The Culture of Comfort Food

Comfort food is a cunning phrase. The very utterance gives deference to both emotional and physical reaction. The “comfort” part could be the anticipation of an unknown taste or the memory of the known. The reaction can be mental nirvana, salivation, dilated pupils, or something attune to a swoon. So, it’s no wonder that the promise of Six Cheese Macaroni and Cheese invokes both memories of summer’s at grandma’s house and that little home cooking bistro spot off-campus during undergrad.

The “food” part is where it gets interesting. Palate, climate, personal finances, religion, or geography could determine what foods comfort any one person at any given time. Ice cream or gelato? Brick oven pizza or chicken and dressing? Jambalaya or beef stew? The choices of a career woman in the Deep South wearing a polyester-blend pantsuit in July will be quite different than the same vacationing off Cape Hatteras.

The website Chow.com recently offered a Slow Simmered Beef Stew recipe that the Hob Nob Drive Test Kitchens replicated. (Of course, we tweaked it a bit by adding pearl onions, using homemade chicken and beef stock and simmering it in the oven in a Le Creuset stock pot for 2 1/2 hours.) Served with the most amazing Sour Crème Biscuits, warm 7-Up Pound cake, and a bottle of Cupcake's Red Velvet Merlot, well -- there was plenty of comfort for a cold, blistery day.


The Denzel Washington/Jamie Foxx Paradox Of Making It Look Easy

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Denzel Washington is Hollywood royalty: talent, swagger, and public personae that have long been at enigma status and multiple Oscar statues. In the same vein, the multi-talented Jamie Foxx explodes in every medium he touches with a talent so raw that harnessing it seems to be, well – criminal. Each actor has consideration from ‘the academy’ tonight for work released in 2012. Jamie Foxx’s Quinton Tarentino-directed film, Djanjo Unchained, is up in the Best Picture category. (The film also stars the uber-hot actress Kerry Washington of ABC network hour-long drama Scandal.) Denzel Washington might walk away with another Best Actor gold statue for the movie Flight.

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Gordon Parks in L.A. (Lower Alabama)

A new generation of film aficionado was introduced to the character of Shaft when Sam Jackson starred in the 2003 re-make. While it was a fresh attempt at modern storytelling, the film didn’t quite have the same intensity or ‘storytelling without words’ feel that the original had. What was missing? The touch of famed photographer Gordon Parks.

Had Parks’ not been acclaimed as a photographer, acquiring the sometimes burdensome ‘first’ title of anything may have been daunting. Not so for Parks, the first African American to direct a major Hollywood movie, The Learning Tree. Parks also wrote the score and screenplay.  His next film, Shaft, was a major box office hit and was one of the highest grossing films in 1971. Starring the testosterone laden Richard Roundtree in the title role of detective John Shaft, Isacc Hayes’s theme song for the film won an Oscar.

A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born November 30, 1912. After the death of his mother, Sarah, Parks left his father, Jackson, to tend their vegetable farm and began a journey of a lifetime to explore the world. He was 14 years old.

While still in his mid-20’s, Joe Louis’ wife, Marva, admired Parks’ fashion photography. Relocating to Chicago, Parks worked intermittently for several government agencies documenting by camera migrant workers and veterans. This was interspersed with work for Vogue and Life magazines. He had a distinct eye for the subject, forcing the viewer to see its very element or the beauty of the matter. Parks would seek that beauty in the ugliest of situations as if he was determined to show the world that there is grace in nearly all creation. Such was the case when he spent time traveling the deep South in the mid-1950’s. Parks’ work assigned humanity and dignity to those subjected to segregation and Jim Crow.

At segregated water fountain. Mobile, 1956.

Untitled. Mobile, 1956.

Outside looking in. Mobile, 1956.

Untitled. Shady Grove, 1956.

Black schoolroom. Shady Grove, 1956.

Atlanta air terminal. 1956.

Recommended Reading

A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks & forward by Wing Young Huie (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010)

Half-Past Autumn by Gordon Parks (Bulfinch, 1998)

Field of Vision: The Photographs of Gordon Parks (Library of Congress, 2011)


Tracy Reese Is Having Fun With Fall 2013 Collection


Tracy Reese’s Fall 2013 Collection is colorful, fun and alive with touches of retro-whimsy. Having an air of retro-styling that immediately recalls the 1980’s, old school Luther and Force MD’s were background music to the memory of our then-new love for all things thrift store. What was better than scoring a bold patterned, tea-length dress that, with a few alterations, was perfect for the office or the weekends? One with Reese’s impeccable cut and to-die-for fabric. The red peony A-line dress was a show stopper. Actually, most of the dresses and skirts were A-line (a pear-shaped girl’s dream!) with bold reds, greens, and blue patterns.

The topper coats were in animal prints, a practical black with a mod design, and jacket length with huge lapels. Does anyone do topper coats anymore? We know Sarah Vaughn loved them as did Diahann Carroll. Reese is betting you will, too. We tend to agree.

Reese made sure the pieces were interchangeable making cost of ownership more palatable.  This was across the board as the grey pencil skirt’s red cable sweater would also perfectly top paint-splashed bottom with matching top.


Grace Jones at the Grammys

Grace Jones and the late Rick James were co-presenters for the "Best Male R&B Artist" category at the 1982 Grammy Awards. After her runway-esque swirl to the microphone, topped only by the sexually charged banter with James, Grace Jones had the attention of every viewer while sporting a hat resembling an umbrella’s frame anchored by her most blinding smile. Even winner Marvin Gaye had a nano-second’s pause when approaching the podium helmed by the tall, lithe Grace Jones. Gaye’s winning song was the apropos "Sexual Healing."

 

Thirty years ago, the gangly model from the West Indies set New York on fire. Grace Jones scorched to the ground every fashion house whose door she darkened. The camera loved her features as each fashion layout revealed yet another something new to study about bone structure. Sometimes irreverent, she was immediately an A-lister who didn’t give a damn about any list. Grace Jones exuded confidence, dramatic poise, and was a shameless heartbreaker. The tabloid rumor mills had Eddie Murphy, Rick James, Dolph Lungren and most men within a mile of Studio 54 scorched in her wake. Icons are anything but static.

There was little surprise when she segued into a singing and acting career. Even adding those occupations to her modeling resume seemed fruitless in containing her. Was it that her personality was just that big? Or, was it her talent? (We will back away from that one and let you decide. Talk amongst yourselves.) A songwriter and vocalist, Grace Jones was a precursor to the Cirque de Soleil-type of showmanship that is the live show standard today. But, what really solidified the Grace Jones experience were her mod fashions. Even skirts had angles to parallel her haircut. Getting next to her could get you stabbed by her jacket, dress or hat. Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj are really neat. But, until they are Bond girls or Bond villains, they are just taking notes in school because Grace Jones already handled that.



The Urban Harp Youth Ensemble: Sounds Like Heaven

In 2000, with two borrowed harps, Elisabeth Remy Johnson, principal harpist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Roselyn Lewis, an Atlanta Public Schools teacher, began a program to teach urban youth to read music and play the harp. Today, the program accommodates over 45 students from ages 10 to 18. Earning income for performances including everything from concerts to weddings present great opportunities for the students, but so does the possibility to attend college on scholarship.


The African American - Irish Connection

The town of Moneygall, Ireland anxiously awaits a visit from its most famous son: President Barack H. Obama. Fleeing the historic famine of Ireland, his great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, boarded a ship in Liverpool, England. He arrived in New York City in 1850 with several family members. Like many African Americans, the President shares an ancestry that is often overlooked despite having a history that Frederick Douglass spoke out for. Freed slaves of African descent and Irish immigrants were relegated to the same low rungs of America’s social strata in the early-to-mid 1800’s. In port cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia, survival meant that these two groups often lived and worked together. The passage of time saw the Irish embrace the political machinery of their new country and as they became skilled in trades formally relegated to African Americans –blacksmith, carpenters, bakers and bricklayers. The first labor unions were formed, but African Americans were excluded. The Civil War was a tipping point in the fragile relations between these two groups. Irish unrest gave way to riots when they could not buy their way out of the military service of the north and were forced to fight for an ideology that protected people of color – their chief competitors in the labor market. The resulting riots were a pivotal scene in Martin Scorcese’s film Gangs of New York.


MIT for…Free

Pedigree and student loan servitude are no longer the deciding factors for acquiring knowledge and curriculum-based classroom experiences. With online college class portal Coursera, attending some of the best colleges and universities from around the world is now actionable regardless of finances or location. Coursera offers classes from 33 top-ranked schools. Anyone, anywhere has the opportunity to take courses from schools like Stanford, Duke, Caltech, Wesleyan, John Hopkins, Rice, Berklee College of Music, Hebrew University (Jerusalem), and the University of Melbourne. Watching the future unfold is no longer and option. Find an easy chair, grab the laptop, and participate in making the world the place you envision.


The Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection of African American History


Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections historical photographic portraits of African Americans dating from 1850 to 1840 including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and cabinet card photographs. The 500-plus piece collection includes formal studio portraits of politicians and bankers, cowboys, workmen, families, African American men in military service, emancipated slave children, and carnival performers. In the new enlightened era of gaining a better understanding of people of color, this collection will serve inquiring groups well in gaining a firm grasp on African American history.


Menswear, circa 1970

Kojak had the Fedora and Link had the precursor to the Member’s Only jacket. Both, also had what was required to successfully don modern men's apparel from the 1970’s: lots of testosterone.

Most pants often emphasized the crotch with extra wide waistbands, large tab closures, slash pockets or a tight fit with no pockets at all. Coats were knee-length or longer, all the better to show off those stacked heel shoes that were often higher than most women’s shoes; sweaters were belted with Robin Hood swagger, and collars served as auxiliary napkins. It took a man’s man to wear this stuff. Or, one teeming with self-confidence. Never again think of your dad as anything but b-r-a-v-e.