Pastina & Broccoli

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Broccoli and Pastina

A very simple side dish that is a go to recipe in my kitchen.  Wonderful flavor and a simple process.

  • 1 lb. Pastina noodles 
  • 1 lb of Broccoli - florets
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan Cheese
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Total time: 20 minutes

Start by bringing 6 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot.  Add pasta to to water and add salt to water.  Microwave the butter to soften but not completely melt.  After about 4 minutes, add the broccoli to the pasta and let cook together until both are al dente. 

Drain your pasta and broccoli mixture.  Add butter to a bowl large enough to mix all ingredients without to much spilling.  Add pepper flakes, parsley and pasta & broccoli mixture.  Mix thoroughly and add Parmesan last, mix again.  Serve warm.

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. . . " Part II

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  “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

There was a unique building directly across the street from o’Bagelo’s with an interesting history and an odd appearance.  It was a stand alone building that had three streets and an entrance ramp to the inner loop as its borders. One of those, Front Street, is a street of old legends for the Rochester area. It had a flea market aura by day and was full of debauchery by sunset. A place you told your kids to stay away from at all hours of the day, your husbands too, but neither listened. 

          The building has four floors with an open parking lot underneath.  Commonly known as the building on stilts, the parking lot was recessed and extended well on to the edges of the property. There is a walking bridge from State Street that crosses the lot giving it the appearance of a moat.  Certainly a urban planners nightmare in today’s pedestrian friendly city models.  Originally built and owned by IBM, the design was a replica of their Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters.  The CEO at the time had ordered the copy built (on a smaller scale) for the Rochester office.  Not a genius move for the weather in this region, as the open base of the building caused the first two floors to ice over during the first winters.  This type of executive decision certainly does not bode well for the current Wall Street practice of paying CEO’s ungodly amounts of money to “stay competitive”.  

Not without merit, the building was covered in reflective glass and often gave those on the sidewalk a nice view of the surrounding cityscape.  The reflection from my storefront included the floors above my building and a cross on the church steeple behind our row of buildings.  The apex of the cross was high enough to clear the four stories of our building and seemed to hover in those windows most every day. 

The church was The Downtown United Presbyterian Church - or DUPC-, and had it’s own wonderful ongoing history during my years.  It was the center of a lawsuit and constant argument within the church concerning open and gay ministers, and gay marriage.  Dr. Reverend Jane Spahr (Janie, as she liked to be called) was on the forefront of all that is current on that issue for the church and she was a frequent visitor to o’Bagelo’s (Chicken Salad, always).  Based in California, she is a charismatic leader and a strong woman, worth googling, if you haven’t already. It was a pleasure to have her visit and and to hear the updates from her and the others at the church.  

The Presbyterian Church as a whole was not on board with Reverend Spahr and the local congregation at DUPC. The regional organization voted against their position, as you might expect suburban churches to do.  The California based Redwoods Presbytery brought a legal action against “Janie” in the late 2000’s and it continued into 2012.  All this was over gay marriage.  And our little downtown ministry was behind her all the way, flying in the face of the bigger organization.

The minister of record for DUPC was Gail Ricuitti. She was responsible for bringing The Dr. into the store and we had become friends over the years.  This might be a good time to quickly summarize my own religious beliefs as a reference point. I was raised Roman Catholic. I do not practice any particular faith, but I enjoy studying all the religions.  It is of particular interest to me how each was conceived and developed throughout history and all that has been done in the names of their deities (both positive and negative).

Gail and the church represent a few happy moments over the years for me.  One of which was the wedding she performed in the store for one of my employees.  But before I tell that wonderful story (in another post) there is a different story I would like to offer.  It was late one Saturday afternoon, and Gail came in for a quick something before we closed.  The place was empty except for the two of us and I was getting the place ready for lockdown.  For about 7 years I kept the place open 7 days a week, and this was during that time.  Gail and I had a habit of entering into deeper conversations than I think she anticipated when she first wandered into the bagel shop, and when time allowed, she was always happy to oblige me.  

On this Saturday, she was working on a sermon, a little late for her as I had come to learn. Her face had the look of someone crossed with uncertainty, a hurdle, and time constraints.  She gave me a quick overview of the issue and the topic at hand while I made her usual and continued cleaning.  I can’t recall what crazy crap was coming out of my mouth that day, but I do remember the topic; Predestination vs. Freewill.  I had done some reading on the topic years ago in a philosophy class and it remained with me, as I found it engaging in it’s religious context. 

So Gail and I were chatting. She was eating, I was cleaning, and it just seemed like another day at o’Bagelo’s.  That was until the next morning. Sunday’s at the store were full of church customers, both before services and after.  DUPC leased out their space to an organization called Spiritus Christi for the early morning service.  A little history of Spiritus Christi first.

Spiritus was an offshoot of Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic church that decided to challenge the rules of accepting members of the LGBT community, blessing their unions, and allowing a female lay pastor, Mary Ramerman (also a frequent customer), to stand next to the priest on the alter during services.   All of this caused a ruckus in the local diocese and they began a systematic process of dismantling the organization of Corpus Christi. 

What the Catholic church refused to acknowledge was the large numbers of young people attending services and the growing enjoyment they were experiencing of returning to a church that was more in line with their community beliefs. This was all in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and as is often the case, there were going to be some sacrificial lambs when old incumbent hierarchies get challenged. I see large movements of younger people, with or without their families, moving to churches that are providing more modern parameters to live by, and less antiquated experiences in the Sunday service.

The priest, Jim Callan, was removed from Corpus Christi and sent to Elmira. One of the outer limits of the region.  Other members were replaced or fired, and the congregation was not happy.  This spurned the creation of Spiritus Christi, and frankly a stronger conversation in the Catholic church about old vs. new values.  Jim joined the new congregation at a service and was then was excommunicated from the Catholic church (a real excommunication).  He was then asked to join Spiritus, and they are still active in our community to this day.    

It seems pretty obvious that these two organizations would find each other and become allies in their prospective challenges of man-made authority. Interestingly, Corpus was located a few blocks away from DUPC, and o’Bagelo’s stood between them. 
       Back to that Sunday morning.  Spiritus Christi had their Sunday service early at DUPC, and Gail and her presbyterian  congregation had services later in the morning.  After the first rush of customers, we had a little break before the next penitents.  Right before the second wave, a woman rushed into the store, someone that looked familiar but not from o’Bagelo’s.  She identified herself as a teacher from my high school.  I was an easy student to remember as my father was the principal there for many years, including the years I attended.  She was all smiles and told me that she had just come from the DUPC service. The look on her face was one of “I know something you don’t, and I want to tell you.” So she did.  She told me that Gail had just given a sermon that described the conversation we had on the previous Saturday.  I was mentioned by name and that it was a very positive reference.  I asked because frankly, I was very concerned.  As I have stated, even I can’t believe what comes out my own mouth at times.

I was quite surprised to hear all of this and now there were other customers coming in from the service who were verifying her report and it certainly piqued my interest.  I have included a copy of the sermon below as Gail was happy to email it to me (I once had an audio copy on cassette that I have since lost, and wouldn’t know what to do with if I hadn’t).

I will not go into detail of the sermon as you can read it for yourself. A few things did go through my head after hearing her voice on that cassette.  First, I was concerned that I should be more careful about the things I spout out during my time behind the counter, even though It probably didn’t happen.  Second, having a group of people listen to the line “And the bagel-man said to me. . . “ in a church, had me worried about old testament backlash from any one (or several) of the deities that may have been listening in that day. 
I have titled this part “The Good” but my church customers were not all “Wine and Wafers”. I had plenty of run-ins with a few of them.  After about 7 years of pushing my limits of work and customers pushing my limits of patience, I decided to close the store on Sundays.  This was not an easy decision as any business owner will tell you.  I had spent quite a bit of time developing the Sunday traffic, but it was still the day generating the least amount of revenue. I needed a break, and it was time. 
There was also an incident that was the tipping point for this decision. In an effort to boost business, I used to buy the Sunday New York Times to add to the local Sunday paper for customers to read.  I had always bought papers for customer use and the protocol was fairly well understood. The papers were mine, and I shared. Don’t take it with you; try to violate it, and if you had any decent upbringing, return the paper to the pile for others. And most importantly; Never, Ever, Ever mess with my crossword puzzle, unless you have been invited to do so. 
       One Sunday, I noticed the NY Times was missing. No where to be found on the premises.  Believe me, I searched. I was the only one working that day, and I knew who had been in the store that morning.  I was not happy. And my discontent lasted for three weeks.  I stopped buying the New York Times for my customers and posted a sign stating my concerns and the expected resolve.  Return the paper, or fess up, and all will be forgiven. Like a good christian on Sunday. 
Well, it didn’t happen.  And on the fourth week I added a sign explaining that I would be closing the store on Sundays, as I could no longer look at all these good people knowing one of them was a chicken shit thief. Or something like that.  I had a pretty good idea who the paper poacher was, but I had no proof.  And that was my last Sunday open to the public.  And I still know who you are! And I have a good memory. And I’m patient. 
 These two organizations coming helping each other out with their shared beliefs concerning the LGBT community was part of the "Good" I am referring to.  All this in my neighborhood.  Presbyterians challenging long held tenants of their church; Catholics revolting over the removal of those acting on the wishes of the congregation; creating a new church to welcome all those previously being shunned; national and local lawsuits trying to stop the blessings of weddings among same sex couples.  I half expected to see a man nailing his theses on the door of the Catholic or Presbyterian church somewhere close. And maybe they did.  

At the time all of this religious upheaval was happening in our little neighborhood it never really occurred to me that it was all that big of a deal.  Writing about it years later has given me a different perspective. The importance of the actions of those in our neighborhood was going to be a part of large needed change in this country. Small important battles that will ripple through society.  Isn’t that what Thoreau was talking about (see a previous post).  It’s no wonder I liked these people (well, most of them).

Looking at the cross in the reflection of that building on stilts made me feel good about where I was and the decisions I had made.  Inexplicably,  the image put me more at ease than if it were the cross itself I was eyeing. In the midst of the all the vice, it was reminder of life’s unavoidable dualities. Not too bad for an old 19th century set of masonry buildings holding onto to life in a iron and steel world.   That cross was a  calming force in my world and I felt that it’s importance to our block could not be minimized. That force is the basis for the final part of this three part dialogue.  

“The ugly. . . “ next post on

Taking a Chance on God: A Life Without Coincidence
Sermon by Gail Ricuitti, DUPC.

May 15, 1994 Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
Text: ". . . one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." . . . and the lot fell on Matthias . . .
I stopped in for a very late lunch yesterday just before mid-afternoon closing time, and mentioned over the counter that I had 36 more hours to get a sermon on paper. John the Bagel Man asked me what I was preaching about. Well, I said, my main thesis is that in this life there are no accidents. Nothing is really coincidence. I told him about the story in Acts of finding a replacement for Judas [so that one would "become a witness" to the resurrection], and how I'd been thinking about this and working on this all week but as yet didn't have anything written. The ensuing conversation was lively and fascinating, and made me wish profoundly that I could just haul the Bagel Man into church this morning to have another go at it with me. That was the real sermon, 2:30 yesterday afternoon, but you had to be there.
He told me how an accident that wasn't really coincidence happened to him once, while he struggled to put together a bagel business while finishing up his MBA. Nothing was working out. Finally in desperation he applied for a short-term job he didn't want, as a courrier delivering computer equipment to local corporations for IBM. The day after he was hired on, he broke his thumb--the only bone he had ever broken--in the last soccer game of the league season. Since the insurance company wouldn't allow him to carry heavy items for six weeks, IBM said they couldn't give him the job after all. Shortly thereafter, everything suddenly fell into place, opening the way [freeing him] to open the bagel shop of his dreams after all.
As he talked, I thought how every one of us has a story like that: those insight-yielding experiences in life that appear to be accidental. One of mine concerns the date and time of my birth. Seven hours later, and I would have been the oldest child in my class instead of the youngest when I entered school. Anthony would have graduated and left Princeton seminary three months before I entered . . . and I would never have ended up, with him, first in Ohio and then in western New York; would never have heard of the Downtown Church; and so on and so on and so on. The coincidence of just seven hours would have made my life significantly, if not entirely, different. But is there any coincidence?
Perhaps Matthias asked himself that same question; he certainly had occasion to! "Lord, you know everyone's heart," the believers prayed. "Show us which one . . . you have chosen to take the share in this ministry. . . " and they cast lots-- showing either a profound desperation or a profound trust in God's intention and attention. The Hebrew word for "lot", goral, has the additional meaning of "destiny" in many texts (and in the Dead Sea scrolls, came to mean "fate.") "And so they cast fate . . ."
There is a curious contrast between the disciples' need to control by making the standards
Acts 1:22, 26
rigorous; and their leaving it to God in the drawing of lots . . ."Leadership in this new community is based both on qualification (vv. 21-22), and on divine choice (v. 24)."1
Since there exists no description in biblical texts of the actual procedures involved or the nature of the instrument(s) used, it has been an easy matter for moderns to rationalize the act, as does Johannes Munck in The Anchor Bible Commentary:
The expression in vs. 26 . . . can be understood as voting by ballot so that it need not be a question of the drawing of lots.2
Father John McNeill, the gay Jesuit priest who spoke at the Downtown Church three or four years ago, believes that the statements "Taking a Chance on Love" and :"Taking a Chance on God" "are at some deep level identical . . ." and so he entitled one of his books after a lovely ballad from the musical Cabin in the Sky:
I thought love's game was over, lady luck had gone away.
I laid my cards on the table, unable to play.
Then I heard good fortune say,
"They’re dealing you a new hand today!"
Oh, here I go again,
I hear those trumpets blow again, all aglow again,
taking a chance on love. . .
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1 William H. Willimon, Acts. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988, p. 24.
2 Anchor Bible, page 10.
What sounds to some of us like some New Age fantasy at best, or some superstitious divination at worst, is not only deeply authentic to biblical faith but an honored way of life among peoples often labelled "primitive" but who are much more spiritually developed than the analytic mind of the western world.
The American physician Marlo Morgan, a woman well equipped with honors and degrees, writes in her startling and fascinating book Mutant Message, of the most valuable education she ever received: it took place during an unexpected four-month walkabout, barefoot, in the blazing desert of Australia where she had been summoned and was taught by a nomad tribe of Aborigines called the Real People. The story of the spiritual depths of a people who still inhabit this planet, who communicate among themselves primarily by mental telepathy, is such a remarkable one that you should read it for yourself. But one of the understandings of these aboriginal peoples came to mind again and again as I contemplated the biblical account of the early Jesus community's selection of Matthias to complete the number of the Twelve.
The aborigines pray each morning, "If it is in my highest good and the highest good for all of life everywhere, let me learn."
"These people believe everything exists on the planet for a reason. Everything has a purpose. There are no freaks, misfits, or accidents. There are only misunderstandings and mysteries not yet revealed to mortal [people]."3
"This says to me that nothing in life is coincidental," I said to the Bagel Man. "So what you're talking about goes back to predestination," he said. "Well, basically. But the longer I've thought about it, the more questions it opens up-- questions that don't fit, questions that can't be minimized or ignored. They're the `Sara Anne Wood questions':
Sara Anne Wood, and mass killers like hers Holocaust
why evil operates
why innocence suffers and dies before its time
I can't say that these things aren't accidental, that somehow they're part of God's purpose for a life."
Bagel Man: "Can't say it to the folks you're preaching to, or can't say it yourself?"
Me: "Can't say it because I don't believe it! So I'm thinking about something I'm calling `In the breach' theology:
3 Marlo Morgan, Mutant Message. Lees Summit, Missouri: MM Company, 1991. p. 54.
With insight always come unanswered questions. The breaches or mysteries opened up thereby, that have no logical or systematic answers, have to be filled by foundational truths instead: all we can say is that "God is love" - and for the rest, there is not a construct to fill the breach.
"The problem is that the human mind and thought process expects a systematic theology (we even study this in seminary, whole courses devoted to `systematics'): perhaps there is nothing more ludicrous that we could expect in the field of spiritual understanding than `systematics.' We need to shake loose our either-or/ dualistic thinking: so maybe it takes a different kind of thinking: a certain predestination, yes, but at the same time an affirmation of our freedom."
I thought then about Roger von Oech's "Creative Whacks," drawn from his book A Whack on the Side of the Head:
It's not the ideas we don't have that prevent us from being creative, but rather the ideas we do have that imprison our thinking. . .
Two men went to court to settle a dispute. After the plaintiff made her case, the judge said, "You're right." Then the defendant made his case and again the judge said, "You're right." At this, the clerk of court said, "They both can't be right!" The judge replied, "You're right." 4
But the Bagel Man shot back, "You're refuting your own point, if you say that predestination and free will are both true...People go to church to get some solid answers, not to be told there aren't any answers-- only questions!"
I thought about that a lot in the 36 hours I had left to get the thoughts from brain-wave to word. I went back to Donald McKim's Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, and Jack Rogers' Presbyterian Creeds (darn that Bagel Man and his MBA! I went in for lunch, and came out with extra assignments!)
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4 from Creative Whacks: 50 Ways to enhance your Creative Abilities. ©1989.
Predestination (or doctrine of election) refers to our salvation in Christ, not to every incident that happens to us in life. At best, predestination is simply another way of saying "grace alone"-- that God has done what we cannot do, and what God has done in mercy we cannot undo.5 It is not that we have chosen God, but that God has chosen us and has sent us into the world...
But I am not addressing predestination here. If you want a taste of why, and of how complex the arguments over the ages, you too can look it all up: supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, double decreee, voluntary necessity, double predestination, reprobation. (About now, I hope you're feeling very grateful to me for not going into it all!)
Any teaching of predestination as sole, absolute truth is a false doctrine.6 You see, we neglect to see the holiness of life when we write off so much as coincidence that has led ultimately to our good... Our mistake is trying to force spiritual understandings into "a neat, humanly logical package."7
At the Ontario Science Museum in Toronto some years ago, Anthony and I witnessed an exhibition of a most amazing art: Chinese silk embroidery. One artisan, a woman, was embroidering a delicate village scene in the mountains. Mirrors were positioned in such a way that only the onlookers could also see the design taking form on the underside of the fabric--a beautifully detailed, prowling tiger . . . done simultaneously by the same needle, with the same stitching, on a single piece of silk.
5 with gratitude for simplifying this understanding, to Jack Rogers in Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985.
6 "We are independent, morally responsible persons. We are free.
"Reformed theology means to say the same thing about God's fore-choice
and our free moral responsibility. It is not a case of either/or but of both/and. . . If we trust and believe, God will always receive us. That is a genuinely biblical promise. And when we know ourselves to be so received, then we realize it was because of God's grace, not because of our own virtue or action. That is equally true.
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7 Ibid., p. 89.
Rogers, p. 91.
In the same way, neither is God's work in our lives accidental. But from our side of the tapestry, what looks like a game of chance is actually the revealing of a purpose deftly designed on the other side.
My salt bagel with veggie cream cheese was history by now, busily replacing the calories my brain was busy using up; and the coffee I'd been toping was only a lukewarm quarter-inch left in the bottom of the mug. "You may show up in this sermon tomorrow morning," I threatened.
"Glad if we could be of assistance," he said.
Then, as I walked towards the door I asked over my shoulder, "Well, do you think I can get it written? I've been thinking about this all week, but there's nothing on paper."

And the Bagel Man replied, "If you don't, I guess it won't be an accident, will it?!"

"Shrubs" - the other kind.

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Shrubs - The Drinks 

A very old, and now new again (some even say old again) system of preserving fruit (or vegetables) in a vinegar and sugar mixture.   Historically, shrubs can be traced back to at least the days of the Roman Empire, as a drink for the lower classes and the military to help keep them hydrated and to quench thirst.  Using the final product as a flavoring for the drinks, it creates a sweet and sour delight for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.  

Blackberry Raspberry Shrub - Photos by Jon Feldman

  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/14 cup apple cider vinegar
Total prep time: 20 minuters
Total time: 4 days

Combine all the berries and the sugar in a bowl and macerate the mixture to a pulp like consistency.  Cover and place in the fridge for one day.

The next day, mash the mixture through a sieve or fine mesh strainer.
Add the vinegar to the syrup mixture, cover, and place back in fridge for 3 more day.

Over those three days the vinegar flavor will mellow and absorb the sweetness and flavor the berries and sugars.  The key is experimentation.  Find the balance of fruit and vegetable flavors you enjoy together and create many wonderful cocktails.

Your shrub will last at least 3 weeks in the fridge, as these were originally meant to last longer than that.  Be smart, if it starts to develop a foul odor, disregard the above limits.

Your Shrub is now ready to serve.  This is where the fun starts.  The combinations are endless.  Lets start with a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

  • 1 oz. Berry Shrub
  • 8 oz. Sparkling water
This simple concoction makes a refreshing and thirst quenching drink.  Not only can you adjust the proportions for your drink, but you can eventually adjust the shrub recipe to be sweeter or tarter, depending on your particular tastes.

Later in the 19th century, shrubs found their way into cognacs and and bourbons.
You can use any liquor to spice up your shrub. I have seen many combinations at new gastro-pubs or cocktail bars.  The Berry shrub goes particularly well with gin or vodka. But please, as I am a big advocate of eating well in this blog, I also urge you to drink well. Choose a quality brand for your cocktails.  Your body will thank you.

This is the cold version for making shrubs, but there is also a quicker hot version.  Generally, you place your fruit or vegetable in small pot with sugar and a little water. Simmer until the mixture creates a nice syrup.  Drain the mixture through a sieve, and then add your vinegar to the syrup.  Place in fridge for a day or two before you start using it as it will mellow with time.

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" - not in that order - Part I

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      Part I 
"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

      I recently learned that the longest standing retail store on my old block of State Street has closed. Quite a surprise as I considered it to be in the “Cockroach” family of businesses. Not one that I have a direct problem with, but one that is nearly impossible to get rid of and has lasted as long as humanity (for the record, anything in the sex trade or tax collection business, are in the genus of “cockroach business”, perhaps I will continue to develop this principle and assign it a species and differentia as well).

This started me thinking about the old neighborhood  and it’s specific oddities rather than any individual odd incident.. 

     “State Street Book and Novelty” was the adult book store that closed and it is an important change to the area.  I learned (not by experience) that the appeal in the early years was the private viewing booths that were lined up along one wall with with waist high holes that connected one to the next.  The city has banned these types of businesses in the downtown district and was successful at restricting these viewing booths more recently.  There were numerous raids by local and federal police over the years on this business.  The owner was even arrested on pornography charges after he financed and produced a movie designed for his retail establishment. All these efforts failed and eventually all the governing bodies just left the place alone. “Grandfathered In” was the term, but I am not sure there is any legality to that phrase.
State Street Book and Novelty had survived many new attempts by younger generations of government officials and changes in how we access our vice.  The place paid its taxes; only a few people were complaining about it anymore; and it has survived through many business cycles. Frankly, you could just ignore the place if it bothered you too much, and they just let it be. Kind of like most curmudgeonly old “Grandfathers”.

For the rest of the block the location of the book store was a concern.  It was the first building in the State Street historic section.  It is the “last continuous row of 19th century masonry buildings inside the inner loop” according to someone’s Wikipedia post.
The buildings begin one large block north of the main intersection of Rochester, what we locals call the “Four Corners”. Eastman Kodak, the one time king of Rochester, has its world headquarters  on the other side of our historic section. All the city hotels resided on one side of this set of buildings and Kodak on the other. Avoiding the adult book store wasn't an option for hotel guests with business at Kodak.

Each building fronted State Street and backed up to Pindle Alley. It really was an alley at some points, but It opened up to a parking lot for city hall after a few buildings.   The other oddity was the architectural line of the spaces.  There was about a 30 degree shift of the property lines at the third building that caused the rest of the storefronts to be obscured from view and to decrease in size because Pindle Alley didn’t follow the same path.  As a pedestrian approached, they first encountered the adult book store, and could not tell if they were walking into a red-light district, off the edge of earth or into Eden. I often saw pedestrians stop at that point and consider their options as if they were in an “Indiana Jones” movie.
Even if you were aware of what lie on the other side and intended on going there, you still had to walk past this place and risk seeing your boss or coworker exiting.  So the bookends of our business row started with the porn store and ended with my bagel shop (I know there is a funny metaphor there somewhere, but I think I’m going to avoid that road).

The street in front of the buildings was lined with parking meters and there were a few additional spots across the street.  Other than the  adult bookstore staff and patrons, which was open 24 hours - seven days a week, I was the first to arrive each morning.  For several years a gay bar was located adjacent to the bookstore and had a reputation that mimicked the old Front street of Rochester (you should look that up), but limited to the gay community. 

Not the type of gay bar that proudly displayed the rainbow flag, and was a home base for  protesters and paraders, but rather a “check your hetero self at the door, leather wielding, dance on the bar”, kind of place. Not that you could walk in their in the early evening and see this, but when the city emptied out, the behavior escalated.  

When I pulled up each morning (evening for many of the patrons and auxiliary traffic), I was often espied by a few lurkers outside these two establishments.  Partly because my path to work included a U-turn after passing the onlookers and parking in front of my store. For those you who might want to know, this seems to be a sign of interest to those loitering on the street at 5 a.m. The first time I was approached I let them speak, not knowing the exact nature of their potential inquiry.  But no one got the first word in after that.  There is something unnerving about being propositioned by a young man for sex at that hour, especially before I have had my coffee.  

I learned later those loiterers thought I was a “Chicken-Hawk”. A man looking for sex from another man.  The bookstore and gay bar were prime hunting ground for these tireless workers.  I was able to assert my position on their offers rather quickly but I also knew that they spent more hours after dark (and before dawn) in front of my all glass window storefront than anyone else.  Somehow I had to make my point without pissing off the oft crack infused male prostitutes.  I wasn't always successful, as the 21 break-ins over the years would indicate.

      In the early years there was a “head shop” adjacent to the gay bar that starting selling cigars just as the trend was picking up.  The owner (Big Joe from a previous piece) moved to a  vacant storefront a few years later, closer to my end of the block. This place used to house a strip joint with women dancing during the week and men on the weekend. The storefront was bricked over with a what looked like a peep show window on the street and a speakeasy door that was recessed and and curved into the space.  The building looked like it was hiding something inside and was daring the pedestrian to try and find out.  

Part of the move for the smoke shop was to expand its offerings.  The block now had a pawn shop that specialized in cigars and guns.  That’s right, a cigar and gun shop.  If that wasn’t odd enough, a 2 story vertical sign was erected perpendicular to the building that read, “CIGARS and GUNS”. 

His long time employee “Bearded Steve”,  made the move with him (also in previous posts). I want to be sure that I make this point clear. I consider both Joe and Steve friends.  Not only did their business add character to the street, their personas did a lot for the color of the area.  Not to mention, they were among the few of us on the block that self patrolled the neighborhood. 

I remember a story they told me about a particular incident at the new store. I did not witness it, but have no doubts to it’s validity.  A member of the ATF visited and warned the boys of a recent string of gun stores robberies in the area.  They were described as “smash and grab” style thefts.  The assailants would charge the door, smash the cases, grab the guns and run out.  The store was large and had display cases on two side of a square layout. Guns on one side and cigars and pawn items on the other.  Joe and Steve each manned one side of the place and the customer was always surrounded. 

One day soon after the warning, three young men entered the store rather quickly, one holding a baseball bat. Before any announcement could be made about the interest of the young men, the proprietor and his second had pulled their legal firearms and were taking aim.  Steve had taken to packing a double shoulder holster, especially after the warning.  Like Dirty Harry, he had a gun in each hand pointing at the patrons while the his partner did the same from the other counter.  I am certain there was some profanities projected, along with warning or two.  

The three visitors exited quickly. The police were called. And not much trouble happened there after that incident.  Now, it could be that these three men just wanted to pawn a very special baseball bat and no real concerns existed. You know, one signed by the “Babe” himself perhaps, but now we will never know. If you thought those guys from Pawn Stars were interesting, you never visited “Cigars and Guns” on State street.
Our little city block was really developing over the years, but something was still missing.  I couldn’t put my finger on it until the day I heard the news of a new tenant that had purchased one of the vacant buildings in the middle of our historic row.  Off Track Betting was coming to State Street and they were going to rehab a building and clean up the block. Ahhh. . . Now the place felt complete. We have packed in as many vices as possible on the street and the hole felt plugged.  (And no, I am not including the sexual orientation of the bar as a vice, so keep your right wing granny panties covering your woman’s thong adjusted.)

The upper 3 floors of a few buildings were connected and contained different forms of housing over the years. My first few years it was a flop house, and it eventually made transitions to the current VOA housing for parolees.  This was a great improvement from the previous years, noting all the rules and regulations the VOA had in place for their tenants.    

The neighborhood wasn’t all sin over the years.  The “Bangkok” Thai restaurant anchored the block when I first started but it quickly split into two places and moved locations (The King and I, and Esan - shameless plug for the post).  There was a family accountant business that had three generations working in one building, and numerous private practice attorneys with varying specialties. Perhaps they liked the easy pickings in the neighborhood for clients.   

  A whole host of different retail and office businesses came and went over the years and at some point it all gets a little blurry.  Most were good people with varying degrees of quality ideas, but statistics is a bastard to contend with. 

It’s hard for me to understand why I ever wanted to open a bagel shop on this modern day “Front Street” of Rochester, and even more difficult to comprehend why I stayed. Ignorance; youthful exuberance; too arrogant to know better; “twenty-something-itis”; could have been any or all of these.  Why I stayed is harder to defend. I was always looking for the next step but some life event always stalled my efforts.  

     Next post, “The Good” . . . 

Bacon Wrapped, Mac-n-Cheese stuffed, Meatloaf!

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Bacon Wrapped, Mac-n-Cheese stuffed,

Photos by Jon Feldman

     Not only is the name a mouthful, but this sinful treat will entice all of your senses.  The smell of bacon in the kitchen, the visual delight while preparing.  And your taste buds, well, I always hope the end product pleases.  
     I will start with a basic meatloaf recipe, but if you have a particular one you like, substitute yours for this one.  The one item I might object to is anything with ketchup (catsup). You can read about my distaste for that condiment here.

     In addition you will need to have a Mac-n-Cheese portion ready to go for the stuffing.  My recipe can be found here.  This may be the most time consuming part of the recipe, so you should be sure to plan well.  As you will not have to bake the mac-n-cheese for the meatloaf, I suggest allowing 45 minutes to prep this part of the recipe. 

     Once you have your macaroni and cheese ready to go, the next steps are fairly simple.

  • 3 cups Mac-n-Cheese (not baked)
  • 3 lb. 80 -20 ground beef (I use all beef, but use what you like best).
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley
  • 10 pieces bacon
  • Salt/pepper

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. (Does not include time for making mac-n-cheese.)

Once we have our mac-n-cheese prepped, the next step is to prepare the meatloaf.  I would like to repeat that most any meatloaf recipe you like will work as a substitute. I prefer this simple and pure combination of flavors.

Place your meat in a large enough bowl to mix with your hands without spillover.  Add your eggs, Panko bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, and worcestershire, and onion.   I like to grate my onion with a cheese grater to add to the mixture. It creates an almost pureed onion that I think mixes well.  Add salt and pepper (along with any additional ingredients you may like) and mix with hands.

Once mixed we are ready to build our masterpiece.  Start with a sheet pan large enough to fix your meatloaf. You can build on a rack on the sheet pan to help create a drip pan for your meatloaf, if you have one.

Lay your bacon strips our side by side on the pan (or rack), be sure they are tight together.

Now split the meatloaf mixture into two parts. about 2/3 part for the base, and 1/3 for the top.  

Form the base 2/3 section into a flat rectangle about "2 inches thick" x "the length of the bacon pieces" x "1/3 of the width of the bacon.  The length and width are more important than the thickness.  Create a well (or negative space, to keep with my math analogies) in the base with a hight edge around the sides.  Place your mac-n-cheese in the well making sure you leave room around the edges. 

You are ready for the top piece of the meatloaf. Don't be worried if you cannot get the top part in one piece onto the your loaf, you can work in once it is in place. 

Now form the monstrosity with your hands, pinching and closing tight all the edges.

Don't be afraid to form the meatloaf to meet the needs of the bacon, but remember the bacon will be more pliable and can be stretched a bit to meet at the top.  You may be thinking it would be better to have the bacon close under or the sides, but I have never had any issues with the bacon coming apart. You could roll your meatloaf, I suppose, but it never seemed necessary.

Next wrap the bacon around the meat and try to have each piece cover as much of the meatloaf without overlapping.

I want to apologize for the end product pictures of this post. They in no way reflect the photographer or his assistant. This was one the last shoots of the day and frankly I was emotionally drained. I tend to plan a very aggressive menu when I get the opportunity to work with them, and this day I over reached. 

Place the meatloaf in the oven at 375 degrees and bake for up to 1 hour. It may take a little less, but you can usually test the doneness by the bacon. When it gets good and crisp, the meatloaf should be done.  Temp should be around 155 degrees for the meat, but this can be deceiving if you don't place your thermometer properly. You want to be sure to get only meat, and not the mac-n-cheese.

I know you don't need to see a picture of meat in my oven, but I couldn't resist putting this one in the post. Other than my oven not being perfectly clean, I thought it was pretty cool.
When done, let rest for 15 minutes.  Serve slices the size of each bacon strip.  When I make the mac-n-cheese on the same day, I reserve some of the cheese sauce for a drizzle (optional, of course).
You can see here how using a rack to drain the fat and any roving cheese might make for a better out of the oven presentation but you can transfer fairly easily to a serving platter to avoid the grease/cheese mixture on the pan.

Stuffed Banana Peppers

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Stuffed Banana/Cubanella Pepers

A staple in many Buffalo, NY pubs and restaurants, these are much different than the standard bell peppers stuffed with rice and meat.  A great appetizer any time of the year. Simple and easy. Great way to impress guests.

  • 3 Banana Peppers
  • 3 Cubanella (or Italian sweet) peppers
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 mozzarella cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • Fresh parsley
  • salt/pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil
Total time: 35 minutes
Serves 3

Cut your peppers in half lengthwise and clean out ribs and seeds.

In a bowl, mix together all the other ingredients except the olive oil and make sure they area combined well.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Stuff the peppers with the cheese mixture and place on a sheet pan (I like to cover with foil for 15 minutes).  Drizzle the tops of the peppers with olive oil before baking.

Cook for 20 minutes or until the the cheese starts to brown slightly.

Serve hot.

Two Roads

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        Every morning at o’Bagelo’s started with coffee in the pre-dawn hours with the lights off, enjoying the peace of a locked door.  Reading the paper then thumbing through a book of quotes for something topical to post on that small green chalkboard by the cash register.  I don’t remember the very first dollar that came in the store, but I will always remember the first quote I put on that board.  Several lines of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” 

    “. . .

  I shall be telling this with a sigh
  Somewhere ages and ages hence
  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
  I took the one less traveled by,
  . . . “