Saturday, January 30, 2016

Weekly Wrap & Rectangular Cheese Pizza

Homemade pizza is always a sincere pick-me-up.
It has been a sweet week!

Monday-- AfroVeganChick was featured on Black Vegans Rock-- an amazing, much needed site kindly exposing vegans of African descent who promote healthy lifestyles, discuss animal oppression, campaign for intersectionality, support black business, etc. These are the vegans not always seen and highlighted on mainstream vegan media that is not always inclusive.
Tuesday-- the Fine Arts Venture Fund finalists were announced. Thirty-nine students applied. Eighteen were selected. I'm happy yet terrified of being a candidate for my "African Diaspora Diastema" project. It will be a series of four self-portrait paintings paired with Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Alex Wek, and Uzo Abuda who have gaps in their teeth-- both large and small and that does no. I aim to beautify this one "imperfection" that has always seemingly marred my very existence. I just don't want to hate the thing anymore and focus on becoming a better painter, a better artist. The next step is presenting the project in person to the committee. I pray not to be a complete speaking klutz.
Wednesday-- had a very wonderful first time Skype meeting with Aph Ko, an intellectual, brilliant, funny, inter-sectional, creative vegan girl and co-founder of BVG.
Thursday-- attended a meeting that may ignite some necessary steam. I enjoyed the feeling of being a small wicker of something that could have beneficial flame.

The lonely girl has no blues. Thanks Morgan for the Smiley Face.
Friday-- Last night, I went to PAFA's Awkward Prom themed Winter Bash solo, stag, sans Plus One-- as usual. I didn't go to my high school prom. So an occurrence that was not originally on my bucket list got officially crossed off. Plus the dolmades were delicious. Win win!

Moreover, yesterday morning, I got out of bed and prepped up pizza. Yup. At nine o' clock a.m., I started a pizza-- with robust energy and glee. Other Fridays, expect me to be up around my natural rising time--eleven-thirty to noon.
Now when it comes to making pizza (one of my favorite foods to make), the dough is the most important. If the dough is flavorful, moist, and chewy with just a slight crunchy bite-- perfection, a saving grace. Well, to me. I love a good dough and value taking the time to make my own. The process is extremely soothing, meditative even. I treasure kneading, just massaging and smoothing around the olive oil and Italian seasonings. Sometimes I add garlic, but opted not to. Garlic does bring that special fragrant oomph.
For toppings, I used a $1.99 jar of 365 Brand Organic Pizza Sauce (which isn't as salty as most) and Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds (conveniently on sale at Whole Foods Market for $3.99). It's a plain pizza with a lot of savory taste and cheesy goodness. Plus it's a rectangle!

Rectangular Cheese Pizza


1 cup warm water
2 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

10" x 15" inch baking sheet

1/4 cup pizza sauce (store bought or homemade)
2 cup Daiya Mozzarella Style Cheese Shreds
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon Italian Seasonings

First mix water, sugar and active yeast together. Set aside for 10 minutes.
To the foamy mixture, stir in salt and gradually add flour one cup at a time.
Massage olive oil, nutritional yeast, and Italian seasoning onto the dough.
Knead for 15-20 minutes, giving dough utmost affection.
Place well loved dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Leave alone for an hour.
Punch risen dough down. 
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Press dough into baking pan.
Edge to edge.
Pizza pie rectangle is ready.
Ingredient party.
Smother on tomato sauce. Top with Daiya, nutritional yeast, and Italian Seasoning.
Bake for 12-15 minutes.
Cut into smaller rectangles and enjoy.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Context And Without: The Very Important Language of Toyin Ojih Odutola

Expect a lot of daring twists and turns in Of Context and Without.
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s multifaceted drawings at Jack Shainman Gallery grace the white walls with compelling black and white compositions redefining a viewer's contained knowledge of racial identification in figurative portraiture. Using a wide scale variety, with pieces either grouped together or standing alone, cultural makeup is not told in its usual visual language. Odutola's strength lies in creating an alternate reality, a sophisticated kind of noir that evokes and stimulates our perceptions, asking questions, retaining answers.

The Future is Romantic, 2015, charcoal on board, 32 x 80 inches (board).
On black paper, black faces are either outlined in white charcoal or sculpted out completely in white charcoal. Their negroid features-- broad noses, protruding foreheads, full lips, hair styles, and clothing-- signifies categorized identity. The use of line and pattern entail an intriguing range of shapes, breaking away from traditional contour drawing.

In a larger scale marker and pencil drawing, housing graphic implication, white afrocentric hair differs from background space as opulent pearls grace the monochromatic voluminous body looking up in the air. Is it an absent space? Is this ghostly light that surrounds her? She is certainly not trapped. She is poised, tentative. Her ready gaze speaks of an acknowledged presence, of knowing the unseen. Patterned semi circles shape her lithe provocative body. She appears to be all eccentric nakedness immersed in tender longing.
In another marker drawing, frustrating agony aggrieves a female figure whose face and upper body take ample control of the picture plane. The shapes again are heavily present in this smaller work. Odutola has such a remarkable gift at rendering hands, making hands at time become a protagonist's primary instruments of sharing emotional strife.
Part of The Treatment series, pen, gel pen, and pencil on paper, 12" x 9," 25 pieces altogether.
"Of course the figures are black, but not all are of African descent."
Odutola's small white framed pieces form a grid. In each separate work, white human faces are seemingly choked with coiled black hair, almost liked curly ribbon strands embedded on their features, forming a unique yet compelling three dimensional complexity.
However, the physical hair character of each figure contains large, flat shapes of opaque white.
Again, these beautifully detailed portraits defiantly offer up a brazen challenge, an irrefutable hook. Care and thoughtfulness are in the delicate rendering, in the precise quality of line weight and shading-- the sclera is especially a highlight among the ribbon faces. Yet these nightmarish faces, these gritty, forlorn stares off in the distance or towards the viewer brings psychological intensity that is both threatening and surreal. 

Close up of a particularly sinister expressive face.
On the far side of the gallery wall features four incredible white framed works of seemingly blank white paper. On closer inspection, inscribed textural quality drawings could be seen and valued for their haunting discovery. These four "ghost" pieces were only visible to human eyes. Perhaps an intelligent state-of-the-art camera could capture the intricate uniqueness discovered in the light of Odutola’s white on white compositions.

They may look empty, but inside these four white frames contain the most academically rendered portraits.
Double portrait.
Odutola's comprehensive breadth of daring techniques challenges the social, political, and at time environmental assessment of racial identification. Fascinating strategies take a risk with space and audience, testing their inhabited visual cues and boldly turning them around.
Isn't that a part of an artist's duty to the community-- changing the way we understand the world?
Toyin Ojih Odutola's Of Context and Without is up at Jack Shainman until January 30, 2016.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Polenta With Lentils

Special things can happen when you look inside the pantry and take out refrigerator contents.
Snow Day has left me at home two days in a row.
I wasn't smart about going to the grocery store prior to Philadelphia's first big snow of winter season. Most creations were pantry fare.
I spent Saturday enriching my mind. Just thinking, reading, writing, painting, and eating:

Knowledge from random places: Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography "Dust Tracks on a Road" purchased from Schomburg Center's bookshop, an autographed Mary Gaitskill's "Bad Behavior: Short Stories" book bought after her reading at Free Library of Philadelphia and artist books on Paul Klee (from a thrift shop in Dayton) and Marc Chagall (PAFA's library bookshop).
Black Rice with Walnut Cream. The recipe is walnuts pureed with almond milk, nooch, salt, and pepper.
Also baked homemade pretzels. Yum.
Watercolor study of a future oil painting for an upcoming series, " African Diaspora Diastema."
Whenever I looked in the pantry to start a meal, I saw little. Yet potentially a lot could be crafted and consumed. A sack full of whole wheat flour can make endless stacks of pancakes (or pretzels). I had no maple syrup. Yet I had a full container of medjool dates-- that of which a few of them will soak in water with cocoa powder and vanilla for a nice, rich chocolate sauce.
Snow Day does not stop kitchen creativity.
Lentils and polenta were a bonafide match this morning. Just Mayo's Chipotle element offers a creamy invisible sauce that truly tied the two star ingredients together. Smoked flavor is delivered in each addictive bite. Crunchy walnuts add nutty flare and extra protein.
It's always a huge plus to be full, but not stuffed after a grand meal such as this one. A real keeper, snowed in, or not. 

Polenta With Lentils Ingredients and Preparation

1 cup TruRoots Accents Sprouted Lentil Trio
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 polenta log
1 tablespoon Chipotle Mayo
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Frontier Bac' N' Bits
handful of walnuts (optional)

Prepare lentils according to package direction. Drain and set aside.
In a skillet, set in medium high heat, pour in olive oil, garlic, and onion. 
Add polenta, Just Mayo, and other ingredients except Bac' N' Bits and walnuts.

Cook for 7-10 minutes. Add Bac' N' Bits and walnuts.
Serve. Like a pyramid.
Eat and be merry.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Seasoned Vegan

Seasoned Vegan seemed like the perfect, laid back place to relax and have a fine dinner.
After a beautiful day of art seeing in Chelsea and Harlem, I had grown famished. I was excited to eat at Seasoned Vegan, a place I hadn't known existed until Aph Ko compiled this #BlackVegansRock: 100 Vegans To Check Out List. The anticipation to try out #58 & #59 owners, Chef Brenda and Chef Aaron's restaurant reached tremendous height.
When I entered lovely, dimly lit establishment, it was moderately busy, modest really. A kind bespectacled male hostess led me to a comfortable seat and gave me a menu.

The timeless R&B music, the cozy atmosphere, the elegant furnishings, and colorful hung paintings set a mood that wasn't received.
I sat and waited.
It took a while for water and a while longer for my order to be filled.
Thankfully, I had purchased Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography to keep me company whilst listening to the staff talk to the table behind me, asking the guests if they were vegans. None of them were. Those customers laughed, discussing addictions to animal flesh and frozen yogurt.
I sighed and wished to have a conversation about veganism with my waitress.
That never happened.
The first plate was a mundane dinner entree salad. I didn't particularly enjoy the leaves. Tangy garlic flavored dressing tasted pleasant. I longed for other textures-- pieces of slivered carrots, ribbed onions, something else. Yes, made-to-order salads are on the menu. I'm not a huge salad fan.
However, I didn't come to order a salad.

Pretty colors, but very salty.
My main course was the smothered chicken with sides of baked macaroni and cheese and steamed broccoli. Salty. Salty. Salty. I hadn't planned on consuming a salt mine. Baked macaroni and cheese delivered that luscious creaminess and well-cooked elbow pasta. Yet the vegan cheese sauce contained a heaping, near inedible amount of sodium. The broccoli was crisp and made for an easy scapegoat to lap up the terror of this dish. I did not find the smothered chicken to be up to any kind of par. It was a huge disappointment.

The mango puree and the graham cracker crust was the biggest wow of the night. The dessert and the plate itself were not up to snuff.
For dessert, yes I made it to dessert because I longed for Seasoned Vegan to have salvation, I ordered the raw mango cheezecake. I learned the hard way that sometimes it's best not to hang on. If intuition is screaming to make the move to run, then it's best to make a run for it. Call bad experiences a loss and move on. 
Now the mango puree was delicious. Perfect sweetness and genuine mango perfection. The graham cracker crust recipe I longed to have for my own. The raw cheezecake had good firm consistency, but the taste wasn't an exceptional thing to remember.
And the worse part-- my plate wasn't clean. When I touched the bottom, I felt remnants of great dissatisfaction. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked and inwardly asking "why?????" My heart broke, shattering into a million regrettable pieces. As a vegan restaurant, an ethical eating space, a black owned and operated business, there has to be commendable quality and a valued commitment to every single customer that crosses that threshold.
I had traveled so far. I left feeling hollow and unimpressed. They made me feel like a major inconvenience. 
Seasoned Vegan, sadly, wasn't worth almost missing the bus to Philadelphia over.

Product Review: Shea Moisture's Argan Oil & Raw Shea Hand & Body Scrub W/ Frankincense & Myrrh Extract

Winter season is here and a dry body needs moisture.
I was excited to see that all Shea Moisture products are currently on sale Buy One Get One Free at Walgreen's! I picked up my usual glamour gal products-- more shampoo, body oils, and facial scrub. Then I spied Argan Oil & Raw Shea Hand & Body Scrub-- clearanced at $5.79 (actually free when my total rang up). I tried it out this morning and here's what happened:

Smells like heaven.
I liked the smooth consistency between my fingers, but when applying scrub to skin it flew away like a sprinkling of dust. Some particles stuck, rather dryly. It takes more product than what you want to get a full hand and body application. I skipped the loofah because there was fear that the loofah would take away the scrub that stayed on.
In circular motion, I massaged residue on my skin, rinsed it away in the shower, and followed up with Shea Moisture's Green Tea Body Wash.
This is my towel dried skin before applying body oil and lotion.
Soft, supple. But still, I had a complete mess to clean in the bathroom. There was more sugar on the floor than my skin. I will use it again because it worked wonders on my feet heels! I will not show my feet photos because my feet are ummm.... well not likable feet.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Avocado Toast

Can breakfast time be any more perfect?
I have loved applying avocados on fresh from the toaster bread for a while now. It's one of the biggest simple morning (snack, dinner, etc) dishes that vegans crave. The moment an avocado comes out nice and ripened, that is the fated opportunity to spread it on thickly to crisp bread. Avocados provide luscious fat and velvety creaminess so no need to for butter or olive or coconut oil. Some folks are plain Jane, but I adore sprinkling nooch, black pepper, Italian Seasonings, garlic, salt, paprika-- anything savory to my avocado toast. It's a satisfying way to start the day. Or end the night.

Layering on both sides of avocado, thick application better than any dollop of vegan butter. Sprinkle black pepper, nutritional yeast, and Himalayan Pink Salt atop.
Devouring the ultimate.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time of giving others your attention, your creativity, your knowledge, your aide. And that's what I set out to offer today.
My cell phone turned alarm clock rang at 6AM. I hurried along, packing two Chao slice sandwiches and a Daiya Blueberry Yogurt for breakfast and headed off to Germantown Friends School to participate in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. As soon as I came in, I checked off my name from the Create Books-on-CD list, filled out a name tag, and picked up a nice complimentary medium sized 60th Anniversary Montgomery Bus Boycott t-shirt. Rosa Parks is the cover girl, but we history buffs know all about Claudette Colvin, Bayard Rustin, Irene Morgan, and others.

Today we salute the strong, nonviolent orator with humanist flaws, Martin Luther King Jr. Yet we cannot forget the great woman standing beside him. Coretta Scott King, a force of venerable strength and graceful dignity who should have a commemorative day as well, happened to well-educated, compassionate, supportive of the arts, and later on-- vegan.
Before each attendee were summoned to prospective activities-- community trash pick up, card and jewelry making, baking pies and hot pockets, preparing Syrian refugee supplies, singing civil rights songs among incredible opportunities-- we were treated to hearing a once-in-a-lifetime guest speaker, Phillip Hunter.
Hunter is a Selma, Alabama native. He was a seventeen-year-old foot soldier in all three Selma marches including the horrific "Bloody Sunday" before and after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived. In a rather candid speech, he instructed us all to go forth from this day of service, to move through strife that can be as terribly frightening as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to push others along, to find the greatest potential in ourselves and share those findings with the world around.
The most seemingly impossible thing can possibly gift the most profound fruit ever given.

Back in 1965, Phillip Hunter was a seventeen-year-old foot soldier-- a former paperboy and shoe shine boy-- inspired by his blacklisted news editor father, Phillip desired to take a stand for civil rights, campaigning alongside many organizations such as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and other groups. Listen to some of his speech here. I apologize in advance for the sounds of talking children and random people who kept getting up in my camera view. 
Once denied and deemed an unlawful certificate, Phillip received a Freedom Diploma signed by Martin Luther King Jr., proudly displaying it to us. After his speech, I am honored to have thanked him and shook a brave man's hand.
Phillip was honored along with other original foot soldiers with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor to be bestowed upon a civilian. If one looks closely, the late Amelia Boynton Robinson is on the far left.
Sitting on the steps of Germantown Friends School's Free Library with a treasure of a book by a phenomenal poet and one of the greatest post abstract-expressionist painters that ever lived. Also FYI: a day of service shouldn't always be performed on the third day of January. Everyday is a new day to inspire, to enrich, to encourage any person to do something they never thought they could do.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mushroom Macaroni

Hamburger Helper with mushrooms? Large, plump beauties provide juicy texture to this lovely presentation of pasta and broccoli.
It's Aaliyah Dana Haughton Day. Well, unofficially speaking. My tradition is listening to her voice throughout this coveted January 16th-- a day of remembrance and celebration of a sweet honeyed vocalist/ terrific dance queen gone too soon. This is the first year her debut album is skipped and for good reason. I will never listen to "Back and Forth" ever again.
"One In a Million," "If Your Girl Only Knew," and "Try Again" are timeless treasures. Guest appearances on Ginuwine's "Final Warning" and Lil Kim's "Queen Bee" are guilty pleasures.
My most favorite song is "No Days Go By" and my most favorite video is "4 Page Letter." 

Aaliyah: a goddess, enchantress. There is no one quite like her.
In other news, school started back up this week. I'm terrified. The last fifteen weeks of grad school are off and running. My work is crashing head first into deeply personal territory. More on that in an upcoming post.
I revel back in Aaliyah music and solid good vegan food-- like rustic, earthy tasteful mushrooms in a traditional animal free macaroni and cheese dish. No one has to use broccoli as much as I do. Spinach, kale, or any other green vegetable will do fine. Or leaving it out together to let mushrooms have total plant domination. Either way, it's purely good flavor that brings the empty bowl coming up for more.
Serving size is four people. Four people......

Mushroom Macaroni Ingredients and Preparation

1 1/2 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup broccoli
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 cup mushrooms
1 cup Lightlife Smart Ground
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 teaspoon Himalayan Pink Salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cook elbow macaroni and broccoli according to packaged directions (or the version personally preferred).
In a skillet, sauteed garlic, red onion, and mushrooms together in water (or broth).
Add in the smart ground.
Toss in cooked macaroni and broccoli.
Stir in coconut milk and Daiya.
Add Italian Seasonings, Himalayan Pink Salt, and black pepper.....
Serve and smile.