My FIVE Favorite Christmas Holiday Films

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I’ve compiled my list of the top Christmas movies of all times. My favorites to say the least. And no, “A Christmas Story” is not on the list, classic though it may be. If you have a free night with your friends, or if your family watches movies after Christmas dinner, I’ve provided a list of films that you may want to check out. Grab a few bottles of wine, some tissue and all your blankets. It is time to curl up with the ones you love and get into the holiday spirit.

Love Actually (2003)
When people ask what we should watch around the holidays, my first thought is always “Love Actually”. But I have to remember the first line of the movie is filled with expletives (which I usually recite along with the character). Also in this film there is nudity, sexual innuendo, children with transgender dolls. NOT AT ALL A family friendly film, despite Freeform’s attempts to censor it. But I love this film because I laugh, I cry, I cringe, I cheer. You will feel every emotion for this film that intersects no less than 10 different storylines, all taking place over the five weeks leading up to Christmas. This is not your typical holiday film. But for me it is perfect.

The Holiday (2006)
This film probably spoke to single women in progressive nations around the world. It definitely spoke to me. Premise: In an effort to forget their present relationship status, a British woman in a one-sided love affair and an American woman in a failed long-term relationship swap houses for the Christmas holiday. The exchange doesn’t have the desired effects initially because it exacerbates their internal struggles, but in the end it forces them to explore parts of themselves that they had forgotten. I love Kate Winslet’s character so much and I relate to Cameron Diaz’s character more and more as I get older. I love Nancy Meyer films. And I love almost every score by Hans Zimmer. So just imagine her story telling with his audio support. Perfection.

This Christmas (2007)
Despite the brevity of this film, I felt like I knew every character in this movie. And the fact that they called their mother “Ma’dear” (not Tyler Perry’s Madea) endeared them all to me as my maternal grandmother was Ma’dear. If you aren’t familiar with the term, don’t take it personal—it truly is a HISTORICAL part of black culture that I’m not going to explain here. Anyway, all of Ma’Dear’s children come home for Christmas bringing all of their personal drama. It was predictable, but still GREAT to see people who spoke like my family (educated but not crazy wealthy) portrayed in a film. To my non African-American readers: The vernacular of this family is exactly that of my family.

The Family Stone (2005)
Where do I begin? Dianne Keaton. The end. LOL. No, I kid but she is amazing in this film, where her son brings home his frigid girlfriend to meet his regular-degular family. This film is so honest without being dark that I almost cried. You wouldn’t have to change one word of dialogue for this film to represent any American family. If I were a filmmaker, I’d remake this film in ten years with an all black cast. Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams are two of the other female actors in the film. But just grab your tissue. It’s a good one.

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
Let me be very clear: The soundtrack ALONE is reason enough to watch the movie. Whitney Houston sings her face off in nearly every montage. But back to the film. It is a remake of an older film “the bishop’s wife”, but this version features an all black cast including Denzel Washington (uh, yes), Courtney B. Vance (oh absolutely) and the incomparable, late, great Whitney Houston. If you believe in love, angels and Christmas miracles—this film will give you ALL the feels. You can be sure that it is a sweet film with a sweet ending—as most Christmas movies are, but this film takes me right back to my childhood. And I miss Whitney Houston’s presence all over again. Trust me. Its worth a watch.

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National Queen and King of Samba 2017

rainha do samba
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In October 2017, SambAZ crowned the Queen and King of Samba for 2017. Though I was not a competitor, I was able to travel to Phoenix, AZ for the festivities, which included many classes taught by some of the best dancers and choreographers out of Brazil. Below, you’ll find my footage from the competition. I captured as much as I could while staying in the moment. I look forward to being a competitor in 2018!

rainha e rei do samba 2017

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White Capoeira Pants (Calcas)| $35

capoeira roda white pants
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 Authentic capoeira pants made in Rio de Janeiro. Purchased with you in mind and priced below average. Shipping from Atlanta. Message me on social media if you have any question.

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My FIVE Favorite Things to Do in Rio

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I’m planning my next trip to Rio de Janeiro. Here are a few recommendations for first timers to maximize their experience in a Cidade Maravilhosa, “The Marvelous City”. 

(1) Visit the beaches…
Rio de Janeiro arguably has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And there is something for everyone: public, crowded, secluded, white sand, pink sand, surrounded by mountain, smack dab in the city, full of activities, chilled out. Whatever type of beach you want, Rio probably has what you’re looking for. Also on the more populated beaches, there are vendors selling and renting everything you need: umbrellas, chairs, wraps, sunglasses, bikinis, food, beverages. And feel free to haggle. I personally love to rent an umbrella, lay on my canga (sarong), order a cocktail and grilled shrimp from a beach vendor. And yes, I do wear the teeny tiny Brazilian bikini. When in rome… or better, when in Rio.

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(2) Eat the Galetos…
Not gelato (the Italian style ice cream), but galeto– which is Portuguese for a young/small “rooster”. They are maller than you expect because they are young and aren’t pumped with steroid. They are served just like chicken and they are everywhere in Rio. These birds are typically roasted and then grilled with spices and herbs. And because they aren’t typically expensive, this is the perfect food to eat before you go out or when you’re coming home from a night out. On my last trip, this was nearly a daily thing. LOL.
grilled chicken

 

(3) Visit the Samba School Parties…
I have a deep love and appreciation for Brazilian samba. And I respect the pomp and circumstance of the Rio samba schools. Samba Schools are basically community centers that teach music, dance and costume design in order for the community to compete in the the carnival parades at the sambadrome, which airs on television. The winning schools get recognition, money, etc. Anyway, each school has private rehearsals all year to prepare for carnaval, but each week they have at least one public rehearsal to raise money, which is basically the best samba party you’ll ever attend. Live drums, the best dancers, great music, the occasional celebrity appearance, drinks and food. It is an incredible experience– especially for first timers. They start around 10pm go until the sun comes up again. That is NOT an exaggeration. Below is a video from my first trip to Salgueiro in 2014. Footage from other samba schools in 2016 coming soon!

 

(4) Take in all the Natural Beauty…
When you go see the touristy sights, you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty. On the train ride up the corcovado to see the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) or when you take the bondinho (cable car) to see the views from Morro do Urca (Mount Urca) and Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)– you’ll agree that the views of the landscape, the wildlife, the vegetation and the water are gorgeous. Rio is naturally green and lush, but now it is pretty urban and in many areas visibly impoverished. So keep your eyes open. There are these amazing nature reserves; these areas that are well maintained. And there are other areas that have grown wild and remain untouched despite the urban sprawl around them. I especially like to look up at the trees as I walk the streets. You’ll see beautiful flowers and birds everywhere.
view from urca

 

(5) Hang with the Locals…
Brazilian culture as experienced in America is super different than the real thing in Brazil. Brazilians have a reputation for being very open, warm and inviting– and they are to a degree. But the reality is that people are people no matter where they are from, so it may take some time to crack the code. Keep in mind that Rio is a social place. You’ll often see people out in groups. You can have a great time with no Brazilians friends. You’ll have a better time if you make friends while there. But to have the ultimate experience, do whatever you can to meet people before you go and meet up with them when you’re there. They will probably introduce you to their friends and those friends will probably introduce you to their friends and so on and so on. Obviously the locals know the best parties and places that aren’t advertised on the internet. So with Brazilian friends you could experience a Rio de Janeiero that you never knew existed. Ask your friends about a sarau, a samba de raiz, a baile funk, a true Brazilian churrasco, etc. Below is a pic of Edrick, Carlito and I with three Brazilian friends.
friends in rio

 

(6) [Honorable Mention] City Walking
This gets honorable mention because its one of my favorite things to do in any city outside of Atlanta. I love to walk around and get a feel for a city, by experiencing the sights, sounds and smells. Yes the smells– sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it always makes memories. On our first trip to Rio, I walked more in the first day than I had the whole month before. My feet felt like they were gonna fall off. But I survived and repeated the same thing the next day with more comfortable shoes. LOL. Videos to come! Share this post with your friends before you travel!

Thank you for reading. Go ahead follow me on social media. And of course by the book below. It is so much fun to read. And it will come in handy when you travel to Brazil. Its not just dirty words, there are REAL LIFE common phrases in it. Thanks, friends!

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Recipe| Cabbage Collard Slaw by Embody Well

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Sometimes in my blog posts I mention the “vegetablarian” in my life. Please allow me to officially introduce Tanya Leake of Embody Well! My friend and fellow samba lover invited me into her kitchen for an episode of her YouTube series “Grub and Groove” where she teaches you how to cook a tasty, healthy dish along with some dance moves! I had so much fun filming this with her. And I hope you all enjoy watching. Try this recipe. Is is DELICIOUS!

Please keep your eyes open. She is about to drop a book. I can not WAIT to read it!! And I know you will love it too!

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5 Best Flavors from the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2017

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Every year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival offers the best from the Southeastern culinary scene. This year I was credentialed media. So beyond the renown tasting tents, I was able to attend some of the educational experiences and VIP parties. Between the Thursday preview event, the Friday kick off and the Saturday classes– here are the five best things I tasted at the 2017 at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

1 Smoked Gator by Chef Kenny Gilbert
Kenny Gilbert is probably best known as a contestant on Top Chef. As the owner of two southern restaurants in Jacksonville, FL, he knows how to adapt Floridian ingredients into southern traditions. He talked us through his process of procuring a farm raised gator, brining it, seasoning it and finally smoking it. Talk about slow cooking! The result was one of the tenderest, juiciest meats I’ve ever eaten. Gator has a reputation for being chewy, but when done right, as Chef Kenny Gilbert proved, it will fall off the bone.

2 Rivulet Pecan Liqueur
The world is accustomed to other nut based liqueurs. But being a Georgia girl, I have deep love for the pecan. Enter Rivulet Pecan Liqueur. I remember while growing up, my aunt had a tree in her yard. Not so fun to pick them up when they fell, but totally worth it when she made a pecan pie! Rivulet is reminiscent of that joy. The owner of the company actually attended the tasting tents and gave me the rundown about how many different types of pecans there are (20 in Georgia). I can honestly say that I will definitely be supporting this brand. I can’t wait to try it with a cola and/or a bourbon. So delicious. 

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3 Red Velvet Cupcake from Sugaree’s Bakery
I am really hard on red velvet cake. I’m super critical. For me, it must be dense, not light and airy. It must be dark red, not pink. It must be moist and buttery. And the icing must be creamy and heavy, preferably with nuts, NOT whipped. Sugarees delivered on all of these things. I cannot tell you how I nearly melted when I bit into the cupcake. They were generous enough to give me a case. Sadly, I decided to share them rather than eat a whole dozen. I will definitely be ordering from them as they ship nationwide.

sugarees bakery red velvet

4 Spicy Coconut Wahoo from the US Virgin Islands
All throughout the tasting tents, I could hear steel drum music and see a woman towering above everyone while dancing on stilts. I finally made my way over the U.S. Virgin Islands tent, which was a cool lounge area with, as it turns out, a live steel drum player accompanied by an instrumental calypso track.  Of course, they served food and drinks. Wahoo is one of my favorite flaky white fishes, it was served with a light coconut broth and fresh peppers. It had the perfect amount of heat and the right balance of sweet. I washed it down with cruzan rum. The whole experience made me want to go to the Caribbean.

 

5 Arkansas Bourbon Bread Pudding by Chef Scott Rains
At the preview event, Chef Scott Rains served a bread pudding. While sharing my experience live on facebook for my friends, I walked past the table with all the Arkansas chefs and restaurants. I was reading the sign when this attractive tall man said to me “you know you want it”. I burst out laughing and made my way back to him after my video ended. Seriously. This man knows how to make a bread pudding! I think I got the last one. The next day, I went to a breakfast hosted by the Arkansas CVB, here again Chef Scott Rains was serving the famous bread pudding. I should have had a second serving that day. I got a selfie with him instead, which has managed to disappear. Damn.

 

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Where to Eat in Washington DC

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I recently traveled to Washington DC for the Festival Afro-Bahia. Dining out in Washington DC can be pricey, but even if you don’t have that kind of coin you can have a great time if you keep an open mind.

Luke’s Lobster (Penn Quarter)
Luke's Lobster Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato When in the DMV, seafood is par for the course. I googled lobster rolls near my hotel and this came highly recommended on several sites. This spot is casual with a beachy feel. At first, the fact that it wasn’t packed out threw me off, but I quickly realize that its set up to eat and run. I ate outside so that I could people-watch. I was able to unwind a little bit as I watched people I assumed to be government employees buzz by me on cell phones with brown bags. It made me even more grateful for my yummy food!
DineWithDani recommends: The Lobster Roll with chips and slaw is the perfect lunch.

Busboys & Poets (Takoma)
Busboys and Poets Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato I love the concept. Part coffee shop and bar. Part bookstore and restaurant. Part performance venue and art gallery. While there are several locations, the one in Takoma may be worth the drive. It was the perfect space to relax after a long day of dance classes with my girls. With several cocktails in us, we may have laughed a little too loudly for the other patrons, but it’s not a library. So… oh well. Best food in DC? No. Great atmosphere for friends and artists? Yes!
DineWithDani recommends: The Nachos are enough food for two people! They could actually be an appetizer for four!

Art of Soul (The Liaison Capitol Hill)
crab deviled eggs art of soulArt and Soul At Joie De Vivre Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Yes, there is southern food available just steps away from the U.S. Capitol. It is not soul food and the most soulful thing about the restaurant is the probably the music. But it is definitely inspired by the south. Crab topped deviled eggs, rabbit pot pie and fried chicken thighs are among the offerings. Make sure you get there in time for happy hour. Appetizers are half off and the bar is buzzing. The wait staff is friendly and attentive. So I’d go back even if I wasn’t staying in the hotel.
DineWithDani recommends: The Pork Rinds, they are made in house, huge and delicious with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt!

Sankofa (Shaw/Columbia Heights)
Sankofa Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato This book store, video store and café is always a highlight of my annual trip to DC. It is in walking distance of the festival site. Honestly, the environment is better than the food. Sometimes there is a DJ and vendors outside selling really cool handmade goods. I love that it is a space that celebrates the African diaspora that still welcomes everyone warmly.
DineWithDani recommends: Get a smoothie or some of the baked goods.

Harrar Coffee and Roastery (Columbia Heights)
Harrar Coffee & Roastery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato In a world filled with starbucks (which I love), it is nice to know that spots like this still exist. One-off coffee shops and roasters that take care with every detail of their offerings. This spot has so many different coffees made with beans from different regions of the world at different roasts. I enjoyed reading the descriptions and seeing what notes I could actually identify. They had me buzzing through my dance classes. Happily.
DineWithDani recommends: Try as many different coffees as you can!

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Recipe| How-to Make a Raspberry Macaron

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French Macarons are the new cupcakes. Bakeries everywhere are adding them to their menu. And now there are macaron shops/stands popping up all over the place. Below is a recipe so that you can make your own!

Raspberry Macaron villa azur dine with daniMay 31 is National Macaron Day (not to be mistaken for a celebration of the new French president). Below you’ll find a recipe from Chef Erwin Mallet of Miami’s Villa Azur. Now you can try your hand at creating a perfect batch of this sweet meringue-based confection. The Raspberry Macaron.

Ingredients:

Macaron:

  • Almond flour/meal: 212 grams
  • Powdered sugar: 212 grams
  • Egg whites: 0.82 grams to 0.90 grams
  • Red food coloring: a dash
  • Granulated sugar: 236 grams, plus a pinch for the egg whites
  • Water: 158 grams

Raspberry jam:

  • Raspberry purée: 1 kg
  • Granulated sugar: 50 grams
  • Pectine: 10 grams

(more…)

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Food & Wine Festival 2017| Pre Event Prep

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Your first time at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival tasting tents can seem a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for and maximize your time!

Atlanta Food Wine Festival 2017I’m super excited to be attending my third Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, June 1-4, 2017. My first time attending, I was not at all prepared for what I experienced. After picking up my tickets, I walked to the tasting tents, but then the 30% chance of rain turned into a torrential, monsoon, downpour and deluge! It got so bad that those of us waiting to get onto the festival grounds were scuttled into a nearby garage to wait it out. There were already people inside the tasting tents– also waiting out the rain, but with very delicious food. To add insult to injury, my fresh twist out was ruined (it had turned into a completely frizzy afro) and my makeup was basically steamed off and melting down my face. Plus, my feet were soaked. It was a mess. But once we got inside, it got better. I was surrounded by food and drinks, but I had no idea how to get to it all. I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned over the last two years.

Tasting Tents:

  1. Wear Comfortable shoes. Don’t just wear cute flats, wear COMFORTABLE shoes that you feel good about standing in for hours. There aren’t many tables and even fewer seats. In fact, dress comfortably in general. Check the weather and make sure you’re prepared.
  2. Bring a tote, sling bag or a small drawstring backpack with some essentials:
    1. small umbrella (just in case of rain)
    2. a hand towel (for sweat or to dry rain)
    3. wipes (for your hands)
    4. sunglasses or hat, whatever you need to be comfortable in the sun
    5. An empty water bottle– you’ll be able to refill it while you’re there and there will be plenty of other things to drink.
    6. Wine lanyard– google it and buy it on amazon. (see the link below)
  3. Hydrate in the week before. Don’t just drink water the day of or the day before. Proper hydration will keep you from having to stop and use the restroom every five minutes. The restrooms are usually the nice modular units and the line generally moves quickly, but who wants to use a public restroom over and over?
  4. Take an Uber or cab to and from the festival if possible. If you live far outside the city: park at your nearest Marta station, take the train to the station nearest the festival and take an Uber to the festival grounds. You don’t want to be caught in garage traffic or get a DWI.
  5. Make a plan: Look ahead to see if there are restaurants and restaurateurs that you want to check out.
  6. Don’t drink all the alcohol first. Mix it up. Eat then drink and repeat. Its easy to want to taste all the 

[carousel_slide id=’1784′] (more…)

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Fashion| Rompers for Men and the Comedy of Twitter

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Fashion mavens are officially trying to make “fetch” happen with the new rompers for men. Celebrities like football player Cam Newton and rapper Young Dro have already embraced the trend, but general public seems a little skeptical if not completely resistant. As usual, the people have taken to twitter and the result is pure comedy.
As always, the internet remains undefeated. I love twitter so much. Make sure you follow me at @DineWithDani today for more.
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