Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of 2017: Dreams Come True: Janet Jackson Concert At Wells Fargo

Attending a Janet Jackson concert is not just a huge milestone and highlight of 2017, but a dream come to three dimensional reality.

I attended two musical concerts this year-- John Legend and Janet Jackson. I had incredible times at both. Janet, however, was a long old wish fulfilled on a chilly November night just days before flying out to Paris.

I have been a fan of Janet and her musically gifted family since childhood. Yet it was the baby girl of the Jackson's whom I had loved so deeply, affectionately drawn to her strong lyricism, vocal range, dance moves, and iconic music videos.  As Mom would play out "Control" and "Rhythm Nation" cassette tapes over and over, my siblings and I would sing along and dance the way children danced to edgy guitar popping, foot stomping R&B meets rock and roll. It brings apart memories of my uncle, who passed away this November. He always called me, "Janet" and I hadn't corrected him because I had such a strong connection to my favorite musician.

I ate Goldie Falafel as a pre-concert meal, so beyond hyped to see Janet. 

Janet's "Unbreakable" tour started late 2015 to promote her newest album release and spread love to those who had admired her forever. For so many including me, this would be our first time seeing her live and the enthusiasm was wildly contagious. I bought the album, t-shirt, and concert ticket to Wells Fargo in Philly, super thrilled whilst reading excited fans' concert reviews via social media.

Sadly, the tour was postponed. I was refunded, but very heartbroken for a while.

At fifty-one, Janet gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Then, she announced that the tour was resuming, that it would be renamed "The State of the World."

Originally, I wanted to see her at the Boardwalk in New Jersey, but settled in on Wells Fargo in Philadelphia the sequel.

There's my Golden Ticket! 
Janet getting her fans ready to be blown away as she blew through an impressive discography of "Control," "Rhythm Nation," "janet," "The Velvet Rope," "Design of a Decade," "All For You," "Damita Jo," "Feedback," "Unbreakable," and countless movie soundtrack jams.
It was the most surreal Monday night, sitting in the 100 section, not too far away from the stage, waiting for an iconic queen. Lights went dark. On the screens were the names of victims killed by police, female voice reciting them. Janet came out in a long black duster with black attire underneath and flaming red ponytail, on the prolific beats of "Knowledge," the lyrics flashing the giant projectors. Through my own loud screams, my eyes watered and my chin quivered. I couldn't believe I was present and so was she.
"The Knowledge" turned into "State of the World" which then transitioned into a killer dance workout of "Burn It Up" featuring video cameo of another amazing artist, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot. "Nasty" came to play and everyone screamed and hollered, including me. It was such a vital statement considering the current political climate, a boost shot for all women.
Other jams such as "Miss You Much," "Alright," "Control," "What Have You Done For Me Lately," "The Pleasure Principle," "Escapade," "All Nite (Don't Stop)", "Love Will Never Do (Without You), and "Got Til It's Gone" were highlighted. I absolutely loved the choreography on the latter. Ageism is no factor to this incredible talent!  She can still dance as if the 1980's and 1990's never left. Just jaw dropping!
Her background dancers were also top notch, ranging in ages, body shapes, genders, and ethnicities, taking their skills to the floor with Janet looking on with pride and joy.
Songs took on a deeper, autobiographical charge as Janet serenaded her Oscar nominated ballad "Together Again." At the end of this precious melody, she lifted her head and mic to the air, quietly speaking, "until we see each other again, Mike." In "What About," a powerful uptempo with alternative rock edge, her dancers enacted violent domestic abuse situations through improvisational movements as she struggled through singing the cords, even pausing at times to get through raw, poignant lyrics.
"That was me!" She cried out, sobbing and running off the stage.
The entire audience felt her pain, utterly touched by emotional display.

One of several special videos. It starts serene and peaceful until misery manifests in surreal allegory. 

Janet came back, revitalized and fierce, dancing and singing with vigor to the phenomenal "If" and timeless military thumper "Rhythm Nation."
By the encore, a collection of five additional songs like "Black Eagle" (for Michael), "I Get Lonely," and "Well Traveled," the hungry crowd stood giving her thunderous applause and joyous whistles, changing her name, wanting her to return.
It was a great, spectacular concert, one of the best that I have ever been fortunate to see. I will never forget it.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: The Incredible Majesty of Kehinde Wiley's "Trickster"

This hauntingly gorgeous portrait of Wangechi Mutu as a provocative goddess in a royal blue toga style dress, holding a snake. The coiled reptile's stripes mimic the flying twisted locs in her free flowing hair.
One of the best art gallery exhibit highlights of 2017 starred Kehinde Wiley's impressive new paintings at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City.
The art loving visitor is firstly seduced inside near darkness, wandering around spacious grounds like a lost, hungry traveler in a forest field, the paintings playing storied trees planted on every wall. Clad in alluring mystery, these tremendous, cloak and dagger narratives were spaced apart with single, focused lights casting luminous brilliance upon celebrated contemporary black artists, some of the most compelling painters, photographers, sculptors, and multi-disciplinarians of this moment-- Mickelene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Derrick Addams, and more. Each easily identified artist has become a fictionalized character straight out of a spine tingling Grimm, stripped of modernity, transformed into period costume, regal defiance vividly illustrated in their body language and facial expressions.

Barefoot Rashid Johnson and Sanford Biggers.
Art history buffs love talking about the specifics of hand direction. In the past, in paintings especially, viewers read images left to right, carefully paying close attention to what acts hands perform. Wiley's articulated gestures took away oppressive authorship, allowing black bodies to become valiant protagonists more than lower class subjects. No longer slaves or props, Wiley's myriad of friends appear like Caravaggio or Gentileschi figures, caught in vicious acts (in his portrait of painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye for example), surrounded in single light sources, either staring out through the canvas or turning away. He has Rashid Johnson's hand on Sanford Biggers shoulder in a tender, bonding moment wearing matching flowing pink shirts, Wangechi Mutu wielding snakes like a sultry Medusa like goddess in a fetching blue toga dress and bounded braids, and Kerry James Marshall in an oval composition using his hands as an educator in three parts.

Glenn Ligon resembled a larger version of Da Vinci's shockingly small Mona Lisa, sitting in comfortable clothes and loafers along a fabric draped rocky place.

Those shoes (and no socks).....

Kerry James Marshall, himself a painting master, is shown in three distinctive acts.

This elegant portrait of Carrie Mae Weems standing amongst rocky mountains and a picturesque desert sky landscape is a stunning achievement. Elaborate patterns and folds of her gold dress are remarkable, her jeweled hand in a powerful clutch, and her curled updo has queenly justice.

The weighted fist holds the glittered rock like a weapon, an extension of power and grace, that there is no fear of harm when this object is nestled sin this fierce grasp.

Wiley is a painter known for putting musicians, rappers, and other pioneers in his Art Noveau meets black realism pedestals. In "Trickster," he includes his fellow black visual artist peers, this body of work a deeper close up of the black artist as the documentarian of the present. Each and every one of these people are creating the works the world needs to see and remember.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rotini With Walnut & Lentil Sauce

I always find a new spice obsession. This time, it is black sesame seeds.
At Mom's Organic Market, a decent sized plastic bin costs under four dollars and that's plenty of small speckled seasoning to work with. I would have ventured to retrieve the grocery list fennel seeds, an ingredient I haven't used in ages, but the black sesame seeds were in everyone's IG smoothie bowls and savory dishes, looking like black pepper's prickly older cousin. So yes, I have added this to my tofu scrambles and chocolate avocado puddings, loving its gorgeous contrast and minimal flavor profile.
I have been experimenting with walnuts (after pecans and almonds, they're the least expensive to buy raw at Trader Joe's), trying to venture further into my walnut cheese ardor, inventing strategies into incorporating more raw sauces into my life. I added black lentils to my usual recipe to add a fibrous component as well as amp the "meaty" texture (because we vegans love and value the simplicity of walnut meat). This sauce was incredible in the rotini, very thick and cheesy thanks to nutritional yeast and a bit of creamy tahini.
I hope to turn this scrumptious creation into cheese wedges someday. I'm still reading about making homemade bricks/slices. If anyone has any ideas that would be most appreciated. Until then, enjoy walnut & lentil sauce in any pasta (or spiraled veggie that you choose).

Rotini With Walnut & Lentil "Cheese" Sauce Ingredients and Preparation

2 cup Trader Joe's rotini
2 cup walnuts, soaked
1 cup black lentils, drained
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoon liquid aminos
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

Set aside prepared pasta.
Blend together walnuts, black lentils, tahini, nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, Italian Seasoning, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and black pepper in food processor or blender, mixing all ingredients evenly. This should come out a bit grainy yet "meaty."
Mix walnut & lentil sauce with pasta. Serve hot and sprinkle generously with black sesame seeds.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Holiday Activities With Black Beans and Rice

Black beans and rice makes everything nice.
I hope everyone had joyous beginnings to this holiday week and spent the most wonderful time with families and dearest friends whilst delighting in precious splendor of merry music, classic films, red, green, and gold decorations, and good food (please have people try something vegan, cruelty free-- this can be hard yet achievable). I stayed in comfort clothes with scorching heater and teddy bear companion, watching every holiday related film/television episode. I didn't make a huge dinner-- mourned mac n cheese, stuffing, veggies, and gardein turk'y cutlets-- but didn't have the spirit to stay in the kitchen and "wait forever." I suppose lonely days off in December are like that. However, I must say that over the weekend, I tried out the Vedge curated Whole Foods Market menu and the "cheesy" rutabaga and potato mash was excellent as was the mushroom and black lentil stuffing. I have added rutabaga as the one thing to play around with in the new year.

My BFF sent me Frida Kahlo socks and a great mug! I'm over the moon for both!!!  

In addition to "Home Alone," "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," I also settled in with "Amends," Buffy Season Three, episode ten, a Buffy fan classic.

I worked on my "Better Late Than Never" holiday card whilst devouring JJ's Cocomel's Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels in Sea Salt. It also comes in Espresso, but not a big coffee lover so...
Caramel goodness and a reminder that someone should trim their nails in a more attractive fashion. I haven't cared about my nails in centuries, Perhaps that should change.
Finished-- bespectacled cat sweater and all.

Cutting out cards alongside another gift from a dear friend-- a hand crocheted red mug of hot cocoa with three marshmallows.

At last, my black beans and rice. It's a simple recipe that continues to get better for me as time wears on. I especially believe that black beans and cumin have this beautiful relationship that goes well with a pot of brown rice. Out of all the vegan cheeses, for me personally, Field Roast Chao's Tomato Cayenne has the perfect amount of spice that goes along with the ingredients. Next time, I would love to add diced sun dried tomatoes just to remix things.

Black Beans And Rice Ingredients and Preparation

2 cup brown rice
1 15 oz black beans, rinsed
3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Field Roast Chao Tomato Cayenne, 3-4 slices, chopped

Cook brown rice according to directions. Lower heat and drain some of the rice water.
Mix in black beans, nutritional yeast, cumin, garlic, and salt, stirring continuously for seven to ten minutes.
Add Field Roast Tomato Cayenne Slices, letting them melt in.
Remove from heat.

Serve black beans and rice with a side of holiday movies like "Frosty the Snowman."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When That Bite of Death Enters Your Mouth And Digests Into Consciousness.....

This is a topic that I haven't discussed, a glaring reality for vegans. Mistakes happen. Tragic consequences can arise when eating out at a place that isn't necessarily all plant based. Cross contamination is a real issue. Sometimes people don't listen. Sometimes in midst of busy chaos, your "special" order is forgotten. It doesn't mean that you're falling off the wagon. 
Exactly, one week ago, I attended the last PHLA Assembled to enjoy the Victory Menu.
Unlike the Resistance Menu, the options were extremely limited.
Fortunately, the cashier assured me that a few dishes could be vegan. I should have known something was up when she asked, "do you still want the roll?"
I had two lentil empanadas, the beans and rice, and the coconut roll.

I finished off my lentil empanadas with degrees of satisfaction. They were impressive-- a savory, well seasoned filling in a pillowy, crisp pastry. I then started around my rice and beans, staring at the dollop of cream with suspicion. I thought, "of course that cashier told the server I was vegan." Although looking around, everyone was consuming meat and their beans and rice bowls with the same dollop. I stayed diligent, even though my intuition strengthened. I took a bite of the roll and immediately tasted the salty plunge that was surely not vegan. Foolishly, I dug into the sour cream matter and that too lie a grave of disrespect. My stomach sank into a disgusting pit.

I walked up to the counter and asked the server if these things were vegan. Maybe my taste buds and stomach were wrong.
"No," she said. "There is sour cream. The bread has ghee."
"I told the cashier I was vegan," I told her, my stomach worsening. My digestive system was whacking out as my consciousness fell into great despair. I blinked back my tears, knowing that they were desperate to climb out of my eye sockets and drip down my cheekbones, like the cow mourning her calves as she prepared for her own impending death.
"She didn't make a note of that to me."
I sighed glumly. This wasn't the friendliest exchange. I felt wronged, blamed.
Still, she allowed me to return my death food. I received a sour cream free bowl of beans and rice.
I ate this pleasant little meal of blackened carrots, beans, and rice inside tin foil bowl with diminished happiness. I wasn't thinking about a six dollar loss. I was primarily thinking about my pained stomach and the dead animals on everyone's plates. A crushingly sick and twisted moment occurred. I sat among them all, feeling hypocritical because of what residues rested on my tongue, situated inside my confused, nausea induced belly.
I had never had ghee before. Sour cream, yes.
But for years, I hadn't consumed milk, dairy, or egg products.
I say that if this happens to you, the accidental consumption of grisly, horrific death, it is natural to be sad, disheartened, perhaps a bit morose and depressed. Don't let that stop your fight. Let it make you want to become a better vegan.

It hurts. Yes, it sucks even. With situations such as this, the kind-hearted vegan must reevaluate themselves, figure out if eating out in nonvegan spaces can satisfy. Sometimes, they really can't. It is important to always, always ask questions. If something feels wrong, don't eat it.
In a vegan's life, the most veganized place to eat is their own home and an all vegan establishment second.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Paris, France: The Wrap Up

It wasn't the best flight experience prior to arriving in Iceland (my luggage was too big and I wound up tragically discarding it), but the bear and I managed quite well. On the train ride from Charles De Gaulle Airport to Paris with leisure books of Paul Celan and Jean-Michel Basquiat, I enjoyed a tofu and spinach knish and a LARABAR (things stuffed into my bag from Mom's Organic Market). By then, my overstuffed tote bag was riddled with holes from the weight. I tried not to think about left clothes, towels, and tossed Inkkas sneakers.  I have bought some new shoes. It's just not the same.
After checking in, I headed to the Musee d'Orsay, a museum that I missed the first two Paris visits. It was always closed and unattainable.The line wasn't long and I immediately walked inside the impressively designed museum in little time. Auguste Bartholdi's small version of the gift to the United States.
Always a pleasure to see Jean Auguste Dominique Ingre paintings. He has an illustrious collection here and at the Louvre where one can see his famous The Odalisque and The Turkish Bathers. This oil painting from 1854 above is a splendid, colorful study encased in a dramatic gold frame entitled, The Virgin Worshiping The Host.
Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Clarin, oil on canvas, 1884 or 1907.
A Young English Woman, Fernand Khnopff, marble, 1898. 
The first Paris evening starts to come through openings of the grand second floor Roman numeral clock.
My dream Art Noveau bedroom.
Walking through the neighborhood after enjoying Cloud Cakes Vegan Cafe.
A beautiful orchid shop.
Shakespeare and Company is a fantastic bookstore where books fill every nook and cranny. They have spiraled stairs and labyrinth mazes that please the bookworm spirit. I spent a grand time up in the poetry section reading Sylvia Plath and Audre Lorde.
On a Friday night, I spent four hours at the Louvre, happily browsing through paintings and sculpture. I was thrilled to see Marie-Guillemine Benoist's Portrait of a Negress, which reflects a depressing time of great portrait artists rendering a specific woman of color and titling the model her race and gender as opposed to her real name. I wish they were a bit more original-- call her the brown Ariadne, a mortal portrait version of the Egyptian Goddess Isis, or some other enchanted fable deity. I liked imagining that she had a purpose, a legacy to behold. I couldn't just take a picture and walk past. I stood there idolizing every inch of her, inventing answers to riddled mysteries forming in my mind.
A tiny, blurred capture of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It's my second time seeing this small world famous portrait of mystery. And just like before, the vast crowd made it difficult to get a great picture, much less a proper view at the composition. In this case, the art history textbooks give better clarity.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, one of my favorite women painters to discuss, has many gorgeous paintings at the Louvre including this one, Self Portrait with Daughter, oil on canvas, 1789.
Hotel Josephine in Montmatre is named after famous actress, dancer, cabaret musician, and French agent Josephine Baker. I would love to stay there sometime-- not for the free Absinthe samples-- for the eclectic rooms patterned in beautiful flowers, bright colors, jazzy black and white photographs, and cozy large beds.
Every now and then, I took pictures of buildings just because the architecture astounded my artist eye.
Unfortunately, the Museum of Romantic Life was closed. I had been looking forward to seeing this former home of Romanticism painter Ary Scheffer-- a place where he used to rendezvous with author George Sand (the great female writer who was born Amantine Lucile Dupin). The two apartment also had an array of famous guests like Ingres, Eugene Delacroix, Charles Dickens, and more. It is now one of three literary museums in Paris.
A cute Montmatre souvenir shop. 
Passing through Moulin Rouge. Of course, I watched Baz Luhrmann's film later on that evening for nostalgia's sake. Plus, I love Ewan McGregor singing me to sleep.
I spent most nights at the Seine River, reading books and thinking. I found it very peaceful and quiet, the smooth ripple of the water, the sights of the boats passing to and fro. In the distance, there is Notre Dame Cathedral. I looked at the majestic gargoyles, large, grotesque, and powerful creatures that grace atop various pillars. I thought back to this Fox Kids cartoon, Gargoyles, that I used to watch with my family. It was a great idea-- statues coming to life after the sun set and transforming back to stone in the daylight.
Bringing Basquiat to the Seine.
I had the luck of having a falafel joint in the neighborhood. They had a €8 meal special (falafel sandwich, little chopped fries, and a drink). The falafel was delicious, especially the crispy fried eggplant at the bottom (really spectacular). The sesame sauce, however, was bland and uninteresting. I wish they had used some flavorful hummus.
I stopped in the Museum of the Modern Art of the City of Paris and found the most oddly constructed desk of dark gray and bright crimson red.
I also enjoyed the modest paintings of Anna-Eva Bergman. Ranging from small intimate scale to large masses of texture exploration, her works are flat oceanic landscapes with a stream of centered lines that operate as a point of temporary escape.
One of many Eiffel Tower selfies.
A quick pencil sketch. The trees made it especially challenging.
Abandoned pastel rainbow colored carousels.
I didn't get to visit the Centre Pompidou. I walked past it several times.
Views of Iceland from the window. Very, very cold yet a beauty in the ice caps, a picturesque end to a nice early winter vacation.