Friday, November 22, 2019

A Thanksgiving feast to go from the Sweet Home Cafe

Sweet Home Cafe's macaroni and cheese has a big reputation and maybe a Twitter account/Photo by Patricia Leslie

With a name like "Sweet Home Café," you think it's going to be anything but delish?

The last call for takeout orders is
Monday, Nov. 25 from the Sweet Home Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, or come on in and order off the menu and eat at the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day.

 Sweet Home Cafe's Thanksgiving spread /Photo by Patricia Leslie

 Sweet Home Cafe's southern-style green beans with smoked pork/Photo by Patricia Leslie

If anyone wants the delicious taste and home cooked food like Grandma used to make for Thanksgiving, Sweet Home is serving them up.

Forget the lists, the menu prep, and all those pots and pans and more and more and more, and order here. Being that I'm a Southern gal whose tastes have been refined over the years, I can attest to Sweet Home's superiority because I tasted everything at a Thanksgiving preview this week, and it must be the only time in my life when I wished for a bigger belly.  But, I wasn't a loner.  Everyone around me did, too. My new friends. Wished for bigger bellies for themselves, not for me, or, I don't think they did. (Misplaced modifier.) 
 Sweet Home Cafe's candied yams and potato salad/Photo by Patricia Leslie

 Sweet Home Cafe's cornbread, ham, and turkey are ready to go/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Sweet Home is selling a Thanksgiving turkey meal for $190 (plus tax) or a ham meal ($205), each with four sides (please read below), cornbread, and choice of a fresh baked pie (pecan or sweet potato), enough to serve between six and eight. (Ummmm, ummmm, ahem. That sweet potato pie is the best I have ever put in my mouth and I've got enough years to make me Top Judge in this category.)

Sweet Home Cafe's delectable trio of macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread stuffing/Photo by Patricia Leslie

 Sweet Home Cafe's good eatins on display/Photo by Patricia Leslie

That's banana pudding (which may be ordered separately) for the Thanksgiving non-traditionalist, with pecan and sweet potato pie for the traditionalist/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Sweet Home Cafe's chefs, Jerome Grant, left, and Ramin Coles proudly stand behind their products/Photo by Patricia Leslie 

The meals come with choices of four of:
*Cider-braised collard greens (made vegan-style without fatback)

*Candied yams with ginger and vanilla

*Homestyle mac and cheese (Sweet Home has a glowing reputation for this)

*Down home cornbread stuffing

*Southern-style green beans with smoked pork (To die for!)

*Potato salad (the best! It looks pretty good, but it tastes a lot better than it looks.)

The cornbread is memorable, light and fluffy, and melts in your mouth, sending visions of corn stalks waving in the south (?).

The free-range turkey is brined for two days in maple syrup, then cold smoked and rubbed with sage, and it comes with cranberry jam, giblet gravy, a thermometer and "herb mop."

The ham is rubbed with brown sugar, bourbon, herbs, spices and mustard, and served with a preserved peach-mustard sauce.

Pie choices are pecan or sweet potato. (See my recommendation above.)

 Sous chef Ramin Coles said mashed potatoes are not offered since "they don't travel well," but Executive Chef Jerome Grant does (?).

He took a 12-hour break from his State Department duties in London where he's teaching cooking classes, to come home to the Sweet Home and help introduce the cafe's Thanksgiving menu at the preview.

The chefs said the recipes all come from the staff.

Meals may be picked up at the Café from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 27, or on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, from 10 a.m. until noon. Call 202-633-6174 or order online
For every 25 meals sold, Sweet Home will donate one meal to Martha's Table which helps children, adults, and families who are in need. Also, the name of anyone who buys a Thanksgiving dish from the menu will be entered in a drawing for a signed Sweet Home cookbook.
Thanksgiving is not only a time to eat and share a meal with loved ones, but it's fun to relive old family favorites like the one Chef Grant described when his father made a not-so-great Thanksgiving dinner: "The turkey was super dried out, the gravy still had lumps in it. We still talk about it," he laughed.

This year his family will be eating Korean bar-be-cue "because who wants to clean up?" he asked. "My favorite aunt who cleans up is not coming this year."

Chef Grant's favorite Thanksgiving dish "is definitely stuffing," and he paused before adding: "with gravy.  We do it different each year; sometimes, it's oyster stuffing; sometimes, cornbread." 

Chef Cole said as soon as he opens the restaurant up Thursday morning, he's outa there since he'll be working all weekend.

Thanksgiving preparation begins in August at the Sweet Home Cafe.

For those cooking at home, Chef Coles had a tip: the Reynolds aluminum bag is "an amazing piece of technology," he said. 

"Our food is done with love, it's done with soul," the chefs proclaimed, and to that end, I say "amen,bro" and place my taste buds on ignition. 
What: The Thanksgiving Meal

When: Order by Monday, Nov. 25 and pick up Nov. 27 all day or until noon on Nov. 28.

Where: The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20560

How much: $190 for a turkey meal or $205 for ham (plus tax) or order a la carte.  See the menu at

For more information: 202-633-6174

Closest Metro stops:  Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Inaugural Middle Eastern art show ends Friday

Raeda Saadeh (b. 1977), Penelope, 2010/ Rose Issa Projects, London. The artist is a Palestinian who explores "issues of displacement, gender, and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," according to the label copy.  In mythology, Penelope was a Greek woman who waited 20 years for her husband, Odysseus, to return from the Trojan War.  Here, Penelope represents a Palestinian neighborhood.

The public is invited to attend at no cost the first art show at Washington's newly restored Middle East Institute, but haste is necessary since the exhibition closes Nov. 22.
Ayman Baalbaki (b. 1975), Al Mulatham, 2012/private collection. Political turmoil is often the subject for this Lebanese painter and installation artist from Beirut. This work "portrays the idealism of [Mr. Baalbaki's] father's generation and serves as a symbol" of unending conflict, according to the label. Mr. Baalbaki is a popular Arab artist who has enjoyed exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2011).
MEI's new gallery is intended to be "a platform for the Middle East's leading and emerging artists to engage with U.S. audiences and the local D.C. community," wrote Kate Seelye, MEI's vice president for arts and culture, in a statement.  .

Featured in Arabicity/Ourouba are 17 artists' works of installation art, video, painting, and sculpture.
Batoul S'himi (b. 1974), Arab World Under Pressure and Monde Sous Pression Militaire, 2012/Rose Issa Projects, London/photo by Patricia Leslie.The carvings on the pressure cookers are maps intended to illustrate worldwide hostility and unrest. Works by this Moroccan artist are found in museums around the globe.  She teaches at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Tetouan. Through the window is N Street, NW.
Anas Albraehe (b. 1991), Untitled, 2002 /Rose Issa Project, London. This is a detail from the artist's series, The Dream Catcher, which "explores the temporary refuge of sleep for laborers and men displaced by war" (and women?) to illustrate the link between sleep and wakefulness. Mr. Albraehe has an MA in Psychology and Art Therapy from Lebanese University.
London-based producer and author, Rose Issa, curated this first show, and she came from London to introduce it.

MEI got its start here in 1946 and prides itself on being "the oldest Washington-based institution dedicated solely to the study of the Middle East," and the only gallery in Washington "dedicated to showcasing" Middle East contemporary art.
Tagreed Darghouth  (b. 1979), Brighter than a Thousand Suns, 2012/Rose Issa Projects, London. This Lebanese artist has won several prizes.  She draws inspiration from van Gogh, Rembrandt, literature, philosophy and everyday realities, according to the label copy. The message here seeks to illustrate the atomic bomb's effects on humans and the Earth. 

MEI's founders believe the arts have the power to influence culture and transform society, as well as to build bridges between the peoples of the U.S. and the Middle East.

 Five shows are planned for exhibition every year.
 The newly renovated Middle East Institute, 1763 N St., NW, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
From left, Lyne Sneige, MEI Kate Seelye, MEI; Rose Issa, curator; and Mahmoud Obaidi, artist, at the Middle East Institute, Sept. 11, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie

What: Arabicity/Ourouba
When:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m. through Nov. 22, 2019

Where:  Middle East Institute, 1763 N St. NW, Washington D.C. 20036

Admission:  No charge

Metro station:  The closest stations are Farragut North, Farragut West, and Dupont Circle

For more information: 202-785-1141or the website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Justice Clarence Thomas has his own movie

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Created Equal:  Clarence Thomas in His Own Words/Manifold Productions

Comments by the filmmaker, producer, and director after the screening of his new film about Clarence Thomas were almost as interesting as the film itself.

An adoring, practically fawning crowd welcomed the first public showing of Created Equal:  Clarence Thomas in His Own Words last week at the Cato Institute. At the show's end, filmmaker Michael Pack and Cato's Roger Pilon, who served as moderator, answered questions from the audience until there were no more.

Most of the questioners preceded their remarks with "brilliant!" and "excellent!" 

In the film, set for airing by PBS next May, Clarence Thomas sits and faces the camera and talks about his life, beginning with his early childhood.  He and his wife, Ginny, sat for 30 hours of interviewing, Mr. Pack said, and it was difficult to reduce that length to two hours, which left no room in the film for contributions and viewpoints from others.

Mr. Pack hopes law schools and other colleges will pick it up. 
Michael Pack at the Cato Institute Nov. 13, 2019 for the screening of his new film, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Archival videos and photographs made excellent visuals, supplemented with the few Thomas family pictures available.

Several times Mr. Pack said that Justice Thomas's life is a classic American story, a much harder upbringing he had than, say, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (whose RBG has earned nearly $14.5 million since its release in 2018. Mr. Pack sighed).
In Pin Point, Georgia, close to Savannah, Clarence Thomas's father abandoned his family when the future justice was a toddler. His mother struggled to earn a living wage and take care of her children who roamed the streets when the boys were six and seven years old.

In desperation, she took Clarence and his younger brother to her parents to live, and the two boys delighted to find indoor plumbing and food on the table every night at their grandparents' home. (Nothing was said about what happened to Mr. Thomas's mother or his sister.)

His grandfather was a disciplinarian who instilled hard work in his grandsons, respect for others, and a keen sense of the value of education. Mr. Thomas says he  "really regretted," not visiting his grandfather before he died to tell him "how much I loved and respected him."

The future justice attended Catholic high school and at age 16, considered becoming a priest. That possibility led him to seminary school until a racial epithet after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. caused Mr. Thomas to leave. That was about the time a door opened at the College of the Holy Cross and from there, it was on to Yale law school.

Justice Thomas describes his career and work for Sen. John Danforth (R-MO). After climbing the legal ladder, Mr. Thomas was nominated to the U.S.Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Presiding over the Thomas Senate confirmation hearing was Sen. Joe Biden, who, of course, is included at one of his worst moments, to the delight of the laughing audience. 

Mr. Thomas says he had no idea what Sen. Biden was talking about in the hearing when the senator talked about "natural laws," but Mr. Biden announced to everyone present that he and Mr. Thomas knew what he was talking about. (You have to see it.) 

The clash with the testimony of Anita Hill consumed  more in the film than expected. (At least four in the audience were not Thomas fans, including me who believed and still believes Anita Hill.)

When Mr. Thomas learned his nomination had been approved, his response was a sarcastic "whoop-dee-doo." 

Mr. Pack said unequivocally that the justice had not seen the film but Mr. Thomas's wife, Ginny (quoted extensively in it), had.

More than once Mr. Pack said the justice wanted to get his words out.  Clearly, Mr. Thomas still carries a chip on his shoulder which he probably has borne throughout life.

The documentary is an unbalanced portrayal but an autobiography, a hagiography someone suggested today, nonetheless. Mr. Thomas, 71, is now the most senior associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Pack's company, Manifold Productions, produced the film, with the help of his wife, Gina, a Manifold vice-president, who was also present.  

She urged her husband to shorten Words which is good advice! With redundant scenes of an unmanned boat gliding through Georgian marshes, I say, "cut!"

The banjo and piano made excellent accompaniment in the film as did the guest reception which preceded the showing.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Turkey a-go-go at the Indian Museum

A Thanksgiving feast at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

 You can't bear the thought of getting yourself to umpteen million stores to buy the goods for Big Turkey Day?

Don't want to prepare a menu? Cook?

Forget it, forget the lists, the shopping and driving (the traffic!),  unloading, polishing, cleaning, table setting, and deciding who likes what for Thanksgiving Day. (Oh, and then there's clean-up and floral arrangements and ironing and, and ...)
 Chef Freddie J. Bitsoie invites you to the Thanksgiving feast at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
The lad can't wait to get a plate and pile it high with delicacies from Chef Bitsoie's Thanksgiving feast at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Call in your order to the National Museum of the American Indian which is serving a delicious feast for six to eight for only $190 (plus tax).   

Or, come to the museum on Thanksgiving Day and sit down at the restaurant which for years has enjoyed the best reputation for museum food anywhere in this town.
 A Thanksgiving feast at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Wild rice salad at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
 A Thanksgiving feast at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

If you consider what you would spend for the Thanksgiving meal, the meal to go is a bargain, plus, it's homemade without that starchy, Styrofoam pre-made taste often found in grocery take-outs.

For every 25 meals purchased, the museum will donate a free meal to Martha's Table whose goal is to enable strong children, families, and communities through education, healthy eating, and family assists.
 The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
 The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Call in your order for good eatins' or order online by Monday, Nov. 25 to 202-633-7044 or Pick up at the Museum's Mitsitam Cafe on Wednesday, Nov. 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Now, for the menu created by Chef Freddie J. Bitsoie, one of few Native American chefs with a national reputation.

Since I tasted all these delicacies last week, I can speak truthfully about their deliciousness:

Maple-glazed roasted turkey (which comes with a thermometer)



Cranberry sauce 

Pumpkin and chocolate bread pudding with baked pumpkin bread, custard, and chocolate chips

and your choice of four of these sides:

Apricot, fig and pear dressing of cornbread, fruits, and spices

Buttery mashed russet potatoes

Agave braised butternut squash

Wild rice salad with carrots, pine nuts, scallions, cranberries, lemon and olive oil

Three Sisters Salad with corn, black beans, squash, parsley, lemon, and olive oil. 

(If your taste buds aren't exercised after reading this, you may need a tongue treadmill which I am sure is available on the Internet. Here's an article at NIH I found.)

Ordering the meal to go will give you time to attend the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Festival this coming Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and hear the talk by Curator Cecile R. Ganteaume on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m. about  Pocahontas and "her early impact on European and American thought."  (She was more than just an Indian princess!  Come and learn.)

As if these weren't reasons enough to buy out, it will leave you energy to attend the Native American Heritage and Family Fun Day at the museum on Black Friday, Nov. 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

November is Native American Heritage Month and the museum honors the 6.6 million Native American and Alaska Native people living in the U.S. plus millions of other Indigenous people found in the Western Hemisphere.

What:  Thanksgiving at the National Museum of the American Indian

When: 10 a.m.. - 5:30 p.m. , open daily except Christmas Day

Where: Fourth Street and Independence, S.W. Washington, D.C 20560

Admission:  No charge

Closest Metro station: L'Enfant Plaza.  Exit at Maryland Avenue/Smithsonian Museums and, once outside, walk towards the U.S. Capitol.

For more information:  202-633-6644 or 888-618-0572


Friday, November 8, 2019

'Theory' debuts at Mosaic

The Theory classroom ensemble at Mosaic Theater/Photo by Christopher Banks

A lady at the Smithsonian reception* the other night told me she liked provocative theatre, the kind which makes you think. She paused: "As long as it's got good acting.

"You're going to love Theory," I said, the newest show at Mosaic Theater which presents the American premiere of an award-winning Canadian production.

It will set your mind ablaze, I told her, while you ponder the meaning. For progressive theatre lovers, it's must see.  

Ari Roth, the much beloved founding artistic director at the much beloved Mosaic Theater on H Street, writes in program notes that he finds hope in this show.  I am happy he found it; I am still searching.

The protagonist (Musa Gurnis is Isabelle) challenges "the heteronormative, white-male-dominated film canon she is charged to teach," Ari writes. Pity white males.

Norman Yeung, a man of many artistic persuasions (playwright, filmmaker, artist, actor) won a 2015 Canadian national playwriting contest for Theory which is billed as a “techno-thriller,” but the action doesn’t really get going until the last scene.

Then (finally!) Isabelle suddenly develops strength of character and a new person emerges, stronger and better possessed of her faculties in contrast to the mousy do-gooder she acts in most of the drama, trying to be all things to all students, unleashing the class to become
whatever it wants to be.

In Yeung's play, the roles reverse: The students teach, and the dull teacher/student learns the hard way that students need structure, after all.

Suspense gradually builds but not enough to introduce the sudden departure from its gait to the pace presented at the end.

The weak link in this chain of events is the main character, Isabelle.

She is married to a lesbian, of course. (Andrea Harris Smith  is Lee, her wife.)  This is modern-day stuff.

Isabelle's syllabus says nothing is off-limits to post for the class, including murder, mayhem, and violent sex

That is, until certain words becomes too much for her wife to bear, and the original deal is scraped by Teacher Isabelle who changes the rules of this game.

Dynamic performances by all the students  (Josh Adams, Benairen Kane, Camilo Linares) lift the show, especially Tyasia Velines whose animation, arms, and exclamations earn her standout status.

Also in the cast is Tony K. Nam in a realistic and concerning portrayal as Isabelle's department head.

The stage and lighting are segregated by scene in a well-executed design by Daniel Ettinger with lighting by Brittany Shemuga. The classroom and desks sit in the upper left corner with stage center reserved for the living quarters of Isabelle and Lee. 

The far right transitions from a school to home office and back again, complete with a plant merry-go-round which, after the third movement or so, becomes a distraction and you are left wondering if it's the home or the school office that's up next. 

And "devices."  Sigh. They are omnipresent. What's a show without them?  Not a contemporary show.

Director Victoria Murray Baatin, the theater's associate artistic director, makes her Mosaic theater debut with Theory which she discovered on the last night of a travel grant to Canada. 

Dylan Uremovich does a nice job with simultaneous projections on different-sized screens.

Other members of the crew are Danielle Preston, costumes;
David Lamont Wilson, sound; Willow Watson, properties; April Sizemore-Barber, dramaturg; April E. Carter and Laurel VanLandingham, stage managers; Ashara Crutchfield, assistant director; and Paul Gallagher, fight choreographer.

What: Theory

When: Now through Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10. 

Where: Mosaic Theater Company, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

Getting there: Riding public transportation from Union Station on the streetcar is easy and free, if you can find the streetcar behind Union Station where signage to the streetcar is poor. Valet and parking options are available. Move. (For late-night streetcar rides, the 
show may go on.)

Tickets start at $20.

Language: Adult

Duration: 85 minutes without intermission

Post-show discussions:  Saturday, Nov. 9, 3 p.m.;
Sunday, Nov. 10, 3 p.m.Thursday, Nov. 14, 11 a.m. (cast talkback); and Saturday, Nov. 16, 3 p.m.

Open-captioned performances: Friday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. 

For more information: Please call the box office and leave a message: 202-399-7993, ext. 2.

*by Mary Louise Schumacher, art critic, at the American Art Museum