What’s for lunch? Vietnamese vermicelli bowls at Old Saigon Cafe on Westheimer

By Ciara Rouege

I couldn’t be prouder of myself; I’ve almost eliminated fast-food and take-out from my lunch menu options during the workdays. It’s a soup or salad in the breakroom fridge for me!

But, girl! When Friday comes around and those coins drop into my bank account, IT’S TAKE OUT TIME! Since it opened in January 2017, I’ve fallen in love with a little place called Old Saigon Cafe Vietnamese Cuisine on Westheimer Road.

It has kind of become my go-to.

Old Saigon

I’m always rushing back to work and totally forget to grab a picture of the outside…so shout out to Jaime Diep for sharing this awesome photo on Google Reviews!

The attraction is simple: the food is well-seasoned and perfectly cooked.

I’ve had all the vermicelli bowls, Ramen and Pho menu options and can confirm, they’re all absolutely delicious! The Pho broth — which is the make-or-break for a Pho dish in my opinion — is the best I’ve had in Houston.

I recommend the vermicelli bowl with spicy chicken lemongrass. I didn’t find it spicy without extra sauce, but it does have a flavorful little kick.

If they offer you their hot sauce, SAY YES! Now, I pride myself in having a high spice tolerance— but this had my nose snuffling. You only need a super, small amount.

20170908_134720

Vermicelli Bowl with Spicy Chicken Lemongrass

20170908_134629(0)

Vermicelli Bowl with Spicy Chicken Lemongrass

20170929_133938.jpg

Psh! Those appetizers though…

While I’m a big fan of Old Saigon Cafe, the appetizers can use a little work— except the fresh spring and Vietnamese egg rolls. Actually, I don’t eat spring rolls anywhere else.

The Coconut Shrimp left me a bit disappointed. First, it tasted overcooked. I was expecting a crispy crunch with the shrimp and was left with a hard, burnt coconut taste. It also wasn’t very flavorful.

The kitchen isn’t blowing minds with its Chinese-style egg rolls, artichokes and Edamame. But it isn’t a bad start if you’re looking for something to munch on while you’re waiting for the main course.

The same goes for the Vietnamese Shrimp crackers. It’s airy, crispy chips…so it’s good snack food.

20170929_132548(0)
Coconut Shrimp with sweet chili sauce.

20170929_132556.jpg

20170908_134135.jpg

Oh, my absolute favorite! Spring rolls stuffed with fresh lettuce, rice noodles, cilantro, shallots and shrimp.

The food is definitely worth recommending, but what keeps me coming back is the service.

creme brule

Each meals ends with a sweet spoonful of crème brûlée.

Old Saigon Cafe has a quaint seating area for about 30 people, including its limited outdoor seating— I’m talking a table and a half. But the environment is open and welcoming.

I’m always greeted with a smile and great hospitality. The staff is personable and tentative— something I always look for from family-owned business.

They’re also quick! I’ve managed to pull off two-course, sit down meals at Old Saigon Cafe during my one-hour lunch break.

The cafe isn’t the cheapest lunch in town; be prepared to spend between $15 – $25.

However, you will leave satisfied…and with a spoon of crème brûlée! It’s the sweetest little touch…verses sending customers off with a peppermint.

Old Saigon Cafe Vietnamese Cuisine

6383 Westheimer Road

Houston, Texas 77057

Hours: Mon. Closed; Tue. – Sun. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Take Out Number: 832-668-5270

Girl, let’s #NamaSlay with Trap Yoga Bae!

By Ciara Rouege

I’m about as flexible as a No. 2 pencil, but where ever there is trap music— it’s sort of my mission to try and be there. Or at the absolute least, I’m accepting the Facebook invite.

Trap-themed events have been popping up like corn in a paper bag the past year. I doubt 2018 will be any different. Paint…and trap music. Fashion…and trap music. Brunch…and guest what? Trap music. Not that I’m complaining— I plan on catching all that shit!

Girl Houston Trap Yoga Ciara Rouege

After clicking ‘going’ a dozen times on Facebook — and one unused $22 Silent Trap Party ticket later — I finally made it to a trap event with some close girlfriends in December.

It was my first event, so I tried to keep it clachet with some trap yoga. We signed up for a class at Boyer with the hella fine and fabulous Trap Yoga Bae. She hails from Oakland and became a certified yoga instructor in Rishikesh, India.

She legit, girl! She cute, too.

First thought walking in: Please, ladies! When are we going to stop treating our boyfriends like girlfriends and stop bring them to girls night out?

20171201_172158

Second thought: Girl, Trap Yoga Bae is funny!

No, this is not your mother’s YMCA yoga class— expect to hear ALL the curse words and a bit of sexual humor. No jokes: 18 and up!

“I need you to stand strong at the top of your mat with legs about waist-length apart— about as open as they would be if your man’s head was between them,” Trap Yoga Bae said to to the class.

Don’t forget, it is TRAP yoga!

Girl Houston Trap Yoga Ciara Rouege Trap Yoga Bae

The classes—  unless otherwise stated — are beginner friendly with easier and advance alternatives for all the poses. I attended a class were we did traditional movements including the child’s pose,  downward facing dog, the basic warrior stances, tree stance and many others.

There will be some twerking (or fast hip rotating— depending on your background), a DJ for all your spirit’s musical needs, some anti-fuck boy affirmations and lots of cheerful group participation.

The workout is a bit challenging, but the music and hilarious instruction keep you fairly distracted. Nothing frees the spirit more than light fun and good humor, so I’d recommend trap yoga to both one-timers and hardcore yogis.

Now, will I be adding “ass, I command you to grow” to my daily meditation routine. Well, mostly likely not.

Is it real yoga? I’m told it’s 100% certified, black girl on a rock mediating in India bonafide yoga. But hey, no more questions from me! Grab your own mat and trap yoga it up at the next class, girl!

‘Chain me in there real good’: How I went from a creamy crack addict to a natural-haired beauty

By Ciara Rouege

Just over a year ago, I was the bright-eyed poster child for creamy crack— that cold, thick and hair-straightening miracle mayonnaise!

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 10.39.00 PM

Just a few days after I got a good relaxer back in April 2015.

You may call it a perm, or sometimes a relaxer. Either way, my southern-born mother always taught me to call it a necessity.

A scripture from the black girl bible: she who steps out with unlaid edges, steps out on her mother and herself.

There was no way in heaven or hell, I was going to step out! Neither mom, nor my three younger sisters, would ever allow it.

It would make me cringe: to look in the mirror and see those tough, unrelaxed strands uprooting themselves from my tender scalp.

I’d grab that rat-tail comb like it was the Good Book, churn that perm mix with a little wooden spatula like I was in the trap house of Jesus— and make things ‘right,’ again!

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 10.44.17 PM

Girl, you know how it is! #Truth

In college, a younger woman tried to enlighten me.

She said hair relaxers were hidden chains of white oppression— the unrepentant enforcer of European beauty standards.

She said I was trapped in the ‘bad hair’ mindset.

To which I responded,”Well, tell’em to chain me in there real good— cause I ain’t walking around her with no nappy hair!”

Oh, God bless her sweet little heart! But like most of the natural-haired prophets at the time, itty-bitty was being a little too political for my taste.

In 2013, it seemed more and more women were talking about Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair.’

The film, which debuted in late 2009, made natural hair increasingly political for millennials— but also more trendy. And man, some of these ladies were committed to that #naturalhair life!

I remember scrolling through my Facebook feed, thinking who are all these bald-headed bitches in my timeline? All preaching about the Big Chop.

Still, while I wasn’t a lone naysayer— oh, far from it! I was raised to give credit where credit is due. In my mind, I started looking at natural-haired women in two categories: the woke…and the broke.

If you were WOKE, that meant you were giving us life straight from Mother Earth! The ‘fro was perfectly hedged, the curls were glossy and the edges were tamed.

Oh! And if you weren’t at least an eight in the face and a 10 in the waist…Honey, you better take this TCB and sit your ass down somewhere. In my old opinion, only beautiful, fine-bodied women could get away with natural hair. Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 10.34.46 PM

All the rest were BROKE with their dry puffs and funky locks. Terrible! I know, but that’s just where I was at in my thinking at the time.

Eventually, I decided to give natural hair a shot because it was ‘the cool thing to do.’

I failed about five times. (OK, technically four times. There was a period when my wallet was super-tight and I couldn’t afford to get a relaxer even if I wanted to.)

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it: natural hair ‘isn’t sexually desirable,’ natural hair ‘isn’t appropriate for the work space.’ Oh, and the jokes!

Light-, medium- or dark-skinned, all black women have a peculiar set of social boundaries that we’re forced to live within. I’m about three shades too high on the chart to be rocking an afro without it being perceived as a ‘statement piece.’

I was overwhelmed with the concerns rationalized in the eyes of the generations that came before me.

It was just easier to just keep relaxing— to keep dusting the immense dandruff of my shoulders, to keep watching the hair strands falling into the sink and to keep scratching off those chemical burn scabs.

And then, I had an epiphany.

20170724_223619

Shout out to Charles ‘Chip’ Fields for taking this cute picture of me rocking my natural hair.

The youngest of my sisters— just 7 years old at the time— was being mocked by a classmate because her ‘hair looked crunchy’ and her features ‘weren’t cute.’

I was disturbed by her low self-esteem. She just kept asking me, desperately, “RaRa, am I pretty?”

Our mom eventually told me what was going on, and she showed me a picture of the classmate. I’ve never been more outraged in my life than staring at that little girl.

Looking back at me was a scuffed, dirty little pale-faced kid with beady blue eyes and lackluster, damaged blonde hair. She had on a tattered white dress and bruised knees.

It had nothing to do with the child.

It was the realization that there are women in the world of all backgrounds and ethnicities who— even on their worst day, even if they’re in shambles— would look at a black woman’s features and belittle her.

I tried to rebuke the feeling by giving my little sister an ill-guided pep-talk praising the gorgeousness of her natural hair.

“But your hair isn’t like mine,” she said. “And May May’s isn’t, and Anna’s and mom’s.”

She found me out; I was speechless.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.02.43 PM

In April 2015, Cosmopolitan magazine was under fire for an article that suggestively showed white women as fashion dos and black women as donts.

In that moment, I thought about all the little black girls staring at their reflection, struggling to find beautifulness and womanliness within themselves.

Girls going through life exhausting themselves over their God-given hair and bodies, begging for approval from a social structure that taught them through the lessons of their own mothers that femininity was not inalienable.

I remembered siting between my mothers legs with tears rushing down my face as she yanked and pulled my hair; and laughing beside my sisters with stained towels draped across our shoulders and chemicals burning into our scalps.

It’s self-evident that all women are taught that beauty is pain. Still, I thought, this shit is out of control.

I didn’t know it, but the relaxer I’d applied a couple weeks before that conversation would be my last.

 

#GifeLife: Romantic Ramen for that ghetto love under $10

20170703_202434

Oh, yes! Ladies, we are about to come through with some Ramen noodles. Don’t let’em look at you sideways— this dish is filling and absolutely delicious!

It’s also budget-friendly, costing me less than $10. Of course, the noodles cost me 20 cents a bag and the most expensive ingredient was the beef rib eye steak, which costs $5.77.

I’m not one to use measurements, but I’m going to do my best to leave you with adequate measurements and instructions below.

Ingredients

  • 3 packs of Maruchan Beef Noodles
  • 8 oz beef rib-eye steak
  • 2/3 cup of diced Baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1/2 shallot
  • 3 stalks of green onion
  • 2 large white eggs
  • Dried red chili pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper

First, I placed my eggs on the stove to consolidate time. While the eggs boiled for about 15 minutes, I quickly pulled out the chopping block and started preparing my meat and vegetables.

When you’re cutting the steak, be sure to cut away the bone and all fat. You want to finish with vibrant, almost completely red beef pieces.

Next, I sprayed a pan with a cooking oil and then cooked the steak pieces at a medium heat. The meat should be fully cooked.

Place the cooked meat and chopped vegetables to the side.

Start cooking your noodles, following the instructions on the packaging. When the water starts boiling, but the noodles are still tender, start adding the mushrooms and shallots.

Add the beef and Maruchan seasoning into the pot last— constantly stirring the pot.

Drop the noodles and broth into a bowl. Then finally, dress up the noodles with your flavorful garnishes.

Boiled egg halves help give this dish its traditional Ramen taste! Remove the shell from the egg, place the egg long ways and then cut it directly down the middle. Both halves will contain equal amounts of yoke.

Sprinkle the dish with the chopped green onions– as many as you like!

Lastly, top the dish off with dried red chili peppers. Again, use as much as you like! The peppers won’t make the entire dish spicy; the heat comes in when you bite into the peppers.

Bon Appetite!

Girl, ‘Baby Driver’ speedin’ off with more than a killer soundtrack! [Movie Review]

By Ciara Rouege

Tequila!

‘Baby Driver’ didn’t park in the numero uno spot for highest grossing movies at the box office this weekend, debuting at $30 million, but it could cruise into my top 10 favorite flicks for 2017.

In the movie, we meet a good kid named Baby (Ansel Elgort) and he’s mixed up with some bad people— a crook (Jon Hamm), a killer (Jamie Foxx) and a hoochie coochie (Eiza González). Yes, that line is particularly cliché but so is the movie’s baseline plot and the character motivations.

No shade, brah! Just shades as Baby twirls across the screen hypnotizing me with that sexy, Elvis-esque accent and smooth showtime dance moves.

Baby lost his parents, a gorgeous waitress with an angelic singing voice and an abusive drunkard of a husband, during a violent car crash that left the protagonist with a hearing impairment. Traumatized and trapped between two headphones, Baby becomes a notorious carjacker at an impressively young age.

Of course, the kid eventually steals the wrong ride and becomes indebted to a debonair and meticulous crime boss played by Kevin Spacey.

Baby spends his childhood paying off his debt to Doc, but on some usual bullshit, he can’t stop being a getaway driver — even after making amends — because the head hancho threatened to break his legs, kill his newly found girlfriend (Lily James) — blah, blah, blah.

After countless jobs, and some not-so-subtle foreshadowing delivered by Jon Bernthal, Baby reluctantly takes on his first post-debt assignment. And SHOCKER! It goes absolutely, terribly, the-universe-hates-you wrong and his moral GPS is put to the test.

…and yawn.

However, ‘Baby Driver’ is one of those rare instances where expectations for an all-star cast are actually met. You’re perpetually kept in the moment because you’re immersed in the characters– their accents, their reactions, their interactions, their hangups, their quirks. You’re only given enough background info– most of which is given in blatant exposition– to understand the movie. No one is winning an Oscar with those lines, but the characters were colorful and the acting was– well, good! Each actor brought their talent and not just their resume to the set.

Like many, I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright and that leave-early, come-late style. He also has a heightened understanding of visual humor and a sense of pacing that really turns me on. The movie has the typical running time, clocking in at a little over 90 minutes, but there weren’t any scenes that felt drawn out or unnecessary. Most movies can barely handle one chase scene, but this one had several and I didn’t take a bathroom break during any of them. So, kudos!

Yes, I’m bashing this movie for being cliche– but it’s in no way run of the mill. Pedestrians weren’t killed off like flies like in most action movies. It maintained it’s humanity, hanging on to a sense of death and danger. It also took a few turns at the end that I genuinely didn’t expect. But I’ll keep those to myself– you should see this movie for yourself! 

Lastly, it’s a comedic action film. The action sequences are well choreographed and the jokes are funny– and that always makes for a good time at the theater. I was wide-eyed watching Baby make his mad dash from the coppers, and I may have choked on my own spit a little when Doc pressed play on Baby’s shitty, natural sounds mix tape.

And don’t think I forgot! The movie also boosts a fucking killer soundtrack– Queen, Martha and the Vandellas, The Dammed, Barry White, Young MC — enough said! The whole movie was made to the tune of “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

But, aye! Having a killer soundtrack has definitely become the standard. We’re only halfway through the big summer movie releases, but I’m confident ‘Baby Driver’ will remain in my top 10 long after the Texas swelter simmers down.

So, full speed to the box office!

‘How do you like my new look?’ White model makes dramatic transformation into ‘black woman’

By Ciara Rouege

Somebody call Rachael! Y’all, I can’t make this ‘ish up!

Pictures of a model-actress from Germany have been trending across the internet for a couple months now, but I saw them for the first time on Tuesday. I’m not sure if I’m more thrown off by the over-inflated air balloons in her chest region or her dramatic transformation into a dark-skinned woman.

Martina BIG said she’s all about the extreme look in a Facebook post a few months ago. She has decided to take it to the next level, subjecting herself to tanning injections for several months as a means of making her skin darker— like as dark as possible!

“To become more and more a black woman, that is such a wonderful feeling. I’m so happy,” Martina said in a status update posted June 22.

In the post, the model also talked about her visit to an African hairdresser and her “transformation to a black woman.” A transformation that includes, in her words, more cosmetic surgery for African facial features and consultations for butt enlargement.

Earlier photos of Martina shows a young, slim-figured woman with moderate-sized breast and bleached blonde hair.

german woman transform

But today, she holds 250 cc implants and a British bra size of 32 (70) — that’s American for crazy, doing-the-most cups! Martina has the largest breast in all of Europe, according to numerous sources.

“But that’s not enough for me yet! My motto is: ‘BIG IS NOT BIG ENOUGH!'” she said in her website bio.

It appears her original goal was to look like Barbie, but somewhere down the road — she decided that wasn’t enough— and wanted to be Christie instead.

christie

Barbie’s best friend Christie. (Photo source: Barbie.wikia.com/christie)

“In the video you can see how difficult today was my journey and the hotel check [in] as a black woman,” a caption reads on one of Martina’s videos.

Rest assured, Martina does have emotional support as she undergoes the transition; a boyfriends she’s had since she was 17 years old, the model’s website states. She was born in a small western German town, but her profession has taken her across Europe and the United States, mainly Florida, California and Nevada.

Martina also dabbles in music, claiming she’s “not a professional singer, but [will] keep practicing!”

Well, then.

I’m nothing short of flabbergasted, taken aback, disgusted and ultimately offended.

First, I don’t think black, or African-American, women have a biological patent on dark skin or curvaceous bodies.

However, this woman has transformed herself into a living caricature of a stereotypical black woman— a permanent pickaninny, a Jim Crow and an eternal Zip Coon — and is calling herself a ‘black woman.’

It’s a demonstration of society’s disregard for the life, struggles, achievements and contributions of black women. It’s disconcerting.

That’s all I can say, but as Martina often says in her post, “What do you think of [her] new look?”

Martina cover

#GifeLife: Shrimp and creamy tomato sauce recipe is at-home date night perfection!

By Ciara Rouege

Sometimes…a girl just wants some shrimp! I left work Monday evening with an intense craving for shrimp and tomato sauce.

I could’ve made a solo stop to Carrabba’s on the way home, but bae was working late and I didn’t want to leave him with a squished, lukewarm Wendy’s cheeseburger — so to the kitchen I went!

Of all the recipes for creamy tomato sauce, I chose the Spaghetti with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce on the Natasha’s Kitchen website because it had the most reviews and the best pictures. Don’t act like you’ve never bought a brand because the packaging looked cool — I do it all the time!

And the best thing about pasta dishes: you don’t have to worry about sides. I spent about $20 on ingredients, spending the most money on shrimp and shopping mostly store-brand only. It’s a perfect date night dish if you want to impress but not exhaust yourself. Also, if you want to be full but not weighed down before engaging in…other activities.

First, I want to point out that I spent double the suggested time, which was 30 minutes, making this meal because I’m the slowest at-home cook on the planet. Second, I almost never follow the recommended measurements unless I’m like baking a cake. I just add seasoning til it smells good…and stop adding ingredients when I think it’s enough. Hasn’t failed me yet!

However, I resisted my New Orleans upbringing and refrained from adding Cayenne pepper or salted butter— sticking strictly to the seasonings listed: salt and pepper. Lawd, help me! I did add a few extra teaspoons of hot chili flakes, but it needed that extra kick in my opinion. Got to keep it spicy!


The recipe gives you the option of using onions or chives. I went with chives simply to break the repetitiveness of using onions all the time with my pasta dishes — just wanted to experience a different taste! It also looks like they used a chardonnay for their dry wine, but I switched it out for a fruity and reasonably priced sauvignon blanc that I later paired with the meal.

I won’t lie; I was feeling super lazy and bought canned tomatoes instead of dicing up fresh ones. Thinking I wouldn’t have to pull out the chopping block, I realized I’d have to cut the chives and fresh basil leaves when I got home. It would have been a tinsy-winsy better had I diced — and not butchered  — my greens.

The recipe recommended spaghetti or angel hair pasta, but personally, Farfalle is my favorite pasta to pair with shrimp or crawfish. If you’re looking for something a little more hardy, I’d go for the linguine.

Of course, my favorite dessert during the summer months are cherries. We finished our time at the dinner table with a succulent handful of dark Hudson cherries and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Bonus: Chris thought it was delicious! I just love that look on his face when he comes home and the house is clean(ish) and the smell of a tasty, homemade meal hits him right at the door. It’s the domestic southern belle in me— I know, shameful!

What’s next? I’ll figure that out at the grocery store tonight!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of medium-sized, peel raw shrimp
  • 3/4 pound of spaghetti or angel hair pasta (That’s about 9 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 6 diced medium-sized tomatoes (I went with canned diced tomatoes — but do you!)
  • 1 mall onion, or 1/4 cup of chives, finely chopped.
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons of diced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of dry white wine. (Take your pick chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvginon blanc, etc. But it must be dry!)
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan to serve

Instructions

  1. Lightly season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium to high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until white/pinkish in color. Be sure to turn shrimp over while cooking. And then set aside. Well, be adding this back in later.
  2. Put the tomatoes, onion, chili flakes, basil, garlic and butter into a heavy pan, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add wine, and then cook over a medium to high heat until mixture is soft and most of the wine has evaporated. You should have about 1/4 cup of liquid remaining.
  4. While the vegetables simmer, this is a great time to start cooking your pasta! You want it to be al dente, meaning just a tinsy-winsy bit under cooked). Rise, drain and then set aside.
  5. Once the sauce has mostly evaporated, stir in cream and bring back that shrimp! Let it warm all together for about 2 minutes, season it with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the pasta with the sauce.
  6. Top it with Parmesan and a few fresh basil leaves. Let it sent under the lid for about 2 minutes, to help the cheese melt.
  7. Light some candles. Pour some wine. Cue the Sade and D’Angelo. 😉

Feather brows? No…or hell nah! 

By Ciara Rouege

The internet is buzzing about a new make-up trend that many have already predicted won’t be flying back home for the summer months — if not at all!

Feather brows is a technique in which a part is made across the center of the eyebrow and the opened hairs are feathered out. Of course, the goal is to give the appearance of a bird feather.

This look is a joke — literally!

“Note to self: when u make a joke about starting a funny brow trend people will take it seriously and…well. start the trend,” Stella Sironen, the Helsinki make-up artist who started the trend, said in an Instagram post.

Of course, it is the internet so many people have already decided to run with it. Some have already given feather brows a chance.

I’ll admit while I think this looks ridiculous, Sironen does look like a futuristic fantasy with the outlandish brows and shimmering peach eye shadow. Plus, it’s cool how she managed to perfectly separate and feather such thick eyelashes unlike these hot messes below:

But when a trend is born, who is to judge the origin? I’m sure more will attempt this ‘artistic’ look.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to give this one a thumbs down— but that’s just me! What do you all think? No judgement (to your face) if you like them.

So jealous! Cosplayers flaunt jaw-dropping costumes for Anime Matsuri

By Ciara Rouege

One experience I haven’t been able to check on my secret bucket list is going to an anime convention dressed in costume. I’ve been to the gaming portion of SXSW in Austin, which features a bit of cosplay, but the sub-conference doesn’t come close to being immersed in anime culture.

The 2017 Anime Matsuri Japanese Culture Convention  attracted hundreds of cosplayers and anime admires to Houston for the weekend — some from as far away as Hungary, and of course, Japan!

Flaunting unique costumes, elaborate props and colorful wigs, attendees flooded the George R. Brown Convention Center to experience the event’s 250,000 square-foot showroom featuring popular manga comic books, anime-themed video games, figurines, trading cards, Japanese fashions and also decorated cars.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A friend and I was able to catch up with a few Anime Matsuri guest and ask them about their costumes and props, most of which are do-it-yourself projects. One cosplayer we talked to spent nearly four days crafting a giant — and we mean HUGE — syringe for her costume, and another showed us how his costume spits fire whenever he snaps his fingers.

The convention attracts both professionals and amateurs, and most said Anime Matsuri is one of their favorite annual anime events and one of the largest they’ve ever been too.

The attractions offer more than pop-up tents and vendors. Anime Matsuri also includes photography sets, arcade gaming, Live Action Role Playing, special guest and a fashion show the latest in Japanese fashion.

While popular anime and American cartoon characters were abundant, some guest rocked their own designs and characters names.

I was covering an event at the Marriott Marquise, which is connected to the GRB, and was able to take pictures crossing over to the convention center via the crosswalk. Hopefully, I’ll be to join in the fun firsthand next year.

Buckle up, ladies! 2017 Houston Auto Show isn’t just for the boys!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Ciara Rouege

There’s a reason  why cars are described as being women. They’re sexy, sleek, beautiful — and let’s not forget smart and powerful!

The 2017 Houston Auto Show, the largest car show in the south, pulled into NRG Stadium earlier in the week for after bringing the city top-notch vehicle presentation for 34 seasons.

I have gone to the more gritty, outdoor engine-crazed car shows in the past, but the opening Preview Night Gala was all about glitz and glam.

Plus, it was educational — you won’t believe how many options you have out there!

The event featured nearly 40 manufactures including Ashton Martin, Lamborghini, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, Maserati, Porsche, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Infiniti, Buick and several others.

In a showroom featuring hundreds of cars, there is multiple vehicle options for all stages of life and lifestyles. The floor has presentations for luxurious sedans, sports models, minivans, off-road vehicles, eco-friendly cars, muscle cars, powerful trucks and even classics!

Outside of car gazing, I was able to test out several cars including an exciting Jeep off-road course and other vehicle demonstrations.

Tickets are available online or at the door April 5 – 9 for only $12 for adults and $5 for children.

Syrian-American mom breaking more than the internet with ‘Hijabi’ rap video

By Ciara Rouege

The internet has been hypnotized by the catchy rap lyrics of an eight-month pregnant (at the time), Syrian-American poet who is helping to make the hijab the most feminine and empowering headdress on the planet.

Mona Haydar doesn’t even have a mix tape, but girl! She’s already slayin’ it with her first-ever rap video “Hijabi,” which has gone viral since its release May 27. Haydar’s video has also caught the attention of several major outlets including Mic, BBC, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and others.

The hijab is often stereotyped as a tool of oppression and terrorism. But the video offers some much needed nourishment for ill-fed minds, stylishly showing its widespread use across different cultures and dispelling misconceptions.

“Given our current administration’s insistence on demonizing and maligning the bodies of women and Muslims, among others, I wanted to get this song out as soon as possible,” Haydar told HuffPost. “I hoped that a pregnant woman who is obviously Muslim [and] creating art and speaking truth would inspire people and offer some levity, joy and hope.”

Throughout the video Haydar is surrounded by beautiful women wearing their scarves and cloths in different styles: turbans, buns, knots, braids, tichels and of course the traditional hijab.

Despite being a God-fearing Christian woman, the song is worth celebrating to me personally for its inclusion of all hijab-wearing women as the head wrap has a significant presence in black fashion and culture.

Of course, I don’t say “fashion” to downplay the hijab’s religious significance. But you don’t have to be Muslim to understand the prejudice wearing a harmless head dress or style — dreadlocks, braids, afro, etc. — can attract.

At a time when fear and ignorance has propelled anti-Muslim sentiment across the U.S, “Hibaji” says holdup! And flips the bird at advocates of hate and judgment like a gangster.

And yes, in case you didn’t notice, “Muslim” is a person of a widely-practiced faith not an ethnic group. The video makes an distinguishable effort at including women of all shades in the message.

Ya’ll, peep this awesome bridge:

You’re just jealous of my sisters
These Mipsters, These hippies
These Prissies, These Sufis
These Dreddies, These Sunnis
These Shii’s, Yemenis
Somalis, Libnanis, Pakistanis
These Soories, Sudanis
Iraqis, Punjabies
Afghanis, Yazeedis
Khaleejis, Indonesians
Egyptians, Canadians
Algerians, Nigerians
Americans, Libyans
Tunisians, Palestinians
Hidden beyond the Mekong in laos
Senegalese and Burkina faso

Haydar was raised in Flint, Michigan and moved to Damascus later in life to study Arabic and Islamic spiritually before heading back to the States to enjoy life with her husband and son. She currently lives in New York.

And she’s cool as all get out!

Haydar is no stranger to the lyrical genius of rap artists like Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest and Rakim — artists who openly practice Islam.

As the song continues to make its runs around the digital community, the feedback seems to be mostly positive.

I can’t wait for Haydar to bless us with a new video if it’s her goal to make another one.

In the meantime, keep swaggin’ your hijabis, ladies!

Girl, ‘Humble’ yourself! Kendrick Lamar’s latest drop is EVERYTHING!

By Ciara Rouege

I often watch music videos back-to-back only twice: once to criticize the visuals, and a second time to analyze the lyrics. After that, it’s an ears-only experience on Tidal.

But damn! Kendrick Lamar’s latest single “Humble,” which invaded the internet Thursday night,  has visuals and lyrics that will keep fans and strangers enchanted for replay after replay after replay after replay — oh, you get the point! I’m addicted.

It’s interesting because I didn’t feel the visuals offered anything too unexpected from the consciousness or metaphorical undertones of his previous music videos, but somehow “Humble” is still refreshing.

I’m not riding his dick, but consider the heightened witticism. The visuals drag the viewer through a series of religious allusions and sociopolitical metaphors — scenes that are immediately contradicted with mediocrity and stereotypes. Which is something that has been done before, but in this case, it was done well.

I say “drag” because the beat alone knocks you out with authentic Kendrick Lamar bravado, and then pulls you in by using a flashing streak of stunning visuals that are seamlessly sewn together through a commitment to centralized framing. You don’t want to go, but you do because the sequences are just so well executed.

Here’s Kendrick dressed like The Pope wearing a beanie while standing under the spotlight of a single church window. And now, here’s Kendrick playing out any basic rapper’s fantasy of counting money in the world’s most lucrative trap house while surrounded with thick-bodied, half-naked women. Turning up with Kendrick’s crew at the Last Super, and then sitting under the beauty salon dryer with a tight, lethargic look on your face.

Dramatic irony coming from an artist who is often criticized for being fake deep? Yaass, I love it! And yes, I know religious symbolism is the most cliche means to shock value! But who are these dudes with burning ropes strapped across their heads?

“Humble” is also one of few video-song parings that creates a collective experience, helping you appreciate both even more. Don’t listen to the song and then pass on the music video.

The bars are blatant in meaning: criticism about society being superficial in its search for altruistic meaning delivered in the most arrogant way possible. Clearly, the video is bringing most of the hype.

Kudos to you, Dave Meyers and The Little Homies. You’ve done it again! It’s a poignant, culturally significant, cohesive and well-executed production.

Ya’ll, this shit is dope.

#BlackWomenAtWork will go mute if society doesn’t find a term stronger than ‘racism’

By Ciara Rouege

I’m uncomfortable having conversations about the discrimination facing black women with people who aren’t black, especially if the person is not a minority.

It just always feels like a waste of time because I can’t find…the words or even the hand gestures to express myself. It’s a socioeconomic cluster bang, trying to explain experiences tied to elaborate institutions built on racist, ageist, religious and sexist principles and then translating that into simple words.

Especially when, like most English speakers, the only word I’m able to use is: racism.

Racism, a topic or term that studies show a significant number of white social media users filter out of their feeds.

When I learned #BlackWomenAtWork was trending, I didn’t have to drop it into the search box to have an exact idea of what to expect. It’s a conversation I’m constantly having with other black women.

Activist Brittany Packnett popped the bottle on this hot-button issue after she tweeted Tuesday in response to inappropriate comments U.S. Press Sec. Sean Spicer and conservative news commentator Bill Reilly made regarding the hair of prominent black female professionals.

O’Reilly made a tongue-in-cheek comment about ignoring black Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ latest comments about Trump because, as he said:  “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig,”

During a White House press conference later that day, Spicer angrily told black veteran journalist April Ryan to stop shaking her head in response to everything he said.

Two assholes. One shit stain on the internet: racism.

Of course, Packnett’s invitation was met with great support. Black women started pouring in and sharing their workplaces stories because, whether you’re first lady of the United States or a cashier at DD’s Discounts, you probably have a whole bibles worth of testimonies.

Our workplace experiences — both blatant and passive-aggressive — are about more than black women being misunderstood or losing out on opportunities they deserve. 

Being a black woman in the workplace is pushing to accomplish more — or even small things — in a world that beats you down without remorse through double standards and contradictions.

While we tweet our fingers off and chuckle in response to our shared injustice, the world watches on thinking what’s racist about hair?  Or responds in rage because even though most have no clue what black women are experiencing in the workplace, they know ‘racism’ is the multicultural, liberal community’s cue to flip out.

Racism equals bad.

It’s 2017, and #BlackWomenAtWork is a social media trend, seriously! Despite people talking about the problem on Twitter, the complaints are falling on death ears.

Your hair isn’t just hair, it’s a spectacle because it’s ‘exotic,’ ‘unprofessional’ or ‘interesting.’ Who wouldn’t be uncomfortable in such an environment?

It’s a social oppression whose enforcement goes beyond ideologies or political affiliation. Because, let’s face it, the solution exists beyond the law.

Over past generations, we’ve watched society unclothe its racial consciousness. First, allowing blacks citizenship, and then permitting them the right to vote, and soon the right to sit among others in restaurants and to live in their neighborhoods — all problems that were reversed with legality.

In 2017, ‘racism’ has become a supercharged and overused word that overlooks the subtle prejudice present in social interactions because it doesn’t distinguish between malicious and non-malicious intent.

Hundreds of women speaking out in unison is empowering, but if the ultimate goal is change, those words must speak to the masses.

We’re hiking the same mountain as our mothers and grandmothers, but as we get closer to the top, the climate changes and so must our tools.

Girls’ Life controversy: When feminism falls short

By Ciara Rouege

Quickie

The publisher of Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life magazines has come under fire after celebrities Blake Lively and Amy Schumer criticized its editors for solely focusing on fashion, beauty and romance with its female readership while encouraging career exploration and self-discovery among males. Many are calling the content sexiest and say its in need of a major revamp.


In an episode of ‘Blackish’ all the children catch influenza, and then the mother falls ill while trying to care for them. Like any self-respecting television mom, Rainbow tries to fight through the virus. But, alas! She loses and the family is forced to lean on its last resort: Dre, the father.

Terrified, he answers the call. And like any American sitcom dad, Dre ass plants as a substitute-mom and the children’s healths are thrown into complete jeopardy.

Until, eureka! He finds a solution. Dre decides to stop acting like a mom and starts caring for his family dad-style. Cue hilarious montage. All the kids make a miraculous recovery. Roll credits.

What the hell does this half to do with a pre-teen girls’ magazine? Well, everything.

The problem is about parenting, the most gender-restrictive experience of human life. The solution, which emphasis the difference between gender equality and gender empowerment, is applicable to women in the work life, romantic relationships and social environments. Gender equality and gender empowerment are not interchangeable — or even interconnected.

Girls Life magazine remake

Graphic designer Katherine Young revised the cover of Girls’ Life magazine after the internet uproar. “I fixed it,” she wrote.

Girls’ Life Magazine editors shouldn’t be criticized for making a magazine that isn’t comparable to its male counterpart, but instead for failing to expose girls to the poignant elements of womanhood.

Chelsea Handler ban proves nipple-phobia exists

By Ciara Rouege

When you find an excuse to stand half naked on a snow-covered mountain range, take it! Comedian Chelsea Handler has made her next strike in a battle with Instagram and its fickle policy banning nude post.

Handler has been banned from Instagram after posting several partially nude photos including a tasteless ass pic, mimicking noted Instaslut Kim Kardashian.

The war started in October after Handler posted a topless picture of herself riding horseback. It was a hit at Russian President Valdmir Putin. It’s hard to say who had the better rack. But Chelsea, you do have the better steed!

It couldn’t be more clear Handler is trying to stay relevant. However, what’s with America’s fear of boobies? Entertainment media often alludes to sexual activity in manners that are more blatant and tactless. There are thousands of Instagram accounts featuring women modeling every inch of top skin– minus the nipples. Is it female nips that scare us?

Male nipples are often glanced over with no concern and female nipples incite eroticism or public shame.  The madness behind the Handler nudes reflect the patriarchal institution that controls mainstream perception of the female sexual identity.

Picture from Nicki Minaj’s Instagram

It all points to a deeper problem with our perception of the female body, which can only be viewed naked if its not being sexualized. We see hundreds of images everyday with women posing cleavage forward or butts tooted out, but a single picture of a woman standing topless in a backpack disturbs us.

Be sure to cover those nipples, ladies! Otherwise, you’re naked. Instagram should just cut to the chase and say female nipples are banned.

I’m going to have to side with Handler on this one. I’ve seen cruder pictures on Instagram and across other social media. We all know that one girl whose profile picture is literally an up-close snapshot of her bare ass.

Nitrogen-frozen ice cream chilling in Vintage Park

ice cream

Imagine Bill Nye the Science Guy opened an ice cream shop — it’d be SUBZERO ICE CREAM & YOGURT! The shop opened in late September 2015. And this joint couldn’t come soon enough. I’ve been (trying to) make serious changes in my daily food and beverage intake. Yes, I’m jumping on the health bandwagon and going vegetarian— non-dairy pescatarian to be specific! And no, it doesn’t bother me that I’ll never have the succulent grease of a bacon cheeseburger running down my fingers ever again. But the dairy part? Holy cow— egh, I mean holy eggplant! I cannot enjoy life without cheese and ice cream. Luckily, I’ve discovered a new ice cream and yogurt shop that makes vegan and lactose-free ice cream! While not the only location in the Texas, it’s the only location in Houston.

You can make your creation vegan, dairy-free or gluten-free. 

I’m calling them scientist! Sub-Zero freezes your ice cream with nitrogen, giving you the option to choose coconut milk, almond milk or heavy cream for your base. The coconut and almond milk doesn’t make a super creamy alternative, but it’s still pretty delicious. As cool as it looks, nitrogen ice cream doesn’t permit free sampling before you commit. And they don’t have vegan waffle cones at this location. I’ll admit I was a little bummed.

The flavors are limited, but the combinations taste fantastic.

Nitrogen means whatever ingredients— so whatever flavors. The scientist can make custom confections using the basic elements: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Similar to Cold Stone Creamery and Marble Slab, the shop also has signature mixes with snazzy names including, my personal favorites, Magnetic Mint and Tropical Turbine.  Again, I’ll remind you the good taste is consistent, but the texture varies based on the milk you select.

PARKING AND OTHER INSIGHTS

The shop has pretty good hours compared to most ice cream places, closing around 10pm throughout the week. I’ve gone multiple times this month, and the parking hasn’t been an issue. However, the seating is super limited. It could be the enormous encased nitrogen tank, which a manager said started a little flack with the county fire marshal before they were allowed to open. Oh, and the giant line of customers that leads out the door. It’s so good!

So if you’re making this a sit-and-hang dessert run, I’d recommend walking next door to Whole Foods. The stores share a parking lot and the patio at Whole Foods is huge. The service is polite and moves quickly, but I wouldn’t go their expecting to be in-and-out in 10 minutes. I’m assuming the wait time will improve as the we get further out from the grand opening.


Location: 10123 Louetta Road Houston, TX 77070

A Chicago swimsuit line is turning heads, opening minds

The year can’t come to end without a movement dedicated to preserving the most celebrated feature of the female body — the breast! Ta Ta Tops were designed to fight gender inequality in the form of laws that prohibit women from going topless.

Faux show isn’t a cop out. It’s an interesting way to support #FreetheNipple without baring any skin. We have to keep in mind the goal is gender equality and giving everyone the option to go topless or covered.

The Chicago-based clothing line Ta Ta Tops started after the owner allowed two foreign exchange students she was hosting to visit a local beach.  A male lifeguard quickly pulled the students from the water when he realized the girls were swimming topless. The incident spiraled into a whirlwind of confusion as the lifeguard tried to explain how showing nipples is illegal in America. The students looked at that male guard’s naked chest and were quiet befuddled. Oh, wait because that law only applies to women!

These titillating bikini tops are available in  three distinct flesh tones at the organization website for about $30.

Covergirl shows the beauty of coding

If you’ve ever been to college, you’ve seen the Mary Kay posters taped to the bathroom mirror with Feminist Society graffiti written all over it. I often stare at these doodles, thanking God my three younger sisters have a few years before they have to stand over public sinks contemplating this crap.

CoverGirl cosmetics has partnered with Girls Who Code to spark an interest in computer coding within girls across the nation. The campaign reaches young women on their level, and doesn’t rumble with traditional beauty stereotypes but focus on the untapped potential of female intellects.

The biggest barrier for young women today are the psychological confinements built from gender roles. It’s a hot mess that even the feminist movement has had trouble sorting through. Are cosmetics the sexualization of women, making them a mindless commodity? Or is makeup a tool for the personal expression and accentuation of feminine prowess?

Covergirl’s Girls Who Code campaign is perfect for approaching this age group. I live in a suburban neighborhood of middle school girls. And I can tell you, whether its poorly applied eye shadow or a smear of cherry scented lip balm these are the years we  explore makeup.

It seems girls are more often tokens in the movement, when these developing divas should become a focus for influence that is suitable to their stage in life. We get into these grand discussions about sexual orientation and political policy, taking less and less time to groom the youngest of the lot.

In a movement that seeks to make every tomorrow a little better, young women should become a bigger focus. Right now, they’re just nosy little mice listening in on the world’s conversation.

Spread’em, man! But you’re going to look like a douche.

It takes a select person to appreciate the annoyance of a good nitpicking. The latest lackadaisical feminist cause gracing the internet is the unstoppable threat of manspreading. It has been a slight concern in New York and Canada, where a men’s rights group has started a petition that protects the male freedom to spread.

 

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has taken a different approach. Mic.com says the organization has decided to included manspreading into their poster campaign supporting courtesy on public transportation. It is a great solution to address a problem that is more the result of bad manners than an oppressive patriarchal system.

The video I wanted to show is posted on Daily Motion, which requires downloading a special software to embed its videos into websites, is a perfect example of an obnoxious way to handle manspreading. The video has been praised for attacking the issue head on (No pun intended, pervs!) and features a microphone-armed woman traveling the New York City subway system questioning men about the appropriate leg spreading space for men to sit comfortably.

Besides walking up to random men asking them about a fictional term that is vague and borderline homoerotic, the other problem with this interrogation is it takes a broad approach to a specific issue. She didn’t target men who were spreading their legs excessively— but all men. It is possible she was trying to learn from men how wide is a reasonable “manspread” and then challenging other men who crossed the boundary, but the interview has been framed to suggest the act is always offensive.

Like most memes and photos on manspreading, the interviewer brings attention to the neighboring woman sitting with her legs clutched tight and clinging to her belongings.

These anti-manscaping campaigns are dangerous because it takes a serious issue and turns the public eye in the wrong direction. If our attention wasn’t on making manspreading more controversial than it has to be, we could be addressing bigger issues on transits. I don’t know— maybe groping!

The bottom line: there are rude male and female commuters. The ‘spreader’ could be the guy who thinks his dick is bigger than the world or the woman who thinks her Marshall’s handbag deserves its own seat.

I live in Houston were public transportation is as common as three-horned unicorns or decent quarterbacks— so I’m not too concerned. The new Metro Rail route Midtown should be functional…eventually.  But I’m sure anyone with common sense can recognize the irrationality behind laws that regulate manspreading. Let’s all just show some common courtesy!

This video gets an F+ for feminist fail

It takes a minute to digest: four little girls dropping curse words on you like sailors. The edgy equality advocacy group, FckH8.com released an internet commercial using little girls to express the disadvantages women face in society. The girl’s share facts about wage disparity and sexual assault— all with a southern twang and northern disposition.

The purpose of the video is undermined by the blatant fact these little girls are being exploited for the personal gain of the advertisers.

Warning: The following video has explicit language.

The information presented in this raunchy film are true. If the method is out shadowing the message, what’s the point?