Category Archives: simple living

La Leña

It’s odd, I think, how autumn has sneaked up on me. It seems like it was just hot and humid and sunny (like it was for the better part of this past summer), and now today I received my annual delivery of firewood (not to mention that it is cool and damp outside). Four cords, that’s how much I get every year. I know to some (who heat with wood) this doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is to me. It’s enough to carry me through the fall, winter, and spring months, and still have a little left over. I just have a small wood stove that is an auxiliary heat source, not my main heat source. But when to weather is cool or slightly cold–not frigged–it is enough to heat most of the house, as it is tonight. The wood stove is strategically placed next to my office space in the front of the house and is currently blazing away. It’s bitter-sweet in a way. While I love the change of seasons I lament the loss of summer (and another season gone by…the passing of time). The picture above shows the wood after it was just dumped off the truck…in the very spot where I grow my front yard garden. Normally I have my teen-aged son help me haul it down our narrow alleyway to the backyard and and stack it, but today he had school (I usually have it delivered on a weekend)…lucky him. When he was leaving for school I asked him if he was glad that he didn’t have to haul and stack this year; his answer…”um, yes.”

Urban Simplicity.

Just a quick note…

Just a quick note to say a couple things. The first is that I will be away from my computer for the next week or so, thus postings will be sporadic if any at all. But also, I just wanted to say thanks for visiting and subscribing to my meager little blog (s). Over the past year readership has doubled and for that I am very grateful…it makes me know that I am not typing away into an empty void. Anyhow…be back soon, please stay tuned.
Until then…peace.
Joe

Anticipation

Yup…it’s that time of year again. Time to start thinking about the victory garden. That’s a savoy cabbage plant pictured above. Future food for my son and I. In a few months I plan on eating it. No, let me rephrase that. In a few month months, after I harvest the cabbage and some cayenne peppers from my front yard garden, I’ll make kim chi–or rather, combine the ingredients and it will make itself–and then I will eat it. 

Five Quotes from Mary Oliver

Photo credit: Josh Reynolds
I have to admit that I was not familiar with the poems of Mary Oliver before this morning. I am currently reading the book, Falling-Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr, when I came across this quote that he had sited: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The quote is actually the last line in her poem, The Summer Day. Anyhow, it moved me when I first read it as it does still, so I thought I’d share it with a few of her quotes.



“I have a notion that if you are going to be spiritually curious, you better not get cluttered up with too many material things.”


“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”


“So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.”


“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

 


The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

To read more in the five quote series, click here.

Good Friday Moon

The moon is amazing tonight. I was out on my bike and couldn’t take my eyes off it as I pedaled and coasted. The above image I took from my backyard (not bad for a point-and-shoot camera), and the below image is the Liberty Building with a low lying moon to its right. And if you’ve ever wondered about why the date of Easter changes each year it is because of the moon cycle. Easter takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (sounds sort of Pagan to me). If you want to learn more follow some of these links. And it’s interesting–I think–that in the Christian calendar, tonight being a night of darkness it is also a night of such immense light; literally and metaphorically. It’s as if there is a large nightlight showing outside illuminating the earth. While I consider myself a practicing Christian, I also believe that all major religions walk a similar path. That being said, I also consider nearly everything in the Bible a metaphor–to help each of us to discover our own inner truth–and right now I cannot think of a more direct physical metaphor than that incredible moon shining in the darkness like a beacon of hope and newness.

Urban Simplicity.

A View from my Handlebars

This was a view from my handlebars on my way to work this morning; I was at a traffic signal at this corner. There’s a lot going on in this picture. There were a group of guys doing something where they had to take up the sidewalk (pavements to my friends in the EU). I’m not sure what they are doing but whatever it is they were doing it to the opposite corner yesterday. You can see the guy in the lower left…he’s the one creating all the smoke with a concrete saw; it was loud. The group on the right were discussing loudly–arguing–over how to do something. And there’s the guy in the center who just finished fueling his car at the petrol station behind them. I’m not sure if he is looking at me–sitting on a bike taking his/their picture, or if he is looking at all the activity as I am. Incidentally, the gas at this satation was $4.13 US/gl this morning…I know that’s not a lot to other parts of the world, but it sure has people squawking around here. But what you, the reader of this blog, cannot see, is the car to my direct left and adjacent to me. A man in a suit in the driver’s seat who appeared to be about my age and looking bored (I of course, have no idea what this man was thinking or feeling, obviously I’m projecting). And when I looked over and saw him it made me remember. It made me remember how grateful I was to be on a bike–out in the elements with the sites, smells, and feeling of wind on my face. This morning I was heading into another stressfull day at work and already a few minutes late, but this respite–however brief–really made for a nice beginning to my day. And this is what I was thinking as I sat on my bike on a chilly Spring morning looking over my handlebars.

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes That Inspire Me

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” 
“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
“Non-violence begins with me.”
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” 
There is a criterion by which you can judge whether the thoughts you are thinking and the things you are doing are right for you. The criterion is: Have they brought you inner peace?”
To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#399)…and a quick comment

Things on the bike…a gym bag containing two swim suits, two towels, and two pair of swim goggles; and a canvas bag containing a book, magazine, and camera.

A quick comment…That’s my bike parked about 10ft from the door to the health club of which I’m a member. Being Monday I almost drove…my street has alternate parking and I have to move the truck and find a spot where I won’t get ticketed; it can be a real hassle. But I chose to ride and I’m glad I did. It’s difficult to see by the picture but the parking lot–in the background–at that time of the day (early evening) is mayhem…parents picking up their children from the after school program and health club members–like me–who just got out of work and are arriving at the facility. There are cars circling the parking lot being driven by annoyed and anxious-looking people seeking a spot to park…some are simply waiting at a stand-still while others double park with flashers on…and wait. I, on the other hand, was able to coast up to the front door.

I know riding a bike is not accessible to everyone–and not many are as crazy as me and the other few souls I see in the snow–but there are alternatives, such as walking and riding occasionally (or even car-pooling and sharing). Anyhow, I’ve always thought it was a bit silly when I see people drive cars  to a health club only to ride a stationary bike for a few miles (and then comment how far they “rode”), but another incentive–at least at this club–is that bikes always get the best parking spaces. I’m just saying.

I’ll get off my little soapbox now.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#396)…and a quick comment

Things on the bike (above)…A gym bag full of wet clothes, a 4lb bag of dog food, and 3L of red wine.

Below is a self-portrait of sorts…I took it yesterday as I coasted past a particularly reflective stretch of windows in an office building downtown. I wasn’t going to post it (never really cared for seeing photos of myself) but as I was going through photos today and saw it, it made me think. Of all the things that I carry on bikes sometimes I forget. Often it’s when pedaling uphill or into a strong headwind, but still I forget, or maybe I just take it for granted. What I’m talking about is the efficiency of a bicycle as a transportation machine. Sometimes I forget that the bicycle is the most efficient means of transport there is…and that the most precious cargo any bike can carry is the rider themselves.

Urban Simplicity.

A Few Photos of Snow, Slush, and Rain

I’ve commented a few times recently on what wacky weather we’ve had this winter, it seems to change daily…but today hourly. The above photo and the one immediately below were taken this morning as I left for work. It had snowed a little overnight and there was ice on the roads, but as the day progressed it became warmer. I worked a split shift, and the second photo below (Splash!) was taken when I left work about 2pm…the shutter snapped at just the moment a slushy raindrop splashed into a puddle of slush. And the bottom photo is on my way home this evening–after my second shift–when it had turned entirely to rain. Click any photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#390)

$132.72 in groceries, sundries, and dog food (and four slices of pizza), in a cardboard box and soda crate from  three separate stores.  

Urban Simplicity.

Isaac’s Mexican Shrimp Recipe

My teenage son came to me and asked how to make a Mexican shrimp recipe the other day. I was a bit surprised…he was, after all, not simply asking what there is to eat (or why there’s “nothing” in the fridge) or what time dinner is ready. I’m joking, of course, I feel blessed to have him as my son and to be his father. But he did ask me how to make Mexican shrimp. The reason he asked this was he has to make a Spanish recipe for his high school Spanish class. He has to prepare it in front of the class so we kept it flavorful but simple; he also had to translate it into Spanish (thus, the bilingual recipe below). He did all the chopping and cooking; I just talked him through it. He has a great sense of humor…it stands out in step 8 of the instructions. Anyhow, I thought I’d post the recipe not only because I am proud of him, but also because it is simple to make and really delicious. We ate it over brown rice that I cooked in chicken broth with garlic. The recipe will serve 4 people.

Isaac’s Camarones Mexicano
Ingredientes
1cebolla pequeña
1 pimiento verde pequeño
2 dientes de ajo
1cucharadita de chile en polvo
1 cucharadita de chile ancho enpolvo
1 cucharadita de pimentón
1 cucharadita de cominomolido
1 cucharadita de sal kosher
1 libra de camarones
1lata (14 onzas) de tomates cortados en cubitos
El jugo de 1limón
1 manojo de cilantro
Ingredientes
1 small onion
1 small green pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ancho chilipowder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound shrimp
1 can (14 ounces) dicedtomatoes
The juice of 1 lime
1 bunch cilantro
Instrucciones
1.Cortar las verduras
2. Poner el aceite en la sartén
3. Pongala cebolla, el pimiento verde y el ajo en la sartén
4. Póngalelas especias y la sal en el pan
5. Mezcla durante 2 minutos
6.Ponga los camarones y el tomate en la sartén y dejar cocinar por 5 a10 minutos
7. Agregue jugo de limón y el cilantro y disfruta!
8.Recuerde: Comer las verduras


Instructions
1.Slice vegetables
2. Put oil in the pan
3. Put onion, greenpepper, and garlic in the pan
4. Put spices and salt in the pan
5.Mix for 2 minutes
6. Put shrimp and tomato in pan and let cook for5 to 10 minutes
7. Add lime juice and cilantro and enjoy!
8.Remember: Eat your vegetables

Urban Simplicity.

Tacos con Carnitas de Pollo…and a few comments on Ezekiel Bread

Pictured above is one of the tacos I made for my son and I for dinner tonight, before it was rolled up of course. Buried under the vegetables and sour cream are the carnitas…delicious. But more on that in a minute. First I have a couple unrelated comments.

Between urbansimplicity.com and urbansimplicty.wordpress.com there are nearly 100 followers (both blogs have the same content; while urbansimplicity.com is my main blog I mirror it’s content at urbansimplicty.wordpress.com). It’s a small amount but I am thankful for those that do read, comment, and email…it makes me remember that I’m not just clicking away aimlessly into the blogesphere. But what is interesting, I think, is how the majority people–first time visitors, I suppose–find there way here. According to stats there are anywhere from 300-to-400 visitors a day. Some blogs get this many visits in an hour (or less) but for me–and my idiosyncratic little blog–this is totally adequate. Anyhow, more than 90% of first-time visitors find there way here by Googling the phrase, Ezekiel Bread Recipe; this site is the second to come up. Go figure.

Anyhow, for the first time visitor…I hope you click around a bit and find other things interesting, and maybe even stop back. But to simplify your search, here’s a couple links within this blog. For an Ezekiel Bread Recipe that contains a portion of white flour (one of my earlier recipes), click here. For a recipe that contains all whole wheat flour–and my thoughts and philosophy behind this recipe–click here. And for a revised Whole Wheat Ezekiel Bread recipe, click here.

My apologies to regular visitors who are getting tired of me carrying on about this bread (it is my favorite…but you know that)…on to the carnitas.

This is really a play on the classic recipe for Mexican carnitas, which is traditionally made with pork. This would be more of a carnitas de pollo, or chicken carnitas. The word, carnitas, incidentally translates as “little meats,” making reference to the little pieces of the resulting dish.

Traditional carnitas–made with pork–requires hours of long and slow braising, but making it with chicken is relatively quick and simple. I use boneless legs because they have enough fat on them, whereas the breast would be too lean and dry. The premise of the recipe is this:

Simmer the chicken in water (with a splash of olive oil and salt) until the water evaporates and the chicken begins to fry in it’s (and the olive oil’s) fat. Add onion and garlic to the pan and cook it until the chicken begins to brown and the onions are translucent. Then, if you like, you can add herbs and/or spices (I added chili powder, cumin, and oregano). Add more water to the pan and scrape anything loose that has stuck to the bottom…this is pure flavor.

Simmer the chicken until the water evaporates again, only this time–as the water simmers and evaporates–break or pull the chicken apart. This should be easy enough to do with a spoon and fork. When the water is evaporated you’ll here the chicken begin to sizzle (remember that you cook with all five senses). Taste the chicken to see if it is seasoned to your liking, and allow it to crisp up a bit by cooking in the fat again. Tip the pan to allow the fat to run to the other side before removing the chicken. This is a quick and easy recipe to do, and one that is so delicious it makes my mouth water just typing these words…and your guests will think you ordered dinner from a fine Mexican restaurant. Anyhow, here it is in pictures.

Urban Simplicity.

More Interesting Bikes

I came across these bikes on east 10th Street last evening while looking for the former residence of Kahlil Gibran (more on that in a later post). For those of you reading this that happen to live in a large metropolis (or a small one that is “bicycle progressive”) seeing bikes like this parked curbside may be no big deal, but to me this is exciting. I believe, for example, I am the only rider in the Western New York area with a Mundo or other form of cargo bike (that I know of); there are a few Xtra-cycles but no other cargo bikes that I am aware of (for the Buffalonians reading this, if I am incorrect please let me know). Anyhow, two days ago I saw a guy ride by (in Mid-Town) on a LongJohn…and I couldn’t help but wonder where he stored it at night. Well this picture above is a good example. I wonder if they store them there when it snows. I’m not sure if they are Dutch or Gemren bikes but they certainly look sturdy. There is hope (for bicycles in the US), I thought to myself when I saw these.

Urban Simplicity.

Woody Gutheire’s New Years Resolutions 1942

Courtesy Boing Boing 

It’s interesting to come across someone’s notes like this…70 years after the fact. Not only was Woody Guthrie an incredibly moving and entertaining musician/performer, and a talented artist, he seems to have had quite the sense of humor as well. Click the iimage for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Super Delicious (and simple to make) Pasta con Vendure

This is a dish that I served to our staff at work yesterday. I was trying to use up some vegetables because we are closed for the first week of January. It’s really just a more complex version of any of the aglio e olio dishes I’ve posted here before. But before I start the recipe I have to qualify some of the ingredients…most are out of season, which is unlike me when I cook at home. But this was at my place of employment where we are primarily a banquet house, meaning what I purchase and serve is dictated by what the customers request. Unfortunately, to many, everything is always in season (it’s always overflowing in the supermarket isn’t it?). OK, sorry for the brief rant, I’ll get back on topic about the actual recipe. Anyhow, and as aforementioned, this is basically a version of an oil and garlic style pasta dish…but with more stuff in it…mainly how it was seasoned.

Here’s the ingredients I used (but you can adapt this to any ingredients…especially more seasonal vegetables), they’re listed in the order of application…

Olive oil, onion, carrot, sweet red pepper, garlic, crushed hot peppers, fennel seed, saffron threads, smoked paprika, white wine, chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian), kosher salt, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, cooked whole-wheat penne rigate, grated Manchego cheese (proportions are up to you; the more vegetables the better…and I use lots of garlic and hot pepper).

This is how to make it…

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrot, and sweet pepper; cook it until it begins to brown. Add the garlic, crushed hot pepper, and fennel seed; cook a couple minutes longer, making a sort of sofrito. Then add a small amount of smoked paprika and a few saffron threads; cook just a minute longer to bring out their flavor. Add some white wine and allow it to evaporate for a few minutes as it cooks, then add an equal quantity of broth. Season the liquid with kosher salt, and while it is boiling add the tomatoes and asparagus. Stir and cook the vegetables for a couple minute, until some of the liquid evaporates and the vegetables are al dente. Stir in the pasta and allow most of the remainder of the liquid to absorb into it. Toss with the cheese just before serving.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#383), a Minor Confession, a Very Brief Story, and a Recipe

Things on the bike…4lbs/1.8kgs of green and yellow split peas.

My minor confession…for the past three days, even though the streets have been snow-free, other than a few small jaunts I have relied mostly on my truck for transport. This is mostly–but not entirely–because of family gatherings outside the city. I also have not had much physical/aerobic exercise in the past few days (and have eaten a lot);  I really cannot imagine living a lifestyle like this all the time…riding a bike and getting exercise, for me, is more than just about the physical aspect, it–or lack of it–effects my emotional state as well. I’ll be back on track tomorrow. 

The brief story…as I was loading the split peas on the bike today it reminded me of an incident that occurred just about 20 years ago. I was riding a Raleigh at the time (click here to see it) and was carrying a loose bag of red lentils on the rear rack. At that time in my life, unlike today, I was addicted to speed; no I am not talking about the chemical drug, I am talking about going really fast on a bike. I was flying down Niagara Street on my way to work. I don’t know how fast I was going, but likely it was pretty fast. That bike is fast and I would also lean way over the handlebars to be more aerodynamic. Anyway, as I was speeding down Niagara Street a slow moving van decides to make a right turn directly in front of me, forcing me to slam on the brakes…thankfully I had just started wearing a helmet around this time. What happened next was like a slow motion action film, and though it happened 20 years ago I recall it vividly. The rear wheel came off the ground as I slammed on both the front and rear brake. Stupidly, I turned to grab the bag of red lentils (yes, my life was in danger but I was still concerned about spilling the lentils), and as I turned the front tire turned as well…bringing the bike–but not me–to an immediate stop, sort of vaulting me up and over the handlebars. I hit the pavement on my side, knocking the wind out of me (if you’ve ever had this happen you know how painful and uncomfortable that is). Now here’s the interesting part. This happened on a street corner, and I landed in front of a small group of people waiting for a metro bus. And as I lay there clutching my side and gasping for air guess who the first person to ask me if I was OK….it was a young girl, maybe 10 years old. Others did come to my rescue; maybe they were initially in shock of this guy falling directly in front of them. The van never stopped (likely didn’t even know what they did)…but I saved the lentils. And this is what I was thinking about as I loaded the split peas on the Mundo today (I pedal much slower and sit upright today).

The recipe…this recipe is actually the outcome of two holiday dinners; Thanksgiving and Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving I made this broth utilizing the leftover carcass and then froze most of it. And two days ago, after having ham at our Christmas dinner, I diluted some of the broth with water and re-simmered it with the ham bone for flavor…delicious. Split pea soup recipes are pretty standard but what’s different about this one is how I seasoned it…with a bit of chilies, curry, cumin, fennel, and tandoori spice. The recipe I made today is below.

Spiced Split Pea Soup with Ham

Simmer a ham bone, which still contains a bit of meat on, it in broth or water for an hour or so. Remove the bone and strain the broth; remove any meat from the bone; dice or shred the meat and discard the bone. Heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot, then add a diced onion and carrot (and a stalk of celery if you have it). Cook the vegetables until they begin to brown, then add a couple cloves of minced garlic. Cook it another couple minutes and add whatever seasonings you like (I used chilies, curry, cumin, fennel, and tandoori spice), cook them in the oil for a minute then add split peas, stirring them in the oil and spices. Then add the broth (6-8 cups for every pound of split peas). Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a slow simmer. Season it with salt and pepper. Cook the soup slowly for about and hour, or until the peas are thoroughly soft and mashed. Stir the soup often to alleviate scorching. If the soup become too thick, add more broth or water. I like to make mine thick enough that–if I want–I can serve it over steamed rice for a more complete meal. This soup is even more delicious the second day, and leftovers–if there are any–freezes well. If you’d like to see a recipe for 3-bean soup using the same broth, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Broccoli Aglio e Olio

Vegetables can be so beautiful. I’ve posted on cooking things with aglio e olio many times in the past, but I had this for dinner last night and thought it was so beautiful and delicious I thought I’d share a picture. Click here or a recipe (with pasta); click hereto see many other versions of this dish.

Urban Simplicity.