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Alyssa Explains It All

Last week, Andrew Wilen of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen tweeted me an invitation to attend their Basic Meals Boot Camp class.  I was excited, since  attending some of their classes has been high on my to-do list for a while. Since my mom is the the most unskilled cook I know, I brought her along as a test subject. I gave up on trying to teach her how to do anything in the kitchen but clean it a long time ago; If Alyssa could help her prepare even a side dish, much less a whole meal, she’d be moving mountains. (If you’re friends with me on Facebook, scroll back to Easter 2013 and my live-updates of her attempt to make a banana pudding. The experience was hilariously unpleasant.)

Chef Alyssa Gorelick’s classes are inside Atherton Market in Southend. If you’ve never been, it’s a year-round indoor farmer’s market of sorts, with vendors selling art, jewelry, meats, breads, honey, pickles… it’s a neat place.

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Andrew & Alyssa

I ran over to Vin Master to purchase a couple beers (the classes are BYOB) and settled into a spot close to the demo station. Our tablemates were a boyfriend-girlfriend couple from Davidson. The rest of the class ranged in ages from twenties to fifties, I guess. I probably should’ve asked around and gotten a better feel like a real reporter, but it was soggy and humid and I was hungry and slightly cranky. Then I got distracted…

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the pickled carrot things were clutch.

…by appetizer sandwiches. I was so glad there was something to nosh on. They were not an example of a sandwich we were about to make, but I cared not. I had four of them. With zero shame. Cranks gone.

Now to the work. Our lesson plan, which came packaged in a nice little cookbook, looked like far more than a “basic meal.” We were baking tarts, braising and searing chicken two ways, deglazing and making buttery sauces… I was a little bit worried that it was going to be beyond my mom’s comfort level.

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I’m just here for the lime sugar.

But Alyssa is really good at this! She prepared each step while we watched, then provided a fully-prepped and measured ingredient tray for us to take it on for ourselves. Each table of 4 worked together on components so I was a little nervous (y’all know I’m not, and have never been here for other people’s hygiene) but there were copious amounts of hand sanitizer and prep gloves for the using. Mom and I volunteered for the jobs that were most hands-on though, because we’re neurotic.

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I’d never used a dough cutter before. All these fancy gadgets!

Since we were working with raw meats and whatnot, there were also tips about how to keep your prep surfaces and utensils clean. Because not everyone’s gramma kept bleach under the sink. These are things you have to know.

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This is a really proud moment. This might be her first time cooking meat on a stove for real.

After about 2 hours of cooking, we had a meal! Now, several people I know with extreme reservations about cooking cite the time it takes as the reason they don’t want to try. Common sense should tell you that the class takes two hours because it’s stop-start and you’re spending time watching the demo and waiting. This would probably take 30-40 minutes at home. So don’t use that as an excuse.

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Predetermined ingredients kept me from going overboard on the seasonings. Which was probably a good thing.

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We made a lot more food than I expected!

After we plated ourselves, we got to enjoy our handmade meals and socialize a bit. I have to say, everything tasted pretty darn good. I would’ve spiced some things up more, but you can’t go too crazy in a cooking class (especially a “basic skills” class) lest you get confusing. Alyssa did a good job of explaining the whys behind certain decisions (letting the dough rest, cutting the veggies to certain sizes, searing the meats first) so that things made more sense.

My main test was if my mom, who is literally afraid of stoves, felt confident and enjoyed herself. And she did! She had fun! She’s trying to get her friends to register for the Thai food class next month. And I’m probably going to take the one on knife skills (that’s my weakness.) Unfortunately, this confidence hasn’t resulted in her using her home kitchen any more often, but she won’t stop talking about that tart dough.  We’ll see if she ever makes up a batch.

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Check out chefalyssaskitchen.com for more info and the full class schedule.

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Mother and Freedom

My mom and I didn’t talk much when I was a kid. For one thing, she was young and had no idea how to relate to a small child — I just realized that at the time of the following anecdote, she was the age I am right now. Also, there just wasn’t a lot of time. My mom lived in Columbia/Winston Salem/Greensboro/Charlotte while I lived with my grandparents in Florence. She came to visit every, sometimes every other, weekend but between resting from the drive and running errands, there wasn’t a lot of time for chit chat. I was a lonely, bookish kid.

I got my first period when I was 10. She was out of town and for whatever reason, I was terrified to mention it to my grandmother. So I didn’t. Through a ridiculous conceit of stolen pads, wadded up tissue, and boldfaced lies, I somehow hid a full-flow menses from a grandmother who did laundry every day and scrubbed my back during morning showers.  The next month, faithful to the schedule I’d marked out in my dayplanner, it started on a Monday morning just before school. My mom was still home, packing to leave for the week. I feigned surprise and whatever other emotions I thought I was supposed to be feeling, thankful that I could return the pads I’d hoarded from the teachers’ lounge bathroom.

We never had The Talk about my ~coming-of-age~, but when I came home that afternoon, there were maxi pads, flowers, a card and two books on my bed: Growing Up Feeling Good (an Our Bodies Ourselves for teens of the 90s) and a fresh copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’d previously read at my mom’s weatherworn copy of I Know Why… a couple times, but the sex parts weren’t fun so I always lost interest. She’d driven to the bookstore, purchased it specifically and drove back to my grandparents house before an hours’ drive to work that morning. I was obviously required to revisit.

I devoured that book that night, cried about it and read it again the next day. That was all the talk we needed. I’d grown up. My world was different. And from that day forward, I knew I wanted to be writer. That desire has never waned since.

Good night, Dr. Angelou. Thank you for visiting.

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The Social Eater: FEAST Southend Food Tour & Williams Sonoma Grilling Class

That flurry of foodie posts last week was fueled partly by the sheer excitement of the farms tour (I’m a dork. I embrace that.) and partly by a new venture. I have a weekly blog on Creative Loafing Charlotte that highlights foodie events in the city — The Social Eater.  Every week, I’ll go to at least one of my picks and tell you more about it here, on my personal blog. 

 

Kristi Martin of FEAST Food Tours & Culinary Events invited me to tag along on the first official Bars & Bites in Historic Southend tour on Friday afternoon. It’s a new offering on an established menu of themed walking tours that highlight Charlotte’s most delicious neighborhoods.  The common thread for the Southend tour is “happy hour” — avenues to lift and maybe grab spirits with friends.

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The rain cleared up in time to leave a warm sunny day for us, which was great because the tours are rain-or-shine. We experienced 8 establishments on our 6 stops including a new food truck and a super fancy spot I can’t afford.

Before the walk, I wondered where we would stop – I hang out and eat in Southend a LOT, so I feared all the places would be familiar to me. That wasn’t a problem at all. We started at Vin Master, where I’ve attended and hosted events in the past, but I had no idea that the next stop existed.  I got turned on to Lenny Boy Kombucha during the farms tour and who knew that their brewing facility is right in the neighborhood? With a tap room!

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Not pictured: the @boonesbarbque brisket and chow chow. I ate it too fast… it was too good!

I’m deliberately not mentioning all the stops because you should go and see for yourself. Most of the group had never visited most locations but even for a seasoned diner like myself, it was really fun.  We talked to the proprietors and chefs at restaurants, experienced behind-the-scenes views and tours, and learned a bit of history along the way. Also, Kristi was very attentive to special dietary needs.  My group included a vegetarian, a vegan, and my own shrimp allergic self. Each restaurant prepared special mini-meals as necessary to accommodate. I was actually full by the time the we were finished.

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I can see why so many in the group had been on other tours previously. I’ll definitely plan to go on another soon. It’s a great idea for entertaining guests, a date, or even for a group of local friends. Tasting trips are currently available in NoDa, Uptown, and Plaza-Midwood.

 

Sunday, I reserved a spot at Williams-Sonoma to check out their Summer Kickoff grilling class and demo. I’ve lived in Southpark for the entire 15 years I’ve lived in Charlotte and never had a clue that the store offered classes at all, much less this series of free ones on Sundays. They also have free classes for kids on Saturdays that look really fun. I may need to borrow someone’s child soon. I mentioned next Sunday’s cocktail-mixing class in this week’s CL post, so I’m expecting to see some familiar faces.

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Culinary Specialist Beth was our instructor through a menu of cowboy beans, roasted corn and veggies, and chicken two ways. She even had a pitcher of virgin pina coladas handy for us.  The tastings could’ve almost been brunch if I wasn’t such a chunk.

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A couple of people were turning down extra chicken and dissecting flavor profiles. Child, bye. The store is fancy, but I’m about good good with zero pretense.

The demo is up close and personal so although you’re not cooking hands-on, it’s still a very engaging and interactive experience. It also does exactly what it’s intended to do: sell you on Williams-Sonoma products. I had no idea that those indoor grilling pans work so well and the roasting pan she used made the moistest chicken ever.  I left with a pair of cut-protecting kitchen gloves (which I’ve needed my entire life) and a Zoku personal ice cream maker (yaaaassss).

I definitely learned some techniques that I’ll bring into my own kitchen. My mom, who never cooks ever, is willing to try grilling some vegetables on the stove. I may need to swing back for one of those kitchen fire extinguishers and see if they’ll let me use the 10% discount again.

So yeah, I had a busy holiday weekend, in town, learning new things about old places – including Saturday’s lovely trips to Bistro La Bon (more on that later) and Petra’s (for Leah Palmer-Licht’s Speakeasy jazz show.) Now that the week’s started, I’m exhausted!

 

Feast Food Tours and Culinary Events
visit the website or call Kristi for scheduling and reservations. She also organized private and customized events for businesses and groups.

Williams Sonoma Free Technique Classes
call your local store for times and reservations. Also check out the kids’ classes.

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Make + Do: Pork n’ Berries

Last Saturday and Sunday, I collected bunches of farm-fresh produce on the Know Your Farms Tour. I was inspired by the tours, samples and info as well as the veggies themselves to try something a little different this week in the kitchen.

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First of all, those strawberries from Barbee Farms were perfectly ripe and amazingly delicious. I think ate half the bucket before I even made it home and tossing them in a smoothie felt like a waste. I wanted to showcase that flavor.  I also picked up some swiss chard (which I have a shaky history with), lettuce and radishes from Coldwater Creek, and a chocolate mint plant from Windcrest Organics.

Strawberry-Avocado-Salmon Salad 
Inspired by strawberry salads at both farms, there are no pictures of this because I was too busy consuming it. Hull and chop a handful of strawberries and toss with half an avocado (chunked or sliced), one tbsp. crumbled feta cheese (I like the Trader Joe’s brand with herbs mixed in) and 4oz. of sliced smoked salmon. A very light drizzle of balsamic vinegar takes it to the next level.

Oven-fried Porkchops with Mango-Strawberry-Boursalmic
I only eat pork a couple times a month if that, so it has to be good when I do. You could very easily adapt this to chicken or turkey breast or cutlets.

For the chops: 
4 regular-cut bone-in porkchops. Mine were fairly thick.
3/4 c. – 1 c. self rising flour
1 c. breadcrumbs
olive or other cooking oil
salt, pepper, spices to taste.
milk + an egg or 2.

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Wash your chops and marinate in milk for 30 minutes to a few hours. You can also brine, but I find milk tenderizes the meat and reduces that “porky” taste that pops up sometimes.

Preheat the oven to 400. Dump your flour, breadcrumbs and spices into a gallon-sized bag. Pour off all but 1 c. of milk and remove the chops from the soak. Mix in the egg. One by one, dip the chops into the egg-milk mix, then seal into the breadcrumb bag and shake to coat. Lay them flat in a well-greased dish.

Drizzle or spray tops lightly with oil and bake uncovered until golden brown. My thick chops took about 50 minutes. Once they look good on top, flip over and bake for another 10 minutes until the bottoms are golden also.

Mango-Strawberry-Boursalmic Jam:
1 large ripe mango
a handful of ripe strawberries
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Bourbon and/or Grand Marnier
2 cloves garlic
balsamic vinegar to taste

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This is easy. Dice your mango and strawberries. I tossed in a little bit of the chocolate mint I picked up at Windcrest Organics as well. Add your sugar, honey and liquor and let sit in the fridge while the chops marinate. It’ll make it’s own saucy syrup.  You could stop here –I use this mix on pancakes and biscuits all the time. Also on hams.

While the chops are in the oven, put your fruit syrup into a saucepan over medium-low heat and reduce to thicken, adding balsamic vinegar to taste. Cut garlic cloves in 4 pieces and add just to get a drop of the flavor. You want the sweet and tangy to balance. Watch to make sure it doesn’t burn; it’ll take 15-20 minutes all told. Remove and reserve your garlic chunks.

Creamy Polenta and Swiss Chard

I use this recipe for polenta and grits. I actually used 15-minute Quick Grits because I found myself out of cornmeal. I also used chicken broth as my liquid instead of water.

For the greens:
1 large shallot or medium onion
1 handful chopped mushrooms
1 bunch swiss chard
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
garlic chunks from the berry stuff – dice them a bit tinier

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This is basically the way I make any kind of greens, 80% of the time. I didn’t know that one can eat chard stalks and all; in the past I only used the leaves. Separate the leaves from the stalks and chop the stalks up. Saute them in butter with the shallot, garlic and mushrooms until softened.  Chop the leaves and add to the pan, with 1 tbsp. liquid if necessary. Cover and cook until greens are wilted.

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Voila. Eat that up.

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Kinky Fridays: Hairizon Beauty

As popular and even trendy as natural hair has become, there’s a dearth of beauty supply stores that cater to it. I like buying products from Target because they can easily be returned if they  don’t work out, but sometimes I also need bss-specific things and don’t want to make multiple trips.  With all the choices and chemistry involved, it’s a great help to have knowledgable salespeople who can really speak to the products, but that’s not the norm in your typical beauty supply, especially for the natural hair products. My entrepreneurial dream is a bath and body bar/boutique/cafe/bookstore/event space… thus, KNKY Deli. Someday, it’ll be a real delicatessen.

So I was slightly crestfallen last weekend when I happened upon a Durham store that encompasses 3/5ths of my life dream: Hairizon Beauty.  Opened in 2011 by mother-daughter pair Valerie Jackson and Joi Stepney in Five Points, Hairizon carries several natural hair product lines as well as local handmade jewelry and accessories.

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Brands include popular, nationally distributed ones like Kinky-Curly and CurlKit as well as smaller lines like KuSHEaMa and Dezign Yuan Naturals, all free of sulfates, parabens and general bad-for-your-hair chemicals. The store also houses The Beauty Bar, where customers can have hair and body butters, soaks, scrubs and other elixers made to order while they wait. 

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The second thing I noticed upon walking inside was the awesome customer service (first was the smell — the ZOE Candles cotton candy soy candle that was simmering was rather inviting.) I started testing some products while Valerie was occupied with customers toward the back of the store and she fluidly chatted about the ingredients and best ways to use them.  It took me a second to realize she was speaking to me, because I hadn’t assumed that she’d noticed me at all, much less noted which products I was looking at.   Both she and Kiara were very helpful and friendly throughout. It was obvious from the steady stream of customers, most of whom were greeted by name, that it’s a warm, inviting place to be.

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Hairizon also hosts hair, skin and wellness events. Later that evening, the store hosted a “Mommy and Me” natural hair workshop. Earlier in the month, the creator of Purgasm visited for a discussion on skin and hair hydration. I also saw flyers for weekly Zumba classes.

If I lived closer, Hairizon would definitely be a regular, if not constant stop. I left with 4 of those soy candles and a 33oz. jug of Oyin Handmade Juices & Berries (which is probably my favorite hair product ever.) I’ll definitely stop by again on future visits because I’d love to try some of the products I’ve never seen before, like the Purgasm Curl Poppin’ Gel. But most of all, I’d love to support this great store as much as I can!

Hairizon Beauty
341 W Main Street, Ste 104
Durham NC, 27701
(800) 557-9828

http://www.hairizonbeauty.com

 

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Giving Up

Over the weekend, the lovely Kelley decided to join a minimalist challenge for the month of May. For each day of the month, you give away as many things as the date: 1 thing on the first, 13 things on the 13th, until you’ve given away 496 things (by her math).  I was intrigued. I’m a strong believer in that whole Oprah thing about your home being an outward representation of your psyche. For me, both are in need of a serious deep clean and decluttering, so I’ve been making a concerted effort to do both in the past two months. Unfortunately for the purposes of this challenge, that means I’ve given away most of my extra clothes, shoes, bags, dishes etc. and have more on the way this week.  Fortunately for me, that’s not my major problem.

My shopping sprees happen on Etsy, thrift stores and salvage shops. I have a million little bits and bobs waiting to become something else: blank canvases and drawers of acrylics, a die cutter I’ve only used once, a suitcase full of earring wire and polyester fringe. I can’t fit anything into the trunk of my car because it’s literally overflowing with upholstery fabric samples. Sometimes I have some of the materials I need for a project but can’t afford the rest, but usually what’s lacking is me.  Discipline, focus, confidence… I’m full of what ifs that keep me from doing anything at all.

So I’m remixing this minimalist challenge. Instead of purging to have less, I’m also creating to get more.

I have to hustle these hats and earrings harder.
I have to write.
I have to refine and sew these bows.
I have to paint.

That’s what I have to commit myself to give: my talents. Because I do have them.  We’ll see what I accomplish by the end of the month. I only have a few days until sheer numbers force me to start wholesaling this jewelry out to keep up, so I guess I need to get cracking.

And y’all need to start buying. ;)

 

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Kinky Friday: Weaves and Contacts and Implants Pt. 2

So, I left those kinky twists in for about a month. Because of the way they were braided in, I opted not to do a twist-out on that set because there would’ve been too much braid at the roots. After a month of rest, I gave it another go.  This time: crochet twists.

Crochet twists should be the ultimate protective style in theory. Instead of braiding your hair into the extensions, which can cause pulling and over-manipulation, all of your hair is cornrowed down to the scalp while the extensions are looped around the rows with a latch-hook tool. There are lots of youtube video tutorials and its easy to do yourself as long as you know how to cornrow.  Unlike braided-root twists,  I could latch-hook the back of my hair on my own. My cousin’s girlfriend Alaina is an experienced braider but hadn’t tried latch hooking before, so we gave it a go.


The verdict: 
It’s a great style. I used synthetic kanekalon Nafy and EON hair as before, with a pack each of Janet Collection Noir and Freetress Kinky Bulk thrown in as well. For some reason it took 4 packs, which is a LOT of hair. If/when I try it again I will definitely space and adjust for less. Once twisted out, there wasn’t a discernible difference among them.  The hair was soft and maintained the curl pattern excellently.

Installation took about 8 hours , but I think it could have gone faster. For one, there was twice as much hair, meaning twice as many twists to do. Halfway through, we thought about pretwisting the twists… which will change EVERYTHING for the next time. I should’ve taken a photo, but I’ll try to describe: to install, the twist extension is simply slipknotted around the cornrow. So while Alaina was working in my head, I used a dowel rod to make individual twists, ready for her to latch in.  If we’d thought of it sooner, I could’ve made all the twists the night before and had them ready to go.  (I’ve seen premade micro braids and Senegalese twists in stores, but not kinky twists… yet.)

All in all, the style ended up being very pretty.  I loved it! I moisturized my scalp and roots regularly and I shampooed once. (I also used Febreeze to make sure my hair didn’t smell like smoke once, but that’s neither here nor there.) The shampoo was while my hair was still twisted and I was glad to see that the extensions  airdried super quickly and didn’t weigh on my roots terribly much. However, be sure to shampoo in cold/lukewarm water (heat may change the curl pattern) and keep your hair in a high loose bun, wrapped with a t-shirt or towel, until your roots are completely dry. Your hair is most fragile when wet and your natural hair will take much longer to dry than the extensions.

I kept the twists  for a month, then unfurled them to achieve the mane of ages.


It was glorious. It looked and felt SUPER realistic and people who didn’t know me assumed it was my hair. I kept it moisturized with my normal heavy leave-in conditioner and glycerine sprays. None slipped out and the curl pattern was in there pretty permanently, it seemed. I skipped my nightly tie-up several times with no problems.

The damage (literally): 
I was afraid when I took them down that my hair was going to be a tangled, matted mess underneath. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Tangling  would’ve been worse had I not shampooed, I think.

HOWEVER… when I went to Revolution EGO for a good deep condition and detangle after taking the hair down today, Tinesha found my ends ravaged. I had a good inch of growth, but it ended up all having to be clipped off! I’m not sure what went wrong, because theoretically my hair should have been protected and I’d just had a trim before installing the hair.

- the ends of the cornrows weren’t completely secured in the back.
Alaina tucked them instead of sewing them down, so they worked their way loose. At some point I had to work the tails into traditional braid/twist extensions. However, that only explains breakage in the back and doesn’t explain why it was so extensive.

- maybe the hair was too rough
It’s possible that the kanekalon fibers, though soft to the touch, were creating friction against my hair that roughed up my cuticle.

-prebraid detangling issues
My hair could’ve been roughed up while being detangled for braiding. There was a whole lot of pulling, but it didn’t feel too harsh at the time.

So yeah, I dunno. I’m the only person I’ve heard of who experienced a major split-end issue after taking down crochet twists, so it’s highly possible that I just have crummy hair. YMMV.

I can live with this look.

Kinky Friday: Weaves and Contacts and Implants Pt. 1

I’ve finally succumbed to the lure of protective styling. Not because it makes any sense to wear your hair in a bun every day so it can grow long enough to wear bigger buns, but because the winter cold is drying and I want to give my hair a bit of rest. And I’m lazy and don’t feel like bantu knotting it every day. My goal is to install twists for a month or two, then wear the extensions in a twist-out for a couple of weeks after. Therefore, I wanted to find the most realistic hair possible.

The woman who used to do my twists back in the day in ’02/03 (the last time I wore twists) used the best hair smoking at the time. It didn’t have the curlicue ends or look like a mop of Raggedy Ann hair on my head. Most people thought it was my real hair because it looked very natural. Although I can’t remember the brand anymore, it had to have been something like Marley hair and she was simply one of few people who used it, because I remember only the larger beauty supplies sold it. I re-researched and decided the look of The Damn Salon’s City Twists was what I was going for (but who has $300 lying around??) and found that they don’t use Marley hair… it’s a harder texture, doesn’t age well, and definitely won’t do for a twist out.

Youtube and message boards led me to the brand(s) that DS probably use, but I took my twist-out hopes into account and looked into finding kinky-looking human hair anyway. I’m hard headed. The local bss recommended several, the best of which was Bohyeme Brazilian wave (a.k.a. BoBraz.) At a price tag of $139/pack, I opted out. That’s really an option for doing a whole-head sew in (which I’ve considered for later. Who knows?)

So I was back to synthetics. The front runners were Nafy Collection, E-ON, and a newer brand called Kadi Naturals. Each of those lines has a range of textures, but it seemed that my best bet were the “puffy”/”fluffy” in each.

  • E-ON has been around for longer, but criticisms of the hair quality kept popping up and it seemed that the manufacturing had changed at some point in the past couple years.
  • Nafy has nothing but great reviews and is the current YouTube favorite.
  • Kadi Naturals has very little feedback and is a new brand, but info is positive so far.

So I started my search. I planned on having my aunt do my hair while in Maryland for Christmas, so I tried to find either brand in the DC Metro area. It turns out that the main online retailer for Nafy ships from their store, The Beauty Supply Center in Bladensburg, MD. (They also own the brand. Nafy herself is a professional braider in nearby Largo, MD.)  However, my navigator misread her map and initially landed me at a different store a couple blocks away, which happened to sell E-ON and Kadi Naturals brands (at $11.99/pack).  That solved one mystery — they’re the same brand. E-ON is changing its name/packaging to Kadi Naturals, but it’s the same hair and company.

The day before, I won two packs of Kadi Naturals in a giveaway from online retailer Hattache but I knew the hair wouldn’t get to me fast enough (their shipping and service is wonderful, but it was Christmas Eve and I wanted to start the next day) so I went ahead and grabbed 2 packs of E-ON there and still went to the Beauty Supply Center and picked up 2 packs of Puffy Twist Nafy hair in 1B ($9.99/pack). I wanted to try them all! Plus the Kadi Naturals that I won is #4, so I’m going to use it for highlights later. (For the rest of this review, I’m considering E-ON/Kadi the same brand.)

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Just from touch, the E-ON/Kadi hair felt a bit softer, so I decided to try that first. It comes on a weft for transportation purposes. One pack is a LOT of hair.

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The E-ON hair unpackaged. That’s a 15″ Macbook, for scale.

It’s also rather short. It stretches well, but you have to deliberately stretch it. I only wanted my twists just past shoulder length, but they couldn’t have gone any longer than that anyway. To cover the length of my real hair, we couldn’t fold the hair in half but had to make a small fold just at the top of the hair (which makes it harder to blend.)  To make things easier on my aunt, we ran an assembly line where I cut the weft, then stretched and fluffed the hair for her.

We finished about half my head the first night. My aunt reported that it was a bit tedious blending the folds, but the hair was soft on her fingers and didn’t feel rough against my skin at all.

The next morning, I unwrapped the Nafy hair just to look at it. It was twice as long! Had I known that, I probably would’ve gone ahead and used it to begin with. It also required less work before braiding because it wasn’t on a weft, was already elongated, and could be folded right in half instead of partially blended.  (Since my hands were finally free to type, I’m writing this as she’s braiding.)

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Nafy hair unleashed. No weft, it just comes rubber banded together.

There isn’t really much of a texture difference between the two. The Nafy is a bit shinier while the E-ON/Kadi hair has less sheen (which I prefer.) The Nafy feels slightly more coarse to the touch, but it doesn’t make a difference while braiding or against my face. It has slightly more slip so it took my aunt a bit more work to stay secured, but she isn’t a professional braider, either. If folded only partially, or not at all the Nafy puffy twist could be used for longer styles, but their Kinky Twist hair is the same texture and comes longer pre-cut. (Some YouTubers will direct you to the “puffy screw” hair; but the name was changed.)

So the verdict? You’re fine either way. If your hair is longer you’ll want to go for the Nafy hair. If your hair is shorter and/or you want a shorter just-to-shoulder style, the E-ON/Kadi is great. I would probably opt for the Nafy hair most often for braiding/twisting because of the length and ease of use. Also, a lot of people re-use their twisting hair. With all the brushing and cutting, I ended up wasting quite a bit of the E-ON and I don’t think I’ll be able to wash and reuse it. I can see that happening with the Nafy.

Looking at all this hair, I’m thinking the possibilities are kinda endless… why stop at twists? Both match my own hair texture really well. I can make my own clip extensions if I seal the wefts the E-ON comes on. And it looks fairly easy to sew loose hair onto a weft, so I can make my own longer ones out of the Nafy hair! I can use some of the hair I won to make clip-in highlights once I take my twists down! I’m all excited! So as I figure that part out, that’ll be part 2. :)

I can live with this look.

I can live with this look.

blofeature

Kinky Fri- um, Monday: Black Girls Can Blo!

Since I first heard about blow dry bars a few years ago, I’ve been curious. Quick $35 straightening sounds like a perfect why-didn’t-I-think-of-that  idea for the kinky and curly headed, but the salons are marketed primarily to women who already have straight hair. I knew that the black/white, textured/straight salon experiences are somewhat different, but it never occurred to me that many white women don’t go to hair salons as frequently as black women are generally accustomed. I grew up on a steady biweekly schedule, but the straight-haired sistren I polled averaged  no more than a couple times a year for a new cut or color.

According to The Daily Beast, this is one of the reasons blow dry bars are so wildly popular: a basic salon visit at an affordable price (around $40) is a novel concept for that demographic.  And here I was taking scalp massages and 4-hour naps under hooded dryers for granted.  Who says there’s no such thing as black privilege?

My opinions on blow dry bars were thus mixed.  As any coily coifed woman worth her locks knows, straightening is a complex feat that’s not to be taken lightly. Highly textured hair is more fragile and prone to heat damage, and most of us have been literally burned at least once. I liked the idea of a walk-in, quick service shop when the mood hit but I was doubtful that such a place could or would actually straighten my hair well without damaging it one way or another.  A blow dry bar eventually eventually opened locally, but I was never pressed enough to try it (was that a pun?). It’s been a good two years since I last straightened my hair, I have to be careful in the shower, and I don’t think I even own a brush anymore. But when Jo Cowan, owner of the newly-opened Charlotte location of the Blo Blow Dry Bar franchise offered a complimentary blowout during the salon’s media preview, I jumped at the opportunity.

As soon as I added myself to the list, I reached out to Jo about the company’s general stance on textured hair and asked if I was even blo-able. I expected an enthusiastic, company-line “yes” that would give me little actual comfort, but I was pleasantly surprised when she responded with an equally enthusiastic, “I’ve been wondering the same thing myself,” and emailed the franchise head office for feedback. They replied with an enthusiastic yes that gave me lots of comfort:

Head office replied with great enthusiasm. We use only UNITE hair products http://www.uniteeurotherapy.com/which are entirely natural and very gentle. They say that we are definitely a service that works for black/highly textured hair, but that in their experience they have few clients with such hair because they get nervous that it may damage their hair. The training course that all new blo-ers must complete includes an entire section on styling black hair. That being said, they admit that it is much harder to do a good job and requires more time and expertise.

Why it gotta be eurotherapy though?

I really appreciated the awareness and honesty. Blo was already getting brownie points and I hadn’t even hit the shampoo bowl! The exchange also highlighted the benefits of collective franchised training and consistency across the brand, with local ownership and a personal connection. I was pretty sure my tresses would be okay.

Before my appointment, I did a thorough detangle and deep condition in the shower and started on my way. And yes, I was 10 minutes late. Why? I mean, you can fill in the blank but I honestly went to the wrong location! There’s another, competing blow dry bar in my neighborhood with a similar name and I erroneously arrived there… on time.  Luckily, Blo is right around the corner and I was able to call and let them know I’d be a little delayed. That rattled me and I was still a bit nervous about the whole endeavor but since it was their grand opening, there were plenty of sweets and champagne to soothe my spirit. Plus, all the treats were from local bakeries and confectionaries that I will definitely visit in the future. The Jewell Treats cupcakes were delicious and who knew there was a legit bulk candy store on Selwyn? Candy Girl Confections might become my new weakness. The champagne was provided by petit phillipe, which has been my favorite spot to splurge on special occasion chocolates for a while now.

blo treats

As much as I love sugar cookies? I wanted to hang around just to snack!

Kaitlyn was my Blo Boss and though I was momentarily salty to not get one of the black  stylists (I was still scared and hadn’t seen the champagne yet!) it felt like more of an adventure. But I was in good hands; Kaitlyn is actually very experienced (she previously worked at the salon I’d popped into earlier) and it turns out that a good friend of mine who I’d trust with my hair was one of her cosmetology school instructors. As for both clients and other stylists, I was pleased to see that it was a multicultural thing, and I wasn’t the only brown girl in attendance!

 

The first order of business was choosing a look from the menu, which threw me off a little bit. There are levels to this? Apparently so, as there are seven styles to choose from including ponytails and an updo. I picked the “Holly Would,” which promised bountiful curls. I was curious to know how some of them, like the tousled “Pillow Talk” would translate for me. My “bed head” has never been anything resembling sultry.

hair menu

I dunno if I want to know what a beach wave would look like on me. Some things might not be for us.

Kaitlyn washed and conditioned my hair with the Smoothing variety of both products and followed with 7 Second Leave-In as a detangler, all of which include thermal protectants. UNITE products are sulfate, paraben and alcohol free, which is a must for curly girls especially. I have a thing about not wanting to ask too many questions, but she didn’t seem annoyed at all with my mining for details down to the brand of brushes they use (Olivia Garden). After a good blowing that didn’t produce any smoke at all (unlike my many failed at-home efforts and some salon visits I’ve had), she flatironed and curled my hair simultaneously to minimize the time and amount of heat. Even with skipping the extra curling step, my hair took about 2 hours. That’s about average for me, but 2 clients cleared the neighboring chair in comparison. Simply because they’re accustomed to taking an hour or less per customer, I’d recommend letting the bar know if you have a head full of natural hair when making an appointment , just to make it easier for them to allot their time.

bloproducts

Kaitlyn had my hair laid like egyptian cotton sheets. No weave!

My hair turned out great! Kaitlyn finished off with UNITE’s Tricky Stryling Wax and a good helping of argan oil, which my hair absolutely loves, and she really took time to catch and/or recurl all the little flyaway pieces and ends. Those little straggly bits are usually more noticeable on our hair when straightened, for some reason. It wasn’t a shiny bone-straight china doll press, but I definitely got what I asked for and expected: lots of body and soft curls. I feel that suits my look better than a shiny super straight style, but next time I may experiment with the menu and see if it makes a difference to request the “Executive Press”.  Kaitlyn also commented that I need my ends trimmed, which a loctitian had also pointed out a couple weeks earlier while my hair was ‘froed up. I get it! It’s been a good year since my last trim and I really shouldn’t have gone this long. But since blo can’t do cuts, I’ll get around to it.  For me, that’s the one drawback of blo not doing quick, small cuts. I prefer to have my ends clipped while my hair is straight.

beforeafter

before… and after! I’m not sure if I look a bit younger or a bit older. Just… different.

So the experience was great, the rock candy was welcomed, but the real test is how it held up. The weather was pretty cold and very dry so that was a huge plus, but my curls barely survived the afternoon. My hair was still pretty and voluminous, but (probably?) since I opted for the flatiron curls instead of the iron, I had more of an allover soft-body wave going on after a few hours and needed to touch up that night before going out. To be fair though, my iron-curls don’t super-set without a whole lot of drying alcohol spritz and setting lotions.

Despite that, I was very happy overall. It actually lasted a full three weeks — that’s the longest stretch of straight hair I’ve had since 2001! I wrapped, rolled and occasionally re-curled it in the in-between, but I used minimal products and my hair never felt dried out. As for the bounce-back? There were no permanently straightened tendrils after I rewet it and my natural curls were back to completely normal just out of the shower. I didn’t need any crazy amount of deep conditioning or treatments to get back to normal, just my regular 3-Minute Miracle routine. I really think the UNITE products went a long way to helping that and I may purchase some of them in the future. There was a bottle of 7 Second Detangler in my goodie bag, so I’ll definitely try it out later.

afterafter2

About an hour after leaving the salon. A tad crestfallen, but still fluffy and straight.

So all in all? I give Blo a 4.5/5. One point deduction for the fallen curls, and I wish I could’ve gotten a quick clip, but add a half point for the cupcakes. :) The location is closer to my house than any of my standard salon options and the $35 price tag is a bit cheaper than the least expensive of those, so I will definitely check them out if I decide to straighten my hair on a whim in the near future. In fact, I’m inspired to get it straightened more often now! It’s a fun, different look and not quite as difficult to keep up as I remember it being before.

But maybe that’s just because I found a brush.

Blo Charlotte is located at 2850 Selwyn Ave. For more info or to book an appointment, call 704.375.7110 or email blocharlotte@blomedry.com. Tweet them @bloheartsyou or Charlotte franchise owner Jo Cowan at @carolina_curls.