Monday, September 17, 2018

Where to Be Merry: School Girls (Or, the African Mean Girls Play) @ The Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City



Jocelyn Bioh’s "School Girls (Or, the African Mean Girls Play)" has taken over the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City until the end of September 2018. Much like the name suggests, it's a comedic-drama that brings to life the tale of six young ladies as they tackle typical teen ordeals and other tough issues, set in 1986 in the midst of the upcoming Miss Universe pageant.

All of the action takes place in the sparsely decorated, green-and-yellow cafeteria at the Aburi Girls Boarding School, located in the Aburi Mountains of central Ghana (fun fact: this school really exists, and Bioh’s mother actually went here!)

We’re immediately introduced to the core group of friends, all pictured below — the pensive Nana (Abena Mensah-Bonsu), cousins Mercy (Mirirai Sithole) and Ama (Latoya Edwards), and the quieter but very bright Gifty (Paige Gilbert), all led by their fierce and fearless leader Paulina Sarpong (MaameYaa Boafo, who's standing in the photo below).



When newcomer Ericka Boafo (Joanna A. Jones, sitting down in the photo below) relocates to the school from the States, she unintentionally shakes the fragile hierarchy of the girls’ friendships. Tensions increase even more when Ericka decides to participate in the race to find Miss Ghana, who would eventually compete in the Miss Universe pageant. While the entire group of friends had planned to enter, everyone had assumed Paulina would win. But Ericka’s kind and generous disposition, fascinating dresses, secret talents — and fairer complexion and longer hair — gravely threaten Paulina’s assumed reign. 


Under the watchful eye of Headmistress Francis (Myra Lucretia Taylor, below in the green skirt) and a highly anticipated visit from Miss Ghana 1966 Eloise Amponsah (Zenzi Williams, below in the red dress), the girls find themselves learning more about themselves and one another than they ever could have imagined. 

Quick-witted dialogue and tongue-and-cheek banter make the show incredibly entertaining. The girls' lively excitement and innocent naïveté transport the audience back to those good ole high school days — that awkward era when being accepted meant so much, and cattiness and shifting loyalties were the norm. We see Paulina struggle to defend her sovereignty as group leader from Ericka, and Nana proves just how far she’s willing to go to be accepted. Plus, a good juicy high school drama wouldn’t be complete without betrayals, puppy love and figuring out how to mold to — or break — societal beauty standards. And since it’s ’86, there’s nothing like a dose of Bobby Brown and his energetic hits to round out the story, too.

In some sense, it’s comical to see how much Western culture dazzles and fascinates the girls. Aside from swooning over Bobby Brown, all of them want to wear dresses shipped from the States and Paulina proudly claims knows someone who works at White Castle and who can get her Calvin Kleen dresses from NYC’s Chinatown. Plus, their riveting performance of Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All during the Miss Ghana pageant tryouts is another testament to their love for the music, too. It’s interesting to see how our U.S. culture can be revered and even sometimes misconstrued when we see it through the lens of a completely different perspective.



Yet even with its lighthearted sentiment throughout, the production still broaches some serious, deeply rooted topics. It explores colorism, or the system where fairer skin is more valued than darker skin. We feel the tension initially emerge when Ericka, who is a caramel tone (she’s half-white and half-Ghanaian) first enters the boarding school, with the chocolate-hued girls curiously asking about her lighter skin. Colorism rears its ugly head again in the form of lightening cream and the controversial debate on what the next Miss Ghana’s skin color should be. Their tender age and the bonds of sisterhood unfortunately don’t shield them from having to deal with how beauty is unfairly represented, both on local and global scales. 

Diving even a bit deeper, I’d say "School Girls" even tackles the concept of power, both perceived and real. Not only do we see the power struggle between Paulina and Ericka (both pictured below) for the coveted title of group leader, but we watch them confess to each other how much more of an advantage they think the other has. Plus, we watch as both Headmistress Francis and Eloise reveal through their actions just how much power they have — or don’t have. I found myself deeply disappointed in how the only two adults in the entire story failed to use their influence to create positive change.



At times "School Girls" tinges on the melodramatic side, but all in all, it’s a highly energetic, fast-paced production that truly feels like it passes way too quickly. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself laughing so hard that tears stream down your face, getting super upset at the unjust situations the girls have to face, and at other moments, anxiously twitching as you’re transported back to those trying teen years.

And finally, what makes "School Girls" even more intriguing IMHO is that it’s loosely based on the 2011 Miss Ghana ordeal. In this real life situation, the winner, who was born and raised in Minnesota and was biracial, had claimed she was from Ghana, but no one could confirm her true identity. Here’s what Bioh mentioned in her script notes:

“In 2011, the Miss Ghana Pageant officials, in an attempt to become the first West African country to have a viable and perhaps winning contestant in the Miss Universe pageant, named Yayra Erica Nego (an American born and Minnesota raised bi-racial woman) the winner of the Miss Ghana pageant. Officials claimed that her father was from the Volta region of Ghana (a region that is considered extremely obscure and rarely have people ever emigrated from there) but never confirmed his name or whereabouts before procuring her as a contestant for the Miss Ghana pageant. She beat out two of Ghana's most famous models at the time. Erica went on to the Miss Universe pageant that year where she did not place. I thought that story was pretty damn interesting and wanted to explore how the Western idea of colorism infiltrated into African society. Also, my mom was a (proud) mean girl when she was a student at Aburi Girls boarding school. So, there's that.”

Should you decide to see "School Girls," I recommend staying for the post-show audience talks. Curated by Kirk Douglas Theatre team members, guests are prompted to share their thoughts about the show and it’s interesting to hear everyone’s different takeaways.

This production featuring an all-female cast is only going on for a few short weeks more, so don’t wait long to check it out.

See you at the next show!

For more information:







All photo credits: Craig Schwartz

Monday, September 10, 2018

Where to Eat & Drink: Labor Day Weekend @ Los Angeles Times’ The Taste Festival



This past Labor Day weekend for the very first time I went to Los Angeles Times’ The Taste Festival.

Held at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, this food festival is like the granddaddy of all food festivals. Spanning not one but three consecutive nights, it’s massive, it’s delicious and it’s got so much to see, explore and taste.

Each night from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., local restaurants and beverage brands congregate within their very own tented stations on the Paramount lot to hand out unlimited bite-sized samples of select dishes and drinks. There’s also cooking demos and talks at various stages throughout the weekend and tons of other interesting things to ogle at. And, an incredible DJ keeps an upbeat mix of old school R&B, worldly tunes and other jams spinning the whole time.

Personally, what I loved the most about The Taste was seeing so many of my favorite establishments — many which have been featured on this very #WilsonsGuide blog — all in one location. So many places ranging from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. and everything in between come out. Plus, it was such a treat to run into world-renowned chefs, like Wolf chef / television personality Marcel Vigneron, pictured below.



Even though I went each night, I unfortunately couldn’t stop by every single station, but, I did my very best to make the rounds and have now compiled highlights from The Taste.

Take a look below!


Friday

I came around 9 p.m. — halfway into the festival — which was a rookie’s mistake. My late arrival meant I had to scramble to devour as much as possible and even then, I couldn’t get to many stations. I decided to mostly focus on food, no libations. Here’s what piqued my interest the most:

The Vietnamese Nong La Cafe (with locations in mid-city and in the Sawtelle district) had a baaaad pork belly rice bowl, with pork belly that had been smoked for six hours. The meat was so tender, juicy and flavorful.



The Southeast Asian Kitchen and Bar bone kettle in Pasadena came out with oxtail dumplings with maitake mushrooms doused in a buttery san bai su sauce. The pasta was such quality and the sauce was so rich. Loved this!



Others I enjoyed checking out included two other #WilsonsGuide picks, Casa Vega, which dished out the same mini sweet corn tamale as it had at the Flavor of LA festival and Crustacean Beverly Hills, which featured two of Jonathan Gold’s favorites.


Saturday

I felt much more prepared to tackle the festival on Saturday. I arrived earlier and with a very big appetite. Yet what I didn’t know was that Friday’s participating restaurants weren’t necessarily there on Saturday, too. The bad news was now I couldn’t visit some places I had mentally made a note to hit up, but the good news was that there were still a whole of incredible new stations to see.

Tao Los Angeles had tasty “Duroc Pork Bao Buns” — spongy steamed bread rolls that were lightly toasted on the outside and stuffed with piping hot pork. Very filling!



Winston Pies, the L.A. Bakery with North Carolina roots, came out with an incredible blueberry pie. Tiny blueberries packed the entire pie, which had a perfectly flaky crust and just the right touch of sweetness.



Trois Mec, the mid-city fine dining French restaurant that offers a rotating five-course menu, whipped up Smoked Macédoine. That’s basically a medley of carrots, broccoli, tomatoes and other veggies, all tossed in a very light mayonnaise.



Even more #WilsonsGuide faves made an appearance, including Citizen Mustard, with Chef Megan Marlow in the tent prepping the Wild Mushroom Croquettes, and Pearl’s Texas BBQ, which had the longest lines ever and sold out early, both Friday and Saturday nights.


Sunday

By the time the last day rolled around, I was a bonafide pro at this food festival game. I now knew the lay of the land, and I could maximize my time chowing down and minimize my time waiting in lines. Specifically on Sunday, I mostly got my fill of ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Ethiopian, Southern and soul food.

Dulan’s, another restaurant that’s previously made it on the #WilsonsGuide blog, served up heaping portions of mac-n-cheese, collard greens and classic Southern cornbread that was all kinds of sweet and buttery goodness.



The pop-up eatery Hotville Chicken came through with its legendary Nashville hot chicken bites, on white bread and topped with a sliced pickle.



Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, located in Little Ethiopia, provided a sampler plate of popular dishes like Gomen (collard greens with spices), the vegan Kik Aletcha (yellow split peas), vegan Miser Wot (split lentils) and Doro Wot (stew chicken).



DTLA’s Chiguacle Sabor Ancestral de Mexico had mini Ovo Verde Enchiladas — a crispy tortilla stuffed with creamy guac.




The Drinks

Of course, a culinary festival wouldn’t be complete without drinks, and there were quite a few on deck throughout the weekend. From household names to budding start-ups, including wines, spirits, coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages, there seemed to something for every one.

The big names — including Don Julio and Bulleit — had massive installations that drew in crowds by the numbers.

Here are the ones, big and small, that caught my attention the most:

Don Julio gave out craft cocktails on tap, all from a vintage silver Airstream. They also had an outdoor lounge area that had a chic Southwestern décor, and an old-school truck that guests could sit in and snap a photo (and please, never drink and drive!).





I don’t drink beer, but that didn’t stop me from appreciating Stella Artois’s ingenuity and practicality; they disseminated branded chalice glasses and these convenient plastic plates that could hold both the glass and multiple tastings.



The French winery Domaine Royal de Jarras had a very light and fruity rosé available, the 2017 Pink Flamengo. Now this was wine I could’ve drank all summer long.




The Best of the Best

Here's what I found to be the best of The Taste — the places that were by far the best of the whole entire weekend.

Best dessert – Eataly was the biggest winner in my books for its version of an ice cream sandwich. It smooshed the most amazing gelato, available in Sweet Cream or Fior di Latte, in between two bombolinis, or Italian donuts that were warm, lightly fried and fluffy and crunchy. The juxtaposition between cold and hot, creamy and crunchy, and the flavors themselves — it was so delicious, and I wasn’t alone in thinking this either. I saw quite a few guests walking around with three or four in hand.



Best food – Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (also formerly on the #WilsonsGuide blog) passed out golden fried wings and chicken breasts all weekend long. And the best part: they didn’t run out, even as the festival was closing each night. All weekend long, I heard people gush over Gus’s and of course, I made sure to stop by each and every night.



Best station – Maker’s Mark, hands down, had the best “station,” which was really a massive trailer decorated to feel like you were in a distillery. Not only did the team distribute a delicious whiskey punch, but it had an interactive VR game to play and calligrapher Erica Tighe from Be a Heart Studio provided customized tote bags. Plus, there was a photo booth and a plug-the-barrel game.






More highlights

If you’ve made it this far and are reading, you get a gold star. Because as if that wasn’t enough, there was still so much more!

L.A. Times editors and chefs participated in a dozen or so talks and cooking demos throughout the weekend, covering everything from 101 reasons to drink wine and eating breakfast all day. I saw Charles Olalia of Rice Bar/Ma’am Sir give the download on Filipino cuisine, and I’m so glad I stayed until the end because he passed out some delicious made-on-the-spot tortillas stuffed with one of his signature chicken and rice dishes.



Many stations paid homage to the late Jonathan Gold by featuring some of his favorite fare. Another tribute was a gigantic painting of Gold’s silhouette, which took all three nights to complete. Below, you can see the progress made each evening.







All in all, I had a great time as this was truly a foodie’s dream come true. I will definitely be attending next year’s festival, too!

Did you go to The Taste as well? If so, don’t forget to drop your favorites from the festival in the comments section below!


For more info:

Monday, August 27, 2018

Where to Be Merry: Baking Desserts @ The Monthly HelloWellness Event



The Merriment: A monthly series with a focus on wellness-related topics and activities, such as yoga, plant-based medicine and baking healthy desserts

The Location: Various locations throughout the L.A. region

The Vibes: Fun, informative, bubbly

Good for: Alone, girls night out, small groups

When-To-Go: On a specified day each month; find out about upcoming events here

The $$ Factor: Free - $50 per event

The Names behind the scenes: Co-Founders Sarah Osman and Jenna Sands

The 4-1-1: In addition to hosting monthly events, there’s also a four-day fitness retreat that will be led by 
sweat trainer Kelsey Wells at The UNICO 20°87° resort in Riviera Maya

Earlier this month I was invited to a HelloWellness event at the New School of Cooking Culver City. HelloWellness focuses on motivating bloggers, social media influencers and other health and wellness aficionados to move out from behind the screens and connect at monthly meet-ups. These events focus on activities that promote healthy lifestyles and are usually curated by a fellow health blogger / influencer. Originally launching last year in New York City, the series has now expanded to Boston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

Specifically for the event I attended, about 30 of us gathered to have The Toasted Pine Nut blog founder Lindsay Grimes Freedman, pictured above in the middle, walked us through making two healthy desserts: perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies and no-bake cookie dough bars.



Now let me start by saying this: I grew up following my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. It called for using heaps of butter, massive scoops of sugar and of course, sticking my finger in the bowl every minute or so to grab a quick taste, simply to ensure everything was coming out just right. Flashforward to this event, and Lindsay had us using all these healthy products — like the cashew butter, ghee, coconut palm sugar and almond flour pictured below — that I’d never even heard of, let alone baked with. So I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of how everything was going to turn out. I mean, could her recipes taste like dessert is supposed to be: like a guilty, decadent, can’t-live-without indulgence?



I was about to find out! 

Splitting up into teams of about five to six people, each group had its own prepping station complete with all the tools and ingredients we needed to whip up the desserts.

First up were the perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies, pictured below. To make them healthier than regular chocolate chip cookies, we substituted butter for ghee, white flour for almond flour and white sugar with coconut sugar. Our mixer unfortunately didn’t work, so we had to mix everything by hand. Nonetheless they were super easy and quick to prepare. 



After cooking for about 10 – 12 minutes, they emerged a beautiful golden brown, soft in the center and crisp on the edges. They were moist and I couldn’t taste the difference from using healthier substitutions. An A+ in my book! And, you can find Lindsay's recipe here if you're interested in baking them, too.



Next up were the no-bake cookie dough bars. We used a lot of the same ingredients as the cookies: almond flour, vanilla extract, dark chocolate chips and sea salt. We also added some new ingredients, including cashew butter and agave nectar.

After mixing everything together, we spread it into a metallic cylinder, drizzled some melted dark chocolate on top and popped it into the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes. I don’t think our bars stayed frozen long enough, as some were still a bit gooey and the chocolate frosting wasn’t completely hardened. But, they definitely had a great flavor, and I’d be interested in making them again. If you want to make them too, here's the recipe.



As we nibbled on our marvelous mini masterpieces, we came back together as one big group and Lindsay answered a few questions from guests about everything from how she first got started blogging to where she draws her inspiration to formulate new recipes. We left the night with treats in hand and also a goodie bag filled with snacks and treats, pictured below.



As my first HelloWellness event, I had a fun and informative time. I learned something new about baking — that you truly can create a fairly healthy dessert without sacrificing flavor — and, it's always nice connecting with other fellow bloggers and social media influencers.

The next HelloWellness event in Los Angeles will be “Meal Prep Tips & Tricks” with @kaleandcarrotsticks on Thursday, Sept. 20.

See you at the next one soon!


For more info:



Monday, August 20, 2018

Where to Eat: Summer Evenings @ GRANVILLE WeHo


The Eats: American classics with a high-end twist

The Location: West Hollywood

The Vibes: Swanky, airy, casually chic

Good for: Alone, couples, small and large groups

When-To-Go: Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $6.50 - $14; Entrées, $11 - $32; Libations, $11 - $14

The 4-1-1: There’s a gorgeous back patio that’s available to rent for events — with no minimum required. Talk about a deal!

Parking Situation: Valet or nearby metered parking

I’ll Be Back…:
For the Thick-Cut Pork Chop!


Last week, I attended a media event at GRANVILLE in West Hollywood to get an inside scoop into some of the top favorites there. And, I like it so much, I went back again — literally two nights later!

First and foremost, let’s just have a moment for the space. There are simply so many cute places to choose from.

There’s the semi-enclosed patio, pictured below.



Or, pull up a seat at the bar, with soaring ceilings and curvy, concrete walls.



Even sitting in one of the main dining room areas, there’s simply not a bad seat in this place.



WeHo’s GRANVILLE has been in business a little over a year (and fun fact: there are three other locations — in Glendale, Studio City and the original one in Burbank, which opened 12 years ago. There’s also going to be another opening in Pasadena by the end of this year). While each location has most of the same menu items, they all have their own unique spaces. For example, because it’s so close to the upscale Melrose Ave. design district that houses the renowned Pacific Design Center, this WeHo location features artwork from local artists, such as this piece below, which was made using burnt matches. 


Now on to the food. GRANVILLE’s approach is that “flavors need to pop and need to be big,” Manager Food and Beverage Marc Dix shared at the media event. His team brings in more than 800 varied ingredients each and every day, making everything from scratch. The ultimate goal: to create creative “craveables”— taking a high-end approach to everyday favorites, that in the end, won’t necessarily have a high-end price point.

During our affair, more than 20 dishes and beverages were whisked out, from flagship favorites such as the Sweet Potato Fries to globally inspired entrées, like the Spicy Chicken Plate with the South African peri peri sauce. Here’s a quick glimpse at what we feasted on:


First course

There were five selections to start us off. I dove right into one of GRANVILLE’s most popular “shareables,” the Sweet Potato Fries, pictured below. Marc explained that immediately after they come piping hot out of the oil they’re fried in, they’re lightly salted and then tossed in rosemary and thyme, giving them this subtly earthy — and delicious — flavor.



The Butter Lettuce Cups — filled with fresh mango, avocado, tomato and slaw, all coated in a tangy lemongrass vinaigrette — were surprisingly refreshing and bursting with sweetness. A good choice for my vegan peeps, although you do have the option to add tempeh, chicken, steak or shrimp. 



Other selections we tried were the Grilled Cheese Dipper, the Smoked Salmon Spread & Rye Crisps and the Lemon Cous Cous, which was cooked in a corn stock and dressed in a lemon herb vinaigrette.


Second course

We transitioned to five heartier options. Out of the four I tried (I sat the Westside Pastrami Sandwich out), I was quite surprised to find myself pretty impressed with each and every one.

There were two flatbreads up for grabs. The Chicken and Blue Flatbread with three types of cheese, ripe figs and prosciutto was a nice balance of sweet, savory, crunchy and chewy. 



The Veggie Churrasco Flatbread has by far, some of the most distinctive medley of flavors combined together. There’s a bit of Southwestern flair, thanks to cilantro and lime radicchio, and a bit of sweetness from caramelized onions. 



Served warm, the Housemade Hummus has a zesty kick to it, and crunchy toasted pine nuts add a pleasant texture to it. And last but certainly not least, the Uptown Mac & Cheese pictured below is one of the biggest sellers, and I can most certainly see why. It’s a buttery blend of aged cheddar and Gruyere, all topped with massive heaps of chicken. 




Third course

Of the five main entrées available to sample, the Thick-Cut Pork Chop, pictured below, was my favorite. Aside from being a very tender and juicy 12 oz. cut, a fabulous cranberry / mango compote added a pleasantly sweet touch to it. 



Other meat options included the Spicy Chicken Plate, which paid homage to South African cuisine with a peri peri sauce, and the Skirt Steak drizzled with a light South American chimichurri sauce.

The two vegan options had their own one-of-a-kind vibes. While I wouldn’t say that the Farro & Mushroom Risotto (pictured below) is as creamy as a traditional risotto, it definitely does come close, thanks to the farro grain initially being soaked in potato starch, as Marc told me as we chatted about this dish.



I’m not typically a fan of quinoa, but the Poblano Quinoa was oozing with all kinds of interesting aromas. The chimichurri sauce and candied pepitas added a subtle sweetness while there was also a charred and smoky taste to it, too. Plus, the quinoa is cooked in a vegetable broth and mixed with fresh veggies including squash, bell pepper and zucchini. 




Fourth course

Save room for dessert! We ended with the Devil’s Advocate Flourless Chocolate Cake, pictured below — a gluten-free option topped with a cream cheese frosting and port cherries. Truth be told, I didn't love the cake, but it did pair well with the Fortnight Cabernet Sauvignon. 



Speaking of wines, throughout the night, seven different wines and cocktails were on rotation, including this little libation pictured below — the White Lady, a blend of gin, lemon juice, egg whites and orange liqueur. Plus, GRANVILLE’s wine program features some really fantastic wines, mainly sourced from California regions such as Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa. 


Overall, I was impressed, especially after returning over the weekend and having a phenomenal experience then, too. Plus, I appreciate how many vegan / vegetarian options there are and the casual but still swanky ambiance. So the next time you're looking for a nice but not pretentious place to grab an incredible dinner one summer evening, consider GRANVILLE WeHo.

See you there soon!

For more information: 



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