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Two things I’ll talk about (but shouldn’t) and one I won’t (because it’s exhausting)

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So a couple things. Three actually. This is a response to the infiltration (near total domination) of politically focused posts on Facebook and elsewhere. It’s odd, I suppose…writing a blog post about Facebook but they are both a form of “social media,” and I find it easier to type here. But let me begin again.

There are–I have read–three things one is not supposed to discuss in public…religion, money, and politics. But I’m prepared to discuss, or at least disclose my views, regarding two of them here.

Religion. This is a touchy one. I don’t even like the sound of it. But here’s my view. If I had to put a single label on myself I would without hesitation say that I am a Christian. I am an active member of a very liberal Christian church and try to follow the teachings of Jesus the best I can (and usually fail miserably on a daily basis). But it goes beyond this (Christianity). I believe that all the major religions share the same Truth at their core. I also believe (know in my heart) that there is something greater than I and all of us. Call him/her God if you like, but I also find it easy to use the words Spirit, Divine, Source, just to name a few. In short, I believe that this Source or Holy Vibration is all that there is…that we in fact live and move within It and live out our lives in this manner. Okay, I’ll stop and get off my new age-y metaphysical soapbox. But there it is. I talked about religion.

Money. This is an easy one for me. I don’t have any. Or at least not much (at all). Despite what food TV and culinary schools will tell you, working as a cook does not generate a lot of income. Oh sure, a small few in any business will make lots of money but I’m not one of them. Each time I save up a few thousand either something happens to deplete it or I take a trip or do a major home repair or take a class or or or.  This is not a complaint, it just is. I’m fairly content, I am able to pay my bills, and I find if I don’t have money then I don’t have money to worry about. So here this is. I talked about money.

And lastly, politics. This is one area where I refuse to talk. Why? because I am so burnt out on the arguments, accusations, and lectures I am seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. In some instances I am surprised and others downright shocked by what some are saying or the reactions they are having. What is most shocking I suppose is that some of these negative and angry posts are coming from people I would least expect. I will exercise my right as an American and vote this November, but I will not discuss it. I will not add to the argument. So there this is. I didn’t talk about politics.

But one more thing. I was actually considering leaving Facebook for a while, and I still may, but probably not. What I will do is post what I believe to be the opposite. Pictures of beauty. Poems. Positive quotes and affirmations.  With this said, the above image is one I took a few days ago. I rode my bike to the Bird Island Pier, then hopped the low railing and walked another mile out the crumbling break-wall. This is the very point where Lake Erie ends and the Niagara River begins. The Great Lakes are said to contain 21% of all the earth’s fresh water, and they all rush through this point every day. To me, this is something to ponder.

Peace.

Things that can be carried o a bike (704)…

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A camera bag with a camera and an extra lens, two pairs of pants, a pair of work clogs, about $20 in groceries, three paint brushes, and two gallons of paint.

Urban Simplicity.

Gazpacho (on a plate)

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Gazpacho. Is it a soup or salad? Maybe both. Or maybe a sauce of sorts (salsa). It’s interesting, I think, that sauce, salad, and salary all share the same common root, sal, which is Latin for salt. A sauce was originally a form of salted liquid to season foods, and salting is what one did to their lettuce (and other vegetables) to bring out its natural flavors. And the English word salary is said to derive from sal because this is what slaves were often given in return for their back breaking work during Roman times.  But I’m jumping ahead..


Like the rest of America, and the world no doubt, it has been hot, consistently hot this summer. I no longer work in a sweltering kitchen; the one in which I toil these days is an open kitchen. It gets warm but not hot. Yes, it is uncomfortable at times but not the…I hope I make it through this shift without passing out hot…that I was accustomed to. But for that my heart goes out to all my fellow culinarians who are working through those conditions in this hot summer.


With thus said, my house is not air conditioned. Not at all. Speaking with a neighbor recently I commented that I think I’m 1 of like 10 people in the city—ironically, the city in which air conditioning was invented—that didn’t have an air conditioner. He responded by saying I was also probably like 1 of 10 people who didn’t own a car. Neither of these are accurate, of course, but I thought it was funny.


Anyhow, the thought of cooking dinner in my sweltering home kitchen was less than appealing, so before I left the glassed-in air conditioned room which is the fancy grocery store in which I am currently employed, I bought a few things to make an easy dinner. Surveying the shelves that were overflowing with heirloom tomatoes and golden peppers, gazpacho came to mind. But I didn’t want soup, per se, but more of a chunky salad. And as I meandered the produce selection I thought about gazpacho, the recipe of course, but also it’s origin…like most foods it grew out of locality and possibly necessity. Use what you have to feed people. 


Gazpacho is a recipe that has been around in various forms for a very long time, but the path to what we know it as today is likely convoluted. It’s said to have existed in Spain for more than a thousand years (possibly Moorish or Arab in origin), but prior to the fifteenth century it didn’t contain tomatoes and wasn’t red (tomatoes are a New World ingredient; they didn’t find their way into European cooking until the 1500’s). It most likely began as a vegetable, garlic, and herb soup that was thickened with breadcrumbs and ground almonds. Or possibly a chunky salad with bread in it to “stretch” the meal and utilize stale bread, not unlike the Italian panzanella or Middle Eastern fattoush I suppose. It’s truly an archaic recipe, a sort of edible archeological dig for food historians. Interestingly, the word soup is derived from the Middle English, sop, or sup, referring to a stale piece of bread onto which broth is poured to give a slight meal some substance. Today—because of the “gluten scare” and other reasons, I suppose—gazpacho is often made without bread. There are no hard and fast rules as to what gazpacho is or should be, but it’s often based on many of the same ingredients from its original versions: vegetables, garlic, vinegar, oil, and sometimes bread.


Tonight for dinner I made gazpacho which was more salad-like than it was a soup. It was delicious and took about 10 minutes to prepare. I ate it with large dollops of guacamole and Greek yogurt, and toasted slices of whole wheat bread and a glass of red wine. And as I sat eating I couldn’t think of abetter or more appropriate dinner to have on a sweltering July evening. Below is how I made this gazpacho salad (pictured above), and below that is a traditional recipe for gazpacho as a soup.

Gazpacho on a plate

Dice one or two large ripe tomatoes, a piece of cucumber, a small onion, a bell pepper, one or two jalapeno, a clove or two of garlic, parsley, and cilantro. Combine everything together in a bowl and add a quarter-cup of virgin olive oil and 2 or 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper and mix together. Allow the flavors to mingle for about 5 minutes while you pour a glass a wine or slice some bread or set the table. Eat the salad straight from a bowl or transfer to a plate with other ingredients.


Gazpacho

Makes about 4 cups

2 cups diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced red bell peppers

1/2 cup diced cucumbers

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh breadcrumbs

1/4 cup diced onion

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 hot peppers

2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon oregano


Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to:  diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.


Urban Simplicity

Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno

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Let me just say this straight away…these crispy crunchy burgers are really easy to make and super-delicious. Simply mix everything together and pan-fry them. While I was lap-swimming this afternoon I was thinking of what I should make for dinner and these came to mind…they made me swim faster to get home and make them. I made them burger sized and ate them on a plate with a fork and knife and with other foods like an entree. But they could easily be eaten on a roll like a traditional burger, or made small for a salad garnish or an appetizer with a dipping sauce. And as usual, change up ingredients and flavoring to suit your taste.

Potato and Black Bean “Burgers” with Cheddar and Jalapeno

Makes about 8-10 burgers

1 (15oz can) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 eggs
2 jalapeno, minced
½ small onion, diced small
½ red bell pepper, diced small
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarse chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili [powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
canola oil for pan-frying


Place the beans in a bowl, and using a wire whip, mash the beans to a coarse consistency. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the oil, which is for frying). Mix thoroughly, then allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat about ¼ inch of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape the burgers as you place them in the pan, doing this in batches if necessary. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning as necessary. The burgers are done when crispy golden brown, and the centers are hot and cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper to drain.

Urban Simplicity.

This is Mike.

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This is Mike.

I saw him across the street as I was locking up my bike at the coffee shop this morning. His sign caught my attention, and as I glanced over at him he looked back at me. So after locking my bike I walked over to him.

After introducing myself and shaking hands I asked him straight out, “So what’s your story? How is it that you find yourself out here asking for help.” And then I apologized for being so forward. No need to apologize, he said, and then he told me his story. And while he did—while we talked and I asked him questions—people rushed past us.

He’s from Buffalo, the Old First Ward, born and raised. But he wanted to travel and a few years ago he landed a job as a dock worker in Hawaii. He loved it, and the pay was good. But it’s because of this job that he finds himself standing on the corner. While working he fell through a dock. He broke his back, messed up his head (showed me the massive scare on his head), and was in a coma for six months.

I couldn’t help but notice the large lump under his sock. A police monitoring device, no doubt. So I asked hi straight out about it. And he had no problem talking about it. It monitors alcohol consumption, and it is rated at zero tolerance. It also costs him $220 a month. “It’s a weird thing,” he told me, “waking up from a coma. Sometimes I still don’t know whether I am awake or dreaming.” He then went on to tell me that between the physical pain, the effects of the coma, and depression, he developed a drinking problem and “got into some trouble.” We didn’t talk about that too much.  But, he added, that he hasn’t had a drink in 6 months and is getting himself together.

After offering him a couple dollars, he shook my hand and said, while looking me in the eye, “Thank you brother, and God bless you.” I asked if he minded if I took his photo, and before I took out my phone he struck a pose, which made me smile. He even asked if the lighting was ok, if he was positioned correctly with the sun.

But the same question(s) you the reader may have asked yourself in the past is/are floating in the air again…is this guy’s story for real? And is Joe just being a sucker again? I don’t know if he was telling the truth, I would like to think that at least some or most of it was true. But I’m not stupid, some of his story doesn’t add up. Such as if he was injured so terribly while on the job wouldn’t he be taken care of financially? And that bracelet on his ankle was very real. But, on the other hand, his limp was also real, so was the massive scar on his head, and so was the look on his face when he grimaced in pain at one point. Who am I to judge? We are all part of the same human race. But some of us have had better breaks and/or have made better decisions and choices than others. We all deserve respect.

We talked for about 5 minutes. When I parted we shook hands again. And as I was walking away Mike thanked me and said it was really nice talking to me, I bid him the same. And then he smiled and simply said, “Peace Joe.”

Things that can be carried on a bike (#703)…

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Thirty-five picture frames for an upcoming show.

A few things I saw while walking and riding my bike recently…

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