Monday, August 22, 2016

Three Stars Take Us to the Moon And Beyond

One of my first blog posts on this site was on the Academy-nominated movie, "The Help." At the dawning of the 84th Oscars, I stood on the side of those who were not too anxious to celebrate yet another movie that seemed to consistently tell only parts of our black history--parts that continuously show us in subservient instead of equally celebratory roles. Interestingly--yet, not surprisingly--in a year that finds a television series chronicling the Underground Railroad being renewed for a second season as well as the anticipated (and now controversial) fall debut of Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation," it seems we are continuing to "shackle" ourselves to these themes. However, as I continue to stand on the side of those not too anxious to celebrate the "tried and true," I found hope in learning of a cinematic gem heading our way titled "Hidden Figures."

Starring Janelle MonĂ¡e, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer, "Hidden Figures" tells the untold true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson--a team of three brilliant black women who, in the 1960s, helped make their mark on history by providing NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions, all while combating racial and gender bias. Set to hit theaters in January 2017, I could not be more excited to experience this much-needed-to-be-told part of AMERICAN history, and am looking forward to what will be an "out of this world" movie-going experience. For a sneak peak of the trailer, click below. See you at the theater!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: A Gold Star for Blue Apron

Photo credit: N/A
Unless you've been living under a rock (or simply super busy with life), you most likely have heard about, read about, or even, perhaps, gotten an invitation to join Blue Apron--the food delivery service whose mission is to "make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone." At only four-years old, the New York-based startup with over 2,500 employees and already valued at over $2 billion dollars, continues to steadily add subscribers. Being curious for a while now but receiving a recent invitation to join and receive my first week's food supply for only $19 instead of its standard $59, I decided to finally give it a go.

Before we "dive in," let's cover the basics. The weekly subscription service offers two plans: one for a family of two or one for a family of four. The weekly cost is $59 for three complete meals, which includes recipe cards and every single ingredient you'll need to prepare each meal. You provide the cookware, of course. Your credit card is charged weekly but you are allowed before noon each Monday to cancel the following week's order and NOT be charged. At signup, you'll be given a short questionnaire on your food preferences, from which Blue Apron will create weekly menus based off of your choices. Three recipes each week are then pre-selected for you; however, you'll have the option to swap out any of the three meals with three additional choices. So, having completed all of these requirements in less than :30 minutes, my foodie adventure began.

In a genius move (one growing ever popular with other delivery services), Blue Apron actually delivers on Sundays, which is the delivery date I chose so I could start the week off on a culinary high. There I sat on my porch step (skeptically) awaiting my Sunday delivery and at 4:30 p.m., the delivery truck pulled up in front of my house. Happy, happy; joy, joy.

Photo credit N/A
All of the ingredients for the week--fish, chicken, beef, garlic, ginger, green beans, rice, etc.--were labeled and neatly packed in a recyclable, foil-lined box surrounded by ice packs to keep everything fresh. I unloaded the contents, placed them in the refrigerator, and reviewed the recipe cards for the week to see how much sweat this adventure would actually require.

Now, if you already have a good command of the kitchen (as I'd say I do), Blue Apron isn't so much going to teach you how to cook as it is going to expand your "cooking creativity." Fine by me. I was raised by Southern, meat and potatoes-eating parents, so my cooking style largely reflects that (cue comfort foods like chicken and dumplings, chili, and jambalaya, and I'm surprised I still fit most of my clothes, but I digress). So, I was looking forward to having fun with such recipes as Seared Salmon & Miso Soba Noodle Salad with Fairy Tale Eggplant & Baby Greens and Spicy Chicken & Korean Rice Cakes with Sweet Corn, Shiitake Mushrooms & Ginger Cashews.

Photo credit: Erica Kennedy
At around 7:50 p.m., with both my excitement and hunger growing after a day of lazing around (read: anxiously awaiting Starz' latest episode of "Power" to debut), I decided to get busy. Sunday night's offering: Curried Catfish & Coconut Rice with Green Beans & Golden Raisin Chutney. Ingredients assembled. Check. Pots and pans on deck. Check. Recipe card "standing" at attention. Check. And so I began. The recipe card stated a 15-minute prep time and a 30-minute cook time, and I am happy to report the entire process actually took 40 minutes or so. It may have gone faster, but I admit--even though the cards contained pictures of the step-by-step process--I did have a few pauses, as the pictures of certain ingredients I'm not familiar working with were shown in their diced or shredded form as opposed to the form in which they arrived (cue me squinting at the recipe card and uttering "WTH is that?" a few times).

At 8:30ish, my creation was complete and closely resembled Blue Apron's photo of the same dish (see below). But would it taste like a literal blue apron or like something I'd be happy to present to a guest? Friends and family who knew of my adventure anxiously awaited my response. Two bites and I was happy to fire off a few "Yooo, this is da bomb!" [translation: "This tastes fantastic!"] texts, for it truly was everything Blue Apron proclaimed their dishes to be: both fresh and flavorful. I savored every bite and, being a party of one who purchased the two-person plan, I have one word for you: LEFTOVERS--which I happily devoured as soon as I got home the next day. Also, on that two-person plan, if you're a party of one, it allows you to cook every other night, thus expanding dinner over the course of a week instead of just three nights. Score for my single folks (smile).

There are still two more meals to cook awaiting me and I couldn't be more optimistic and excited to whip up them both. So, for you guys and gals looking to impress a dinner date or for you couples wanting to literally turn up the heat in the kitchen, I recommend Blue Apron with two thumbs up. Also, a new addition to the subscription service is wine pairing; however, it may be easier (and more cost effective) to take their suggestions but purchase bottles at your own local spirits store. All Blue Apron needs now to make the culinary experience complete, is to offer a dessert option you can add to the meal plan. If that happens, it's a good chance I'll never leave the house again. Cheers and happy cooking to you!

Blue Apron's Curried Catfish (Photo credit: N/A)
My Curried Catfish (Photo credit: Erica Kennedy)

Addendum: Hi all! Just returning to this post to announce that day two with "da Blue" was also a success, so it wasn't "beginner's luck" after all (for those wondering). The proof is in the picture below. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Erica Kennedy

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Peace in Not Knowing

Recently, I lost my wallet at dinner and was completely worry-free about it for an entire evening...because I had no idea it was gone. As I've done more times than I care to admit, I take my debit card out of my wallet, sit the wallet in my lap while I wait for the waiter to return my card, place the card back in my wallet, and then continue conversing with my dinner guest. I stand to leave...and, well, you see where this is going.

Luckily, my last time making this faux pax, I was at a business dinner and left slightly before everyone else. A board member saw it on the floor as she was leaving and picked it up to return to me. You can only imagine my surprise when she handed it to me at the meeting the next morning. Upon reflection, it frightened me to think that I slept peacefully through the night, without a care in the world, while the "gateway" to all of my finances were out of my hands and out of my control. However, what tickled me most is that in not knowing, I was completely at peace.

The incident also made me reflect on other ways we lose our peace (and opportunities) by worrying about how others might perceive us. I've often heard the mantra recited: "What other people think about you is none of your business." My wallet incident could not have provided a more true example of that sentiment, and it made me wonder how many times we're halted in reaching our full potential because we're worried about the thoughts of "others." Do we not pursue dreams because we're afraid of being seen as "wistful"? Do we not seek certain adventures because we're worried of being labeled as "different"? Do we put goals on the back burner for fear of being lauded as "self centered" or "delusional"? Whatever keeps us stuck, rest assured there are little voices in our heads, made up of an audience of our perceived worst critics, helping us stay put.

As renowned psychologist Dr. Kelly Neff states,"The root of the problem with caring about what people think about you is that you're attaching yourself to an outcome that you have absolutely no control over. [W]e must now give ourselves permission to release, [which] frees up an immense amount of time and energy to live in the NOW...."

Release. Freedom. Positivity. It all begins with loving and honoring ourselves first, and knowing that when we authentically do, those who truly love us will do the same. And for those who don't, it truly is none of our business. As comedian Tina Fey simply puts it, "Do your thing and don't care if they like it." Much like the freedom in not knowing my wallet was lost, may we all find joy in not knowing--or giving life to--the naysayers and negative thoughts that keep us in our holding patterns. Here's to flying free!

Photo credits: N/A