Note to Self:

Monday, February 20, 2017

What is it?


Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
~Desmund Tutu

So today the local Jewish Community Center had a bomb threat. It was one of 10 JCCs across the country today, and dozens in the past few days, that have had bomb threats. I've been a member of this JCC for the past 15 years. I was there swimming yesterday. They--the workers and the members--are incredibly beautiful people. Over the years I've made friends with many.

Two nights ago, on a corner that is just one block from my home and next to one of my favorite watering holes, two young men were beaten simply for being gay.

Islamophobia is on the rise, this can not be denied. I work with a few Muslims and they are hard working and so very friendly. I cannot imagine having hatred towards them simply because of their faith.

What is it? This hatred. Where does it come from. People are not born hating, they are taught it. But why? What is it? It stems from fear, I am convinced of it. We are all just people. No matter our color, faith, or sexual orientation, we are just people.

The above photo was taken at dusk this evening from my front porch. A beautiful evening. The temperature today hit the upper 40s Fahrenheit. It's supposed to be like this all week. By the weekend it is supposed to hit 60F. This is Buffalo, NY in February where it is normally frigid and snowy. But it's the hate that occupies the news. Climate change does not know borders, race, or religion, but it is happening.

I can't change the big stuff but I can do small things. We all can. And that's what I need to focus on. The good stuff, no matter how small.

To answer my own question...the good stuff. That's what it is. Because light and good always overcomes darkness. But I'm rambling now. Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stared at the sky on an incredibly beautiful yet really unseasonably warm February evening. I'll get off my little soapbox now.

"My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference."
~Jimmy Carter

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The views from my handlebars on a late winter's eve


So I had the day off today and was out running errands on the bike (surprise, right?). Normally by this time of the year I am so tired of the snow that I can't wait for it to end, but it has been such a mild and mediocre winter that mostly what I am waiting for is the gray and wet to end. Anyhow, it started to snow and I had my camera with me so I took a few photos, and here they are. Click any for a larger view.





Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Shorbat Addis! (Syrian-Lebanese Red Lentil Soup)


So I've posted this recipe (or variations of it) a few times in the past but not in quite some time, so I thought I'd re-post. It is so easy to make, really delicious, and nutritious, too. And it'll make your house smell delicious as it simmers. This recipe makes 2 quarts, but it tastes better the 2nd or 3rd day and it freezes well also. The recipe I use contains chicken broth, but it is just as delicious when made vegan/vegetarian using vegetable broth as a substitute. A bowl of this soup along with a piece of bread and maybe a piece of fruit is complete and filling meal. If you enjoy soup, I hope you make this. You won't be sorry.

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.



Red Lentil Soup with Spinach

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (15 oz. Can) diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils
8 cups chicken broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped
¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt; cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, and cook them until the juice reduces and everything forms a sort of paste. Add the lentils and broth; bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. Stir in the spinach and cook another 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

There are reminders everywhere (and I need constant reminding)


"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."
~Philippians 4:8

The above Bible quote is one of my favorites. And yes, I am a crazy leftist liberal who reads the Bible (occasionally). I find inspiration in it in the metaphoric sense, not literally. But as is often the case when I start typing, my mind is ahead of my fingers and I jump ahead. Let me start over.

The above photo was taken last evening, I saw it at just the right time. I was on my way  home from my second job and feeling depleted physically and spiritually. Physically from working too much, not getting enough sleep, and having a cold; spiritually from the uncertain times in which we live. If you are on Facebook then your feed, like everyone's, is likely filled with mostly posts about politics. And the negativity after a while really wears me down. It helps when I focus on good (hence the above quote).

I of course am not immune to the negativity. While I've made the personal commitment to not join in with the onslaught of it on Facebook, I still get caught up in it in conversations at work and else-wear. The fear turns to anger, but it is still fear. I am convinced of this. But there are reminders everywhere, all we have to do is look. And sometimes I believe they are placed right in front of me just when I need them most, such as the above sign attached to a fence on a building I passed last night. Do you have an extra coat? leave it here and we will give it to someone in need. Simple, right? Isn't that what life should be about? 

Focusing on the anger is the easier path, I think. At least it is for me. Being angry is not fun, but it is easy. Focusing on love (for one another) and having compassion for all of humanity is more difficult. But that's the path that I choose. Do I stray from the path? Yes, of course...daily, hourly, by the minute. So I draw myself back. And sometimes I simply forget. That's why I need guideposts and reminders. People are good and there is good all around us. But we need to look, all the time. Here's a few more examples:

The photo just below is the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks and feeds people for free twice a week year round, no matter the weather. The second photo below is a building I pass a few times a week on my way the coffee shop (where I type these words). They have a table outside on the sidewalk and offer free things to whoever wants or needs them. The next photo is the Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Buffalo. People leave clothes, sundries, and food for the homeless year round. And my personal favorite is the bottom photo. I was walking to the corner tavern one evening last month when I saw the note taped to a gate in front of a neighbor's house. Someone had apparently dropped one of their bags and it had a loaf of bread in it and the neighbor held it for return. Simple acts of kindness with profound results.

There are countless other examples of good happening all around us, these are just a few. And while I post these as a share to you, they are really (selfishly) for me. I have to remind myself to focus on the good (and I need constant reminders). Light always overcomes darkness, we simply need to seek it...to become the light.

"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
 ~ Anne Frank





Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Maghmour!


So before I begin discussing this recipe I have to mention my usual mantra that is common to most of the recipes which are posted on this blog...this is so delicious but also nutritious and incredibly simple to prepare. Also, this is simply a suggestion, not a blueprint. Meaning add or delete ingredients and seasonings as you like. It is, after all, your food.

That said, this is a Lebanese eggplant and chickpea stew. Some refer to this as a Lebanese version of moussaka but personally I don't see the connection. If there had to be a comparison made, I would say that this dish more closely resembles ratatouille or caponatina. But anyhow...

This recipe is sort of large but it is one of those foods, like soup, that actually tastes better the second day. What I really like about this recipe--besides everything--is that the eggplant melts into the sauce giving it a sort silken quality. In this recipe I used canned tomatoes but in the summertime I would likely use fresh. This is also a chameleon of a recipe in that not only can it be eaten as an appetizer (on toast points or with flat bead), as a side dish or part of mezze table, but also as a main course over rice or with a fried egg on it (as I ate it the other night). 

For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here

Maghmour
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 6-8

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
1 (28oz. can) crushed tomatoes
2 (15oz. cans) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch mint, chopped



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. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for 15-20 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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Journal Entree 1.12.17, or how to make potato pancakes, or a day in a life.


In the same way that an auto mechanic may repair other people’s cars all day yet he himself drives a jalopy, I being a lifelong professional cook often have a refrigerator and cupboard that are spartan to say the least. Such was the case today when deciding on dinner.

When surveying possible options I noted an odd assortment of ingredients...a couple potatoes, a half-head of cauliflower, a spaghetti squash, a bell pepper, an onion, an avocado, and a few other things. Potato pancakes is first that came to mind, and I’d also add cauliflower for added flavor and nutrition. So I peeled a potato and hand grated it. The sound of the grating brought the dogs running, hoping to catch scraps. I put the grated potato in a bowl and mixed it with a couple eggs to keep it from tarnishing while I prepared the remainder of ingredients.

While removing the core of the cauliflower I noticed that some of the plant was a bit soft and gray, so I cut that away as well. A metaphor of life, I suppose; not everything is perfect but you simply deal with it, focusing on the good parts and letting things unnecessary fall away. I then chopped the florets small—the size of grains of rice—and added them to the bowl with the potato and egg. Mixing it with my bare hand it felt cold from the fridge, and the contrast of textures felt odd.

After julienning a small bell pepper and half an onion I added them to the bowl as well, along with some crushed hot peppers, sea salt, shredded cheddar, and about ½ cup whole wheat flour. I then mixed everything together, put a plate over the bowl and set it in the fridge. It was late afternoon and I was planning ahead. Before heading to the local JCC for a steam and swim I texted my son, “Making potato pancakes for dinner. They’ll be ready around 6:30.” Home cooked food is always bait to a young broke college student.

On my bike ride to the JCC it was drizzling a little, more of a mist than rain. What an odd winter, I thought; it should be snowing now. But I’m not complaining. And on the way home the rain had stopped and the temperature dropped. It was dark now and the streets seemed oddly deserted. I was still sweating from the steam room as I pedaled home and the cold air felt good; refreshing. My phone buzzed in my pocket and when I stopped at a traffic light I checked it. It was a text from my son, “I’m here.” I looked at my watch and it was 6:30.

Arriving home, and after parking my bike off to the side of the living room with the others, I put another log in the wood stove, which was down to embers, then went to the tiny kitchen to feed the dogs.  While the dogs ate I retrieved the pancake batter from the fridge and mixed it. Then while my son minced garlic I began frying the pancakes, dropping them in the hot oil by the spoonful and shaping them as they spat and sputtered. Some of the oil jumped onto my fingernail and I exclaimed, dammit!, startling the dogs.

While the pancakes cooked in batches, we cooked spaghetti squash in olive oil with garlic and hot peppers. When the first batch of pancakes came out of the pan I cut one and we ate it with our hands. It was delicious and also tempting to eat the rest that way, but we refrained.

When everything was complete—the pancakes, spaghetti squash, sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil and hot sauce, and a couple small peeled sweet oranges—we ate together at the kitchen counter and talked. I learned some things that have happened in my son’s life recently and he in mine.

When we were finished, I wrapped the remaining pancakes, first in paper then in plastic, for my son to take with him. After he had left I put another log on the fire to keep the chill at bay while I headed out for an evening beer. The cold air felt good as I walked the few blocks to a local cafe. And as I sat sipping my beer I thought of the dinner we had together, and how delicious it was—literally and figuratively—and it was made with just a few simple things. It was a dinner, yes, but also it was another day in a life.

Potato-Cauliflower Pancakes with Cheddar

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup grated potatoes
1 cup minced cauliflower
2 eggs
½ onion, julienned
½ bell pepper, julienned
½ cup shredded cheddar
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the vegetable oil and mix well. Cover and let stand for a few minutes. Mix again, then pan-fry I about ½ inch of hot oil until golden and crisp on both sides ad the potatoes are cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

N.F., ON, CA.


So I've had the past few days off of work, on a sort of staycation to save money. But I wanted to do something out of the norm and took the #40 bus to the Falls. It picks you up in downtown Buffalo and drops you off in downtown Niagara Falls, one city block from the Rainbow Bridge. And all for the whopping price of $2 (here's the schedule if you are interested). Anyhow, I wanted to be at the Falls as the light changed but when I arrived I was a bit too early. So I walked up the very touristy Clifton Hill and had some pizza and a truly over-priced beer. Thus satiated, and it approaching dusk, I walked the mile or so down to the overlook on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock Center. After negotiating my way to the perfect spot, I set up my tripod, put the camera on it, and snapped a shot. I then took the same shot every 15 or 20 minutes. These photos are the result. After the first shot, because of the light change, I had to use a slower shutter speed (which I love), and that results in the sort of smooth look the falls take on in the remaining photos.  Click any photo for a larger view. To see a series of photos from this same spot from about 2 years ago, click here.






Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cookin' Like Summertime....


Fresh tomatoes. Beautiful aren't they? But you may be asking yourself what am I doing with fresh tomatoes in January. Well, I work in a grocery store. And as we all know grocery stores portray food as if everything were always in season. But also, one of the benefits of working in the particular store that I do is that food that is culled from the shelves and deemed unsalable (for a variety of reasons) is offered to the employees before being given to various organizations. This said, there were a bunch of packages of fresh tomatoes in which the seals were broken, thus they were not able to be sold. So this is how I found myself in possession of these beautiful tomatoes and cooked dinner with them on a cold, grey, and rainy January evening.

Anyhow, my son came over for dinner last evening and I made us Pasta Fra Diavolo (to read about the origin and etymology of the recipe, read this post). There is a recipe below for this dish, but the one that I made with these tomatoes was slightly different in that I used fresh tomatoes. The fresh tomatoes were first processed and then simmered down to a thick puree. The recipe that is listed is actually more appropriate for this time of year as it uses canned tomatoes. And as usual, this recipe is not carved in stone, it is simply a suggestion. Add or delete or interchange ingredients to suite your tastes.


 
Penne Fra Diavolo with Halibut 

Yield: 4 portions

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets 
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup red wine
2 cups tomato purée 
1 pound diced halibut
1/2 pound penne rigate
.


Combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, red pepper, basil, parsley, and salt in a skillet over medium heat. Stir and mash the ingredients with the back of a wooden spoon until the onion and garlic is translucent but not browned. Stir in the wine and simmer it for a minute or two, then add the tomato puree. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook it for 5 or 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick thin it with a little water. While the sauce is simmering boil the pasta until al dente. Stir the fish into the sauce, bring it back to a simmer and poach it for about 5 minutes. When the fish is cooked gently fold in the pasta. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes, allowing the flavors of the sauce and fish permeate the pasta.


Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Three Photos of Three Buildings...a few things I saw while walking today.


Firstly, I would like to say that these are all iPhone shots, with of course some post upload editing. Anyhow, that out of the way, I was downtown this morning and am still so much in awe by the architecture of Buffalo. I never tire of it. These are just three examples as they were buildings I happened to be in this morning. The first (above) is the current home of Erie Community College City Campus. This incredibly beautiful building was originally the Buffalo Post Office. I had a meeting there and when it was done it was lunchtime, so I thought I'd head to my favorite downtown Greek diner, and on the way I took a shortcut through the Ellicott Square Building (first photo below). I climbed one of the staircases to snap the photo and just stood and admired the building for a moment. And lastly, as I headed to the diner I also passed one of my favorite downtown churches, St. Paul's Cathedral (bottom photo). Knowing that the doors are always open during business hours (which is sadly a rarity for a church these days), I stopped in for a brief 10-minute respite. I was the only one in the grand sanctuary and I just sat and listened to the old building creek and groan in the wind. It was beautiful. Then, after having my spirit filled with all this beautiful and inspiring architecture (and all within a 5-minute walk from one another), I carried on and went and had my stomach filled. And these are just a few of the things I saw this morning as I walked home through the City by the Lake.



Urban Simplicity

Thursday, January 5, 2017

And then I stumbled upon a protest...


So I had the day off today and was on my way to a coffee shop this morning when I came upon this protest. I wasn't sure what it was at first so I stopped to read some of the signs. Then I hear someone yell, "hey Joe," from across the street. Of course I'd know people at this or any protest, right?  Anyhow, this protest was in response the the arrival of Kellyann Conway and her $5000-a-plate luncheon/fundraiser for Trump. And in many regards this is also, by extension, a continuation of on-going protests regarding our own local racist, Carl Paladino because of his recent remarks that made news around the globe. I suppose the highlight of the protest was when the above banner was unveiled off the roof of the coffee shop directly across the street from the hotel where the fundraiser was being held (it's also directly under a billboard for the said hotel; see below). My only hope is that the luncheon took place in the windowed atrium so all attending would see not only the protest below but also the banner directly opposite them. I have to add that these were some mighty hearty protesters. After I snapped some photos I went and joined them but I was only out there a fraction of the time as most of them...the high today is 20f/-7c. Anyhow, it really is awesome to come across something like this while riding my bike on a really cold day to a coffee shop. And lastly, there's that guy in the coffee shop window (bottom photo).







Urban Simplicity.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I went for a bike ride on New Years Day and here are a few things I saw...


Yesterday morning, being New Years Day, I woke feeling somewhat introspective as I'm apt to do. So I went for a bike ride and brought my camera. The streets were dead quiet. I rode to Buffalo's East Side which is an area of the city that has not seen any of our area's resurgence. If you have any ancestral lineage in Buffalo, chances are you have ties to the East Side. Both sides of my family, in years gone by, have lived on the East Side. Pedaling and coasting through these deserted streets on New Years day was really meditative in a way; I felt as if I were in some sort of post apocalyptic movie scene, but I wasn't. Many people still live here. The images of the bombed out looking building below are of the old Buffalo Central Terminal train station. My dad, along with countless other young men, departed from this station on their way to WWII. It's said that the train station is haunted, and on this day I could feel their presence. The photos are in no particular order. Click any for a slightly larger view. To see photos from previous bike rides through these neighborhoods, click here, here, here, or here.