African Cradle and the Ethiopian Heritage Camp

Did you know that picnics can grow, the same as planted seeds can?  Fifteen years ago, one particular picnic sprouted into what is now the Ethiopian Heritage Camp, started by Executive Director Amber Stime via her non-profit organization African Cradle.

Stime’s concept for the organization’s name stems from Ethiopia being “the cradle of civilization.”  Chef Samuelsson’s story exists in this same vein, due in part to the African Diaspora.  Based in Santa Cruz, California, it provides support to adopted Ethiopians, domestically and internationally, providing a community and consistent connection to Ethiopian culture.

“It’s good for children to start learning this at a young age, instead of in their 20’s, and we try to make it as authentic as possible,” says Stime.  “It’s mainly for the children, to let them know there’s no need for them to forge away on their own.”

The camp rose over years of borrowing backyards.  Families would fly in and participate in sharing culture, and other parents who were interested in adoption would share their question about the process. This eventually led to a hub where you could truly celebrate being Ethiopian. Stime says, “We wanted the children to stay connected to their birth culture—to understand where you come from and where you’re going.  It’s easy to come to the U.S. and assimilate, where we don’t want to have an accent and we want to dress and look like everyone else.  Here, seeing other kids talking like they do, retaining their language and having an interest in their food makes them feel proud to recall what they know and who they are.”

A healthy growth and development in a child starts from the beginning,  the root.  The camp takes in children who are as young as 15-months-old.  For many kids however, this is the first time that they are away from their family. But this is also where reinforcement and self-assurance comes into play.  It’s very easy, through adoption, for someone to be uprooted from their beginnings. But with these kids who attend the camp, it’s almost impossible, especially if they’ve been there since young.

They have different themes to keep the attendees busy.  This year, the topic is food. Stime can recall countless times before the last evening’s banquet dinner where they dress in full Ethiopian garb, like coffee dresses and suits, and the children wait—impatiently—for a menu that wafts through doors.

“You should see!” says Stime, “This is the moment that they wait for.  Sometimes I have to guard the door!” For the older ones, the anxiousness doesn’t seem to stop there.  They’ll have their fill earlier, but come later that night when bitten by the midnight snack bug. Yet, Stime wouldn’t trade these moments for two Earths, and one can tell by the passion she speaks with.  The children love their time at the camp, and she, who holds a Master’s degree in social work, enjoys it just as much, if not more.

The biggest reward for the kids is that they have a director who’s been in their shoes before.  At 50 years old, Ms. Stime was born in Ethiopia, adopted at eight, then relocated to Minnesota.  “I didn’t have Ethiopian food for years at a time, unless I had a visitor who could concoct some of the dishes, but my parents did their job of helping me retain my Ethiopian heritage.”  It’s easy to see that this is a message she is passing on to the rest of the world, and has been doing so consistently for a long time.

This year, the camp will run from August 9th to August 12th  and for Stime her goal is to have a place for adopted Ethiopians where they can “know someone who’s going through the same thing, and walking a walk that they are walking.”  For more information about Amber Stime, African Cradle and the Ethiopian Heritage camp, click here.

Photos Courtesy of Amber Stime and the African Cradle Organization.

Sylvia's Cupcake Parade

It is interesting how a person, mentioned in the last sentence of a 1979 restaurant review by Gael Greene, can turn out to be a culinary queen and icon 33 years later.

Sylvia Woods was that person. Amidst racial intensity she’d been serving food for the soul, from the soul, to Harlem and beyond. For this reason, she was celebrated today in a Cupcake Parade celebrating her 50th Jubilee and Sylvia's annual Community Day breakfast. Harlem, as it should be, played the host with the help of famed baker master Raven “Cake Man Raven” Dennis III in front of her restaurant. Different nationalities were in abundance among a mix of suits, monkstraps, sneakers, jeans, hairs, straight, braided, locked—the artsy, the touristy and last but not least, the foodies.

Magic markers were no wallflowers either. “Thank you’s” were all over tablecloths and posters.

It was great to see someone who appreciated everyone else and their business, be appreciated.  Conversation took place underneath brooding thunderstorms that held their breath over granite tables (even the weather recognized her moment). And proving that Sylvia's legacy will live on, past recipients of the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Fund took to the stage to honor the woman who helped raise $250,000 over the past 10 years so that these students could go on to attend NYU, Columbia, FIT, and so many other prestigious schools. (The fund has awarded 77 scholarships and hope to help even more during their annual gala on October 28th. To donate or learn more, click here.)

The likes of her hadn’t been seen in Harlem maybe since Madame C.J. Walker, but Sylvia has paved a road that will allow the next great businesswoman of color to stake her claim sooner in the future than later.  And that little girl was there, somewhere in the crowd of child smiles, waves and shimmies to live music.

Upon leaving the restaurant in ’79, Gael Greene gave her compliments to the chef, who replied with a “Thank you.”  On behalf of Harlem, Red Rooster and Marcus Samuelsson, we’d like to say the same to Sylvia.

Ken Woods, Sylvia's eldest son, who will now take the reigns of his mother's New York landmark.

What Would You Eat? A Look at Olympic-Sized Diets

Performance in the Olympics is everything, but what you consume is as important, if not more so, than everything else. For these athletes you have to treat your body like a car. If you put bad fuel in it, it won't run well. If you put great fuel in it, it will perform to your ideal expectations and you will lower the chance of burning out. Olympians take this to an entirely new level.

Imagine training for hours on end, waking up at the crack of dawn only to be pushed to your physical limits for the next seven hours. Sadly, Olympic athletes can't run on a cup of joe and a bagel with schmeer. To celebrate the big wins of team USA (including the 100 meter backstroke gold by 17-year old Missy Franklin) we've put together a roundup of not only what our favorite Olympians are eating (think sixteen bananas a day) but what they're putting in their bodies to help recover, digest and prepare for the biggest athletic competition of their lives.

1. Powerhouse (and Michael Phelp's biggest rival) Ryan Lochte has completely switched up his diet since the 2008 games. For preparations in London this year, Lochte has cut out all sugar and fat from his diet, in particular those trips to fast-food central McDonalds. Before, a typical breakfast for the swimmer would be "two or three McDonald's egg McMuffins, some hashbrowns and maybe a chicken sandwich," Lochte has said, but these days his diet reflects a much more health-conscious lifestyle, focusing on eggs, fruit, oatmeal and plenty of protein for fuel.

2. There are 100 calories in one banana. Multiply that by sixteen and you've got the caloric count of Yohan Blake, the 100-meter world champion Jamaican sprinter. To stay fit and full of energy, Blake has been said to eat sixteen bananas every day

3. While loading up on calories and carbs is certainly important for fuels sake, Olympic athletes need to stay healthy in their everyday life as well. Noshing on greens, fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating health-conscious snacks into their everyday lifestyle is incredibly imperative to an athletes performance. Kerry Walsh, the American medalist in beach volleyball, sticks to snacking on sandwiches chock full of honey and almond butter. Giving your body plenty of endurance, almond butter is known to provide energy for hours, something Olympians know a thing or two about.

4.  Feeding the Olympians is something that London may not have known a thing or two about. We can all guess it would take tons of beef, bread and potatoes to keep the athletes well fed, but because they burn an awesome amount of calories, food supply is beyond imaginable because the athletes need to reboost just as quickly. The Olympic Village in London ordered 100 tons of beef and 330 tons of fruits and vegetables, and that's just a start.

5. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all have to stay in shape to get first place this summer, especially with tough competition against Spain and Argentina. Ever wondered what they do to keep up the pace? These are the tips of the trade that they follow, which include eating greener, chewing slower, and watching the amount of animal food they eat to remain in the best shape, both inside and out.


Harlem Remembers Sylvia

In the wake of the passing of the legendary Sylvia Woods, we wanted to pay our respects and homage to Mrs. Woods by delivering messages from Harlem itself, and the community that she so greatly impacted through her wonderful restaurant, food and hospitality that goes beyond any human measurement. We, for one, want to thank her, and so would these everyday Harlemite men and women:

Rasheen, a former New York Times Journalist:

“My earliest memory was about 40 years ago. She worked hard, she worked real hard. Almost 18, 19 hours a day sometimes. The center building was the restaurant. My brother-in-law owned the space next door. But you know how they say B.B. King was the hardest working man in showbiz? Until he got sick a couple of years ago? She was the hardest working woman to own a restaurant. I don’t know how she did it, working 18 hours. And she stayed in the kitchen! She would taste the food before it went out, and made sure everybody was happy. But she was an excellent lady, always had a great personality and taught her kids real well, I respect her.”

Says Denise, a Harlem resident for over 50 years about her recollections of Sylvia:

“This was back in 1974. I remember when she had a little greasyspoon back in the day. Greasyspoon was just stools. And her food was just…soul. You know? It tastes like something that your grandma would make: the smothered pork chops and collard greens, like what granny would cook. She cooked like how she would cook for her family, or her personal family.  She’s a great mentor, and she started from nothing but turned it into a million-dollar corporation—she did her thing!!  And God blessed her.  She’s gone now, but I celebrate her life.  We all have to leave, but she was a great woman, and she gave a lot of her people jobs, which is still going on now. And late at night—everything that was left over, she would give it to the brothers and sisters that were homeless out here and feed them. A lot of people don’t know that either. Late at night, she would have her employees bring all that food in Tupperware. And I remember at a time in my life where I waited for her, at 12 o’ clock, for some of those smoked ribs! (Laughs) She was a great, great lady.  She will be missed.”

Jonathan Bodrick, a Brooklynite who relocated to Harlem and owner of vintage clothing and makeup boutique B.o.r.n., of his first experience at Sylvia’s:

“Hmm, I’d say about 42 years ago, I was about five years old. This was for my parents’ 20-year anniversary of marriage. We traveled all the way from Ocean Hill Brooklyn to Harlem to eat at Sylvia’s. And it was a major thing because we’d heard about Sylvia’s and we all were excited to try her food. Coming from a Southern background—my dad is from South Carolina like her—I was used to that Southern cuisine, but it was different to experience it outside of your mother’s kitchen. And that was exciting! Fast-forward many years later, and I’ve had this store for eight years now, who knew I’d be doing a fashion show for her, and meeting her. For me, it was like meeting royalty. It made me feel important, now, as a small business owner myself.  I was very, honored.”

These are just a few of the inspirational everyday tales of Mrs. Woods.  Please stay tuned for more to come! A very special thanks to everyone who participated in this post and thank you, Sylvia.

Photos: Diamond Bradley

From Pastry to "Poetik" Designs

At first glance, one does not see a former pastry chef clothed in a blue blazer, loafers and bowtie.  But, that’s who you're looking at.

Mr. Nicklaus Jones, Mississippi native and founder of graphic apparel line Poetik Designs remembers the days of being on the line at four-star NYC restaurant Le Cirque, where he'd left after one year for two main reasons.  One, the chef's uniform didn't allow him to show his individuality in his dress, and two, it just wasn't what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Mr. Jones, a vegetarian, left Le Cirque after a year to focus on his passion.  He wants to make a positive difference in the world through his own actions, more specifically clothing and apparel design for men and women and babies.

Normally T-shirts would focus on the graphic itself, but what the shirts of Poetik Designs focuses on are the actual messages, like "Quitting Is An Option; Just Not One I'm Considering," and "Millionaire in Progress," one of his best-sellers.  His Afroflower shirt for women is one of my favorite designs.

 He's currently working on other brands focusing on formal style called "Nicklaus Written," and baby clothes called the "Baby Poets," the latter of which a couple of pieces are available.

He does still enjoy cooking and eating, and wants to open a restaurant in the future, with a broad menu that also highlights vegetarian food.  To him, being a vegetarian has given him a clearer mind when designing.  "It puts me more in the mind of being more particular," said Jones,  "because I'm very particular about what I eat, and I guess that translates to me being particular about what I'm designing, and very detailed."

This is a superman who works out of a cozy office in Queens, lives in Harlem and dines at places such as Red Rooster and Melba's, would impress a date with a soufflé, and writes poetry in his spare time. A sample:

"I seek to matter Not for my selfish benefits For the benefits of you For the benefits of my children For the benefits of a starving nation Whose blinded past has blurred its future Yet the future is not out of focus It just needs to be fined tuned With equality of mind Reverence of a humbled soul I seek to matter Not by the journey of my ego By the actions of my character The words of my wisdom By the meek clarity of my voice I speak with you as my friend, Brother, sister, and neighbor I seek to matter I love you I have high hopes for you Together we can conquer Together we can achieve Greatness and change."

His message and what he wants to bring to the world is inside of these lines written by Mr. Jones himself.  Oh, and by the way, he is representing Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. very, very well.

Photos: Diamond Bradley. Poetry by Nicklaus Jones.