Saturday, September 23, 2017

Intriguing Late Night Taco Grubhub From La Vaca Margarita Bar

Take out from La Vaca Margarita Bar was definitely on the unique side of things. 
I wasn't in the mood for tacos.
In fact, I wanted sushi or vegan BBQ. Many restaurants were closed after a certain time.
I settled for returning to my host location and utilizing Grub Hub. The only vegan option was La Vaca's tacos and guacomole with hot and crunchy tortilla chips.
When I unwrapped my tacos, I thought they looked like fish and almost called the restaurant, but no fishy smell came from beneath the pink patties topped with avocado slices and sesame seeds.

These breaded filets are comprised of chickpeas, oatmeal, rice, and bell peppers. 
Flat patties were slightly crunchy on the outside with a delicate tender center, but needed more than avocado (which was unfortunately a little on the brown side) and sesame seeds to provide a real sense of flavor. It lacked salt and spice.
Funnily enough the guacamole was very salty. I added that to the tacos-- which helped just a bit. I loved the concept of blending these specific ingredients together and forming them into a cohesive vegan friendly taco insertion. It's the follow through that could use revision. Still, a commendable effort nonetheless. 
Blogger Tricks

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Blues At Native Foods Cafe

Looks can be deceiving.
Native Foods Cafe, the nearest vegan place to Art Institute of Chicago, was where my friend (former PAFA classmate and one of the best painters/surface preparers in our graduate year) and I popped by to have lunch. My usual spot in Washington D.C. had the same familiar setup-- opened space, red and yellow painted features, and giant windows to let in natural light and downtown city views. Excitement and hunger bounced together, especially heightened by the sight of newest tantalizing desserts sequestered behind the glass case.

Sweet sweets.
The wait.
Lunch: nachos, macaroni and cheese, and that Native Chik'n, Bacon, and, Avo Club Sandwich.
Once the waitress delivered our ordered food to the table, my expectations grew tremendously. At first unsuccessful bite attempt, however, I realized that we had tragically plummeted into a giant rabbit hole of disappointment. The hard ciabatta bread was toasted to the point of inedible concern and the weak, chewy chik'in with limp flavored tempeh bacon wasn't up to par with my Philly addiction to Hip City Veg's terrific rendition. In addition to misery, at this point eating my meal like a salad, my companion didn't find their nutty cheese necessarily "a win on the vegan side." Plus, he thought there were too many jalapeños. I actually like their housemate cashew cheese and was disheartened to hear his disappointment. The macaroni and cheese, which I ate the next day, eased my despair.

Chicago has four Native Foods Cafe locations overall. Perhaps we came on a bad day.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Amazing Kitchen 17 Where Vegan Deep Dish Pizza Awaits

On a cool Tuesday evening, after a sweet ride with a truck driving, storytelling Uber driver from down south, I met a fellow brown vegan sis for dinner at Kitchen 17, one of the best vegan spots in Chicago. The restaurant is currently renovating their new location-- a sleek muted light venue with lots of natural wood elements. 

We started off with buffalo cauliflower with ranch sauce. Very, very spicy exterior with the creamy, beautifully smooth ranch to cool down the taste bud flame for just a mild moment or so.

The gorgeous deep dish pizza came-- hot and steamy.

Speak to me, Tomato Sauce.

This was excellent! Hands down one of the best restaurant pizzas I've ever eaten. I loved the flavorful crust (that wasn't the least bit dry) and all the flavors of juicy tomato sauce and oodles of cheesy goodness. I barely could find the seitan sausage, but that wasn't a problem. With tantalizing pizza bliss overload, I was so glad to have wonderful conversations with the dear company. We talked everything from food to careers to Fenty Beauty (although cruelty free there are several products of Rihanna's launched cosmetics company that are not vegan).

Coconut chai cupcake for a later dessert.

This cupcake is super moist perfection with the right chai tea flavors of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Always appreciate a cupcake where the frosting isn't the only part executed well. The whole cupcake was delicious.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Chicago Vegan Diner Brunch and Takeout

For years, I've longed to try The Chicago Diner, a place that has been meat free since '83 (a solid good year). This restaurant is on many vegan bucket lists. To go to Chicago and not eat there once would have been a great travesty. Straight from my plane ride and learning that my check in would be after 2pm, I took the train and headed off to sate my hunger. It was a short flight, but I hadn't eaten in hours.

A menu packed with choices. I struggled between the desire for a tall stack of pancakes with whipped cream, The Breakfast Combo (scrambled tofu, hash, bacon, sausage, and choice of French toast, pancake, English muffin or toast), Cinnamon Roll French Toast (which comes with strawberry coulis, hash, and seitan sausage), or the Monte Cristo (a French toast sandwich with vegan cheese, fried tofu, Creole mustard, and hash). 

I chose the Country Benedict-- fried tofu between herb biscuits with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, tomato, and onion, smothered in seitan sausage gravy. It also comes with slices of fresh melon. This dish was amazing! The biscuits were crisp and tender, with scrumptious tofu layered in tantalizing veggies, and that mouthwatering sumptuous gravy that featured meaty pieces of flavorful seitan.

This smooth and creamy carrot cake milkshake is definitely worth all of the praise. There were no chunks of carrot or walnuts squeezing through the straw. It was all pure carrot cake bliss emerging in sweet, yummylicious glory mixed in with the amazing, thick, whipped cream. What a splendid special treat!

I took their house made cinnamon frosted cinnamon rolls to go.

Tuesday morning: discovered that I had my cinnamon rolls upside down the whole entire time-- overnight in the refrigerator and everything. I ate my breakfast with a banana and cold water. But alas, headed off, happy and sugared up, I go lost for ten minutes looking for the train station. Woe is my middle name.

Wednesday morning: the last delicious cinnamon roll, all sticky sweet and dripping in early rapture on a rainy rise. This plump, pliant delight made me want to cuddle with my teddy bear and sleep until dawn.
That first bite is the one that tides one over, make them feel like this could possibly be the most wonderful last Chicago day. The rain had stopped after all. Of course, I found the train station and got off at the correct stop, but managed to get myself lost, finding certain landmarks. Sigh. I'm still utterly happy to be charmed and wooed by The Chicago Diner, all of their delicious foods linger on my mind.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Playing the Tourist

Another short little adventure to Chicago, Illinois. I haven't been to the Windy City in almost eight years or so. Back then, I was in Rosemont, rarely going beyond Wizard World Chicago. Now the times have changed. Birds fly into the photographs.
I had a splendid three days in majestic Chicago. Warm, pleasing weather (despite a mild morning Wednesday morning rain) added beneficial enjoyment to a city of profound art and historic skyscrapers. I walked almost everywhere and rode trains, taking in the majestic nature. I met up with former PAFA alums, including a classmate and explored highlights through their eyes. Plus, I ate a marvelous dinner with a fellow black woman vegan Twitter friend. My trip wasn't purely secluded mini vacation, but a time to fully interact and engage with people, to truly get to know them further. For that to happen among industrial backgrounds, famous landmarks, and delicious food (okay, there were bad food experiences, but I'll get to that later), made my short visit amazingly wonderful. I couldn't have asked for better company.

It took hours to find my temporal resting place. This wasn't the first instance of Google Maps steering me in the incorrect direction. Once my phone eventually bid me adieu, dying in the middle of my panic, I had a moment of sitting on the ground, watching the sun threaten to fall below horizon, leaving me a stranded mess on the other side of my location, Yes, I was almost half an hour away, having walked the opposite direction. A policewoman geared into the correct way. Her companion asked if I wanted to call a taxi. Of course not. Twenty minutes is nothing. I found my location, drank the free water, rested my head on a Frida Kahlo pillow, and smiled my relief.
The next day, I visited The Art Institute of Chicago, meeting a fellow PAFA alum (who recently graduated from the School of Art Institute's graduate program).

Inside Trip Advisor's Top Museum (love the independent film inspired insignia), you'll find famous works like Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon At the Island of Grand Jatte," Edward Hopper's late night diner special "Nighthawks," and Grant Wood's iconic Midwestern "American Gothic." However, if you're like me, you would appreciate works by Beauford Delaney, Gabrielle Munter, and Cauleen Smith.

We visited the Africa section first, drawn in by elegant fabrics, compelling weaving, and commendable blacksmithing. The fabrics alone are remarkable.

Twine and painted wood with fabric.
This is a breathtakingly exquisite Royal Tunic and Coronet of Yoruba in Odo-Ona Iilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria that was owned by Oba (King) Dele Adeshina of Odo-Ona Ilorin. It's comprised of glass beads, cloth, and string, early 2oth century.

Moccasins fit for the king.

This is the back of the tunic-- just sophisticatedly detailed!

Posers posing in Jeff Koons' elaborate gold mirror.

It was such an honor to see the Marc Chagall stained glass windows of a serene, calming blue with little shards of color like magical prisms embedded into corner walls.

Marc Chagall continued. So as we sat in front of the gorgeous piece of art, I had charged my dying phone between two computers-- an artwork installation of some sort. I turned around for a moment, chatting with my friend. When I looked back, a man was holding onto my phone, clutching it while scrolling with the computer mouse. I had to let him know that the phone was mine, that it needed to be charged. He apologized and set it down. He and his companion leave, but not before the next couple sit down and shout, "Sir, you've forgotten your phone!" It was downright hysterical. I suppose that the better solution would have been to charge at a nearby café.

Views of Chicago skyline from my friend's automobile. We were on our way to see Jennifer Packer's show (she was a visiting critic to both of us).

Runners jogging on a supremely gorgeous day. The water was absolutely riveting, the beads of sunlight sparkling on the glittery river, a sight to behold with the many scattered yachts sitting atop.

Downtown Chicago at night.

The American Writer Museum actually exists.

The Chicago water taxi line was packed. One day, I'll get on and find a new destination.

Ohio and Michigan's old rivalry with Ohio coming out on top! Yay!

I would love to thank this stranger who took a bunch of lovely photos of me by the Buckingham Fountain, one of the several existing structures featured in one of my favorite films, Love Jones. I was soooo ecstatic to see it in person. Such an astounding sight to see.
Anish Kapoor's reflective "Cloud Gate" otherwise known as "The Bean" lets visitors see themselves in obscurity alongside the background of skyscraper glory.

Underneath "The Bean."

Seeing myself in the object itself.

Last glimpse of "The Bean," seemingly located in the pocket of the city.

Bon voyage, Chicago. I hope to visit again very soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Vegan Beauty Travel Essentials

A few beauty products stowed away.
Before I headed out for a special three day trip to Chicago in guise of self pampering (food, art, and sight seeing), a few solid deals squeezed themselves into the beauty portion of my carry on bag. Alongside usual components ($3.99 mini bottles of Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Shampoo and Conditioner reused often) and Desert Essence 100% Jojoba Oil ($6.99), these other vegan skin treasures (at great value) were much needed and appreciated.

I'm thankful for the conveniently located Marshall's, Whole Foods Market, and Ulta Beauty spread around downtown Philly. Discounted prices and sales come and go. It's imperative to be on the lookout for awesome steals. Marshall's always has a bunch of cruelty free vegan products in all their departments (hair, body, and facial skin care) and often I find a new brand to love through this inspection.

For the airport, however, some items were over the three ounce rule, but managed to pass through security.

Thank heaven.

A Few Vegan Beauty Essentials:

Pacifica's Purify Coconut Water Cleansing Wipes, $6 (was on sale 2/$6 at Whole Foods Market)-- I love the pleasant smell of coconut as soft, bubbled foam cloths glide onto face in circular motion, gently removing dirt and oil.

Valentina's Naturals Hydraboost Toning Mist With White Tea & Hibiscus Extracts, $22 ($4.99 at Marshall's)-- A light toner spray and mild touch down to give skin a dewy, refreshed appearance, especially a savior for those with dry skin.

Pacifica's Dreamy Youth  Day and Night Face Cream, $16.00 (was on sale $9.99 at Whole Foods Market)-- My morning moisturizer leaves a pleasant, non-greasy vibrancy, leaving face and throat even and smooth.

Sukin's Super Greens Facial Recovery Serum, $18.95 ($7.99 at Marshall's)-- I use this at night to have beautiful skin by morning. Just a small bit goes a long way.

Aura Cacia Rejuvenating Moroccan Argan Oil, $6.99 at Whole Foods Market-- Perfect for skin and hair, this versatile beauty weapon  gives dry strands life, bringing healthy moisture and shiny gloss.

Schmidt's Lavender + Sage Deodorant, $8.99 ($3.99 at Marshall's)-- Lovely fragrance that isn't artificial, stays on long, and absorbs wetness even when you're at your most active. I walked all over the city and didn't break armpit sweat once.

Olivia's Oil Pulling Mouthwash, $10 ($4.99 at Marshall's)-- Swish and swish for 5-10 minutes to get rid of toxins inside the mouth. Requires patience, but listening to five minute songs and looking at your goofy mirror reflection helps pass the time.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival: The Takeaway

The look of my pleasant weekend-- film, conversation, fashion, and art inspiration.

For four splendid days, Blackstar Film Festival was the beloved carnival bringing riveting fireworks excitement to Philadelphia. The rickety bandwagon came from beyond Los Angeles, talented filmmakers traveling from other pockets of the globe, delivering sensational entertainment and delicate prose, leaving behind wild applause and a heightened state of purpose.

As a volunteer, I greeted film buffs, producers, and creators, scanned tickets, sold merchandise, and collected ballots. At the same time, I made connections with artists-- some local and others from other parts of the country. At lightbox, where most films were screened, I viewed our stories alongside them, reacting with them-- laughing, crying, shaking heads, and all. It was wonderful.

On Thursday night at the opening of "Lossless" at Pearlstein Gallery, I met one of my favorite actresses of this world-- Adepero Oduye, a phenomenal actress who was simply exceptional in "Pariah" and "Steel Magnolias." She was also in Ava DuVernay's beautiful short "The Door" and part of Alex Prager's "Touch of Evil" (might be too violent for some viewers, please use discretion) series.
In between utter joy, I lived vicariously through countless experiences (I worked at my job these four days too). I often came around late evening, silently meandering through thick crowds, overwhelmed by sight of headwraps, dashikis, long billowy skirts, locs, box braids, shaved heads, piercings, tattoos, happy grins, and more. I mourned missing Gabourey Sidibe's directed debut, a piece based on my favorite Nina Simone song, “Four Women." Coincidentally, Adepero Oduye showed her short film, "To Be Free," in which she starred as Nina. I had been telling people for a long time that I thought she would be perfect Nina, no comparison. So yes, I’m still absolutely devastated to haven’t been present. I will see them both someday. I am happy, however, to have met Adepero and read her words in Blackstar's first ever film festival catalogue. It contains essays by Louis Massiah (creator of Philly's Scribe Video Center, he writes about Ava) and Desha Dauchan (a filmmaker whose "Covered" stars "Bold and the Beautiful's " Karla Mosley). In an essay entitled "Journey to Be Free," Adepero shares plight and wisdom over becoming an actress and director,
"The one thing I was and have always been clear about was that pursuing an acting career had to be done authentically as I am or not at all. It was the encouragement of others who believed in me when I at times didn't and the love of the craft that drove me, pushed me, and kept me going."
As an artist/writer, this propels me to move forward and not ever step away from the path. 

Catalogued stills from Adepero's "To Be Free." 

Writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay is a contemporary she-ro always making sure we see ourselves-- past and present. "Middle of Nowhere" is my favorite film. "Selma" is brilliant. "13th," which debuted on my birthday, is gritty and honest. "Queen Sugar" is a breathtaking television show. And at home, I still look at my autographed "Selma" poster, amazed to have won this treasure. She wrote, "Onward!" with her name scrawled underneath.

Another heartbreak, I also didn’t see Ava DuVernay’s sold out conversation, one of the huge main events. I sat in wait, near the closed doors, listening to hollers and applause, like enthusiastic thunder. Once the ushering came out, a maddening stampede of blissful, contagious euphoria, the loud echoes of excitement propelled me to steal every clipped detail. Apparently, Ava had passed her big fans, extended East Coast family, the gift of sweet knowledge and tasting this fruit secondhand sustained my sadness just enough.

I did, however, see incredible films ( I'll be reviewing a few on femfilmrogue). I enjoyed A-lan Holt's "Inamorata" and told her on Sunday night (still wow-ing over that). Dennis Dortch (who wasn't in attendance), Numa Perrier, and Tina Cerin's "Hello Cupid" delivered giggles among its candid insightfulness. Guetty Felin's "Ayiti Mon Amour," the first Haitian feature directed by a Haitian woman, took giant leaps and bounds discussing the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. Thus, these brilliant pieces, though fictional stories, were aesthetically pleasing, but then showcased global depth, humanized blackness, and raised awareness.

Shantrelle P. Lewis situated in a lovely curated stage, ready to discuss the ins and outs of her book, "Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style."

Imani Perry moderated the panel discussion between Shantrelle and Darnell Brown (his memoirs come out in March).
On the final day, in correlation with Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia's Gather Series, The Blackstar Film Festival held a celebration of Shantrelle's book while simultaneously bringing festival to a DJ pumped close. Amidst old school jams, which included Erykah Badu, dancing, fashion, and food. It was bewildering to be complimented by fellow stylish company. I felt my shyness butterflies fluttering out of my belly and into the world, flying in a suspenseful abyss. Of course, they're bound to return. They always do.

A clip from Terrance Nance.

Numa Perrier's "The Bowtie."

I especially loved this short.

Green carpet snaps.
The 6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival provided so much fun, so much diaspora to the weekend. Hues of sun kissed radiant golden melanin coming out to support other creative individuals was a thing of poetry, a thing that must bear repeating. I thank those who allowed me to volunteer. Plus, a special thanks to Mr. Eugene, who was an energetic, funny, absolute delight.

My current mood right this moment-- anticipation of the 7th.