patiently.

if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,

don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
love.

the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.

don't add to that.
don't do it.

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.

unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was. 

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
fame,
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was. - See more at: http://allpoetry.com/So-You-Want-To-Be-A-Writer#sthash.d5SekyYn.dpuf
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
fame,
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was. - See more at: http://allpoetry.com/So-You-Want-To-Be-A-Writer#sthash.d5SekyYn.dpuf