Imagine a vast landscape of rolling hills that dip down into a valley laden with rows of grape-bearing vines. This place, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, is where the seed was planted in Chris Blanchard and his brother, Jon, which would eventually grow into a passion for farm to table style Mexican cuisine.
“In my youth, my brother and I traveled to Ensenada with our church to build homes and we really had a deep affinity for the food and for the culture.” That’s Chris Blanchard talking to my friends and I as we feasted on breakfast tacos and Mama’s Style dishes from Chicas Tacos brunch menu, created by James Beard nominated chef, Eduardo Ruiz.
Chicas Tacos, owned by Chris and Jon Blanchard along with their friend and business partner, Nico Rusconi, is located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. The 700 square foot eatery sits proudly among historic landmarks, swanky lofts, and towering skyscrapers. But even with its prime location, dining here makes one feel right at home, especially due to the authenticity of each dish featuring flavors that echo abuela’s home cooking.
My personal favorite was the Mama’s Style pork- a three layered dish that could be best described as a Mexican lasagna, featuring a base layer of homemade corn tortillas, followed by a secret blend of three cheeses, eight-hour brazed pork, (add two more layers of tortilla, cheese, and pork, folks!), topped off with more cheese, two sunny-side-up eggs, chicharon crumbles, and chile verde.
You might be wondering how a trip to Mexico fits into the genesis of Chicas Tacos. During that faithful trip, the brothers had a chance encounter that would later be recognized as the beginning of their affinity for food made with fresh, organic ingredients.
“As it turns out there’s a wine region in Baja California called Valle de Guadalupe,” said Chris, as he poured champagne over cucumber mint and watermelon juice to make mimosas for the gals and I. “One day while wine tasting, [Jon and I] met a woman who took us back to her family farm. Her name was Carmela and it was there that we discovered the most amazing food, all grown fresh on their farm.”
Carmela prepared fish tacos for the brothers, with same-day caught fish that her father brought home from his afternoon on the water.
“It just blew our minds that there was something of that magnitude of healthy eating and farm fresh food that was missing in and LA. Flash forward [my brother and I] decided to re-group with our buddies Nico Rusconi and Chef Eddie, and put Chicas Tacos on the map in LA.”
With such a rich history leading to the development of Chicas Tacos, it is no wonder why the food, atmosphere, and spirit of the restaurant reverberate good-vibes along with its health-conscious menu.
Oh and by the way- fun fact! The nickname of Carmela growing up was Chica, thus the name, Chicas Tacos.
@chicastacos, 728 S Olive St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself” (Coco Chanel). After speaking with Jessica Sweeten, owner and operator of the online fashion boutique, Sweetly Striped, a theme emerged as she described her perspective on style− Just. Be. You.
I met and interviewed Jessica in mid September for the fall fashion edition of the Gals That Brunch blog. Jessica, based out of San Diego, California, met with me via FaceTime whilst I worked from my home office in L.A. During our discussion we touched on several topics like family, finding yourself, and of course, fashion. In the following interview, you’ll learn about Jessica’s journey to running her own business, tips for fashion on a budget, trends this coming season, and her take on style as a tool for empowerment. Read on dear ones, and enjoy this dialogue with the lovely, Jessica Sweeten.
JL: Hi Jessica! Thank you for talking with me today.
JS: Thank you so much for interviewing me!
JL: You have an online boutique, Sweetly Striped, where folks can shop all kinds of fabulous items like bags, tops, denim, shoes, and accessories. Tell me about how the site got started and how you got into the fashion world.
JS: Absolutely. We launched the site in January of this year , and it was a long time coming. I went to school for fashion, studied abroad in London, and did a couple internships, so I’ve been in the fashion industry for quite a while. But when I moved to San Diego− because my husband had a great work opportunity− it was really hard for me to get into the industry the way I wanted. So I took some time off, did other sales jobs, and had a little-one; and, it just dawned on me one day. I was like, “You know what? I’m not being true to myself and I want [my daughter] to be true to herself and I need to be a good example of that.” And literally that day I told my husband, I’m opening a boutique! And my husband was like, “Okay. Well all right, we’re doing it, then!” and I hit the ground running. That was October  and we launched in January. It’s been fantastic.
JL: Wow. That’s amazing!
JS: Yeah, it was inspiring to have that time where I lost myself and had to go through finding out what was important to me again and making goals happen. I was able to really see the importance of how I could help other women through fashion and help them find their identity. Dressing everyday women for me is not only fun but also something that I can do to give back. I’m able to meet so many amazing women, work with them and dress them so it’s definitely a rewarding career, to say the least.
JL: That’s fantastic. It sounds like it’s been a long journey and now everything is culminating. It’s great to do what you love.
JL: So, before we get into the knitty gritty, I want to know, what is your philosophy on style?
JS: Absolutely. I think it’s a matter of being true to yourself. There are a lot of great trends always coming into play but at the end of the day it’s about knowing who you are and how you want to present yourself. Really know your body type and the colors and fabrications that work for you; and then go into that world of trends to see which ones make you feel good and confident− that’s how you conquer fashion.
JL: Thank you for sharing. So tell me, what’s on trend this coming season?
JS: One word to encompass a lot of what’s going on right now is fabrication. With fall and winter it’s such a fun time to play around with it. Another theme right now is cozy. And you’ll see a lot of very generous size silhouettes and that fluffy, cozy feel− which I love.
JL: So do I!
JS: Yeah! I have a few looks right now that are just so easy and fun to incorporate, that also add comfort. I think all of us can get behind that message. Fur is also a fun one. Maybe it’s just because deep inside I’m this Old Italian lady that loves fur and glam. Bring on the faux fur!
JL: I love it!
JS: Just by having a [fur] vest or a little jacket that you can throw on over a white tee and denim and a pair of booties, creates such a fun contrast! I’m also obsessed with the whole burgundy thing. It’s such a rich, beautiful color and adds an aspect of sophistication. It’s pretty cool that a color can do that much. Also neutral plaids− they’re kind of a fall/winter staple that never goes away. [This season’s plaid] is a little bit more muted with warmer undertones. For example, I have an ivory and plaid top that I pair up with a camel tone skirt.
JL: Awesome! Now, lets talk about fashion on a budget. What can we do in those times when we’re on a tighter budget but still want to look our best?
JS: I think it’s a matter of finding those brands that offer good quality at good price points. For example, denim- it’s such an important thing, because you can dress it up and you can dress it down. Add any top, any sweatshirt. It’s such a core piece. Finding a good denim brand that you really feel comfortable in is kind of like the foundation of a house. Brands that I really like and stand behind are Just Black Denim and Articles of Society. I’ve chosen these denims because they’re all under a hundred dollars. I know some people will disagree but I don’t believe in spending over a hundred dollars for denim, especially because I know where they’re all made. And guess what? They’re all made in the same place!
JS: When you find denim that works for your body type and that you feel comfortable in, you’ve found gold. So you have your pants and then moving into your next level− tops− just basic tops that you can layer with different things. A white top for example, is one of the most understated, most amazing pieces out there. You can throw it on with a moto jacket; if you want to throw a leather bomber on, you’ll have a whole different look than you would if you wore it with a lace kimono. You can go from very edgy to very feminine. A white top is so versatile. So really, look at basic pieces that you can style in different ways. You can get four or five different looks off just a few pieces, which will make your money go far.
JL: So you’re saying, find what looks good on you, set your price point and style up some basics.
JS: Exactly! I’m such a dork I can talk about this all the time, clearly.
JL: That’s a good thing! Tell us more!
JS: Another thing is often times people get so excited over all the new trends, which is great, but when you’re on a budget, [know that] there are investment pieces and there are trendier pieces that you don’t spend a lot on. I’ve been doing my own fall looks on the website and a major trend right now is the fringe. But maybe having a fringe dress is not realistic for everybody. As a mom, I might wear that one time to a wedding, or one time to go on a date, but I don’t want my two year old pulling fringe off of my jacket or off of my dress and then I look like a hot mess! So maybe put that [trend] into an accessory and know how to utilize it in a way that is more realistic for you. I think that’s a big part too− know that trend items shouldn’t be expensive items.
JL: So, what would you advise women to wear when they’re meeting new people in a social setting?
JS: I think there are a lot of factors. First of all, where are you going? If you’re in cute little hipster North Park [San Diego], that’s going to be a whole different vibe than going downtown to a rooftop place to get mimosas and brunch. But I think at the end of then day, it’s so simple! What do you wear that makes you feel good? If you’ve got something on that you’re going to be constantly messing with, don’t wear it! The last thing you need is a distraction! So wear those pieces that you feel good in and make you feel like you’re able to be you. Focus on what’s at hand− meeting other people, hearing their stories, telling them yours, and making the most of that time.
JL: I totally agree. I know I’ve been guilty of going out wearing pants that are so tight they make my stomach hurt− and then I end up not having a good time! Enough about me though, let’s talk a little bit about body type. What advise can you share?
JS: I think one of the toughest parts is knowing your body type and dressing for it. Our body type is always changing due to the events that are happening in life. I can’t remember the percentage but it’s crazy how many women don’t even wear the correct bra size… for years! But like we were talking about wearing pants that are too small− be aware and find the things that you feel comfortable in. Obviously, don’t live in a bunch of leggings− you deserve more than that. There’s a difference between being comfortable and being frumpy. I’m definitely a pear shape, so doing things that capture that empire waist by synching the middle, is going to work for me. So, having that awareness of what I need to do to look my best is what I need to focus on.
JL: This is all really great information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Is there any other overarching advice that you want to share with our readers before we say goodbye?
JS: There are so many things that we go through in life and so many distractions. The most important thing is to focus on what makes you happy. Whether that’s going to a yoga studio, or whatever you’re going to do, incorporate that into your wardrobe. I saw a video the other day and it was about this woman who only wears green. She’s worn green everything for the past twenty years and people call her, Miss Green. She says it’s a happy color and she’s dedicated her life to that. So, just figure out what looks you like. It doesn’t have to be the latest thing. Just be true to yourself. That’s my whole goal− to give women confidence through fashion and embrace their personal style.
JL: I appreciate that. Last question− where can we find Sweetly Striped?
JS: I’m online based, so you can find all of our looks on sweetlystriped.com and on social media @sweetlystriped (Instagram and Facebook). I like to do online shopping made even easier and in my Sweetly Striped VIP Facebook group I offer stuff to [group members] first, like free shipping and other things like that to keep it fun. So you can definitely find me. Whenever I do pop-ups I always share on social media, so always on Instagram and Facebook.
And unknown amounts of people are grieving, suffering, and trying desperately to cope with a new reality. A reality that does not include their loved one.
We know this story all too well. And I do not say that to be trite. We, Americans, literally, know this story.
The first time I heard such story was in Mr. Cooper’s humanities class. I was in the ninth grade. It was 1999. It was Columbine.
Another time I heard this story (but surely not the second time) was when the victims were practically babies. School children. Administrators. And teachers.
The last time my heart broke because of this story was last summer, after nearly fifty men and woman were slain during a night that they hoped would be full of dancing, laughter and socializing.
And here I am- here we are- again today, as Americans, being reminded of the same story. And the story is this- (although I don’t assume that I could sum it all up, here are my thoughts…)
There is a mother who will not come home to her children. And another, and another.
There are children who are missing school today, because they are grieving the loss of their father, or mother.
No doubt, there is a girlfriend who’s boyfriend was shot and killed, and now all of her dreams of their lives together are nothing more but dreams. She is grieving today, too.
There are people without healthcare who were injured in this violent attack, who are worried about how they are going to pay for their treatment. I don’t know this for sure, but I can imagine that in our country this is a highly probable scenario.
There’s a brother who will never come home. A sister, too.
A veteran was killed, not in combat, but on the soil of the land for which he fought for.
And there is guilt and shame and confusion. People wishing they could have done more, took the bullet, or something else.
I know this isn’t the whole story. Not even close. But these are the things that I think about as I try to connect with the seriousness of this tragedy.
I also know that I am not a person of significant influence. I don’t know how to create change in the world other than by trying every single day to change myself. I think that is the only place to start- with yourself.
There is policy, too. And I echo the voice that says it needs to change. It needs to change.
Today I am still alive. For all of the thoughts and prayers that are being spoken and whispered, here are mine, also. I am so deeply, deeply sorry, fellow people, for your loss. I am also thankful for all of those who came to the rescue. This world is a mish mash of good and evil, but more good I think.
There is really nothing I can say that could take away any pain, although I wish I could. But I much rather say something than say nothing, and today I just want to let you know that I am thinking about you who’ve lost their lives, the people who love you, the people who helped you, the people who will lay you to rest. I am thinking about you and I am not afraid to let my heart break over this, because it should.
As summer winds down and the Earth once again tilts on its axis away from the fiery star in the sky, cooler afternoons and shorter days bring with them the excitement of a new season of adventure. And while summer is often the time of year when most of us travel abroad, autumn and winter are prime times to see some of the worlds most beautiful landscapes, cities and natural wonders. So if you’re feeling blue because you think your traveling months are behind you, fret not and in the coming months consider visiting one of these five breathtaking places on our beautiful blue planet.
Elephant Nature Park and Akha Hill Tribe Village- Northern Thailand
Do you ever get the urge to hang out with elephants? Well you can! Chiang Mai, affectionately known by Thai pepole as the rose of the north, offers a plethora of attractions including its Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants and other wild animals in need. Feeding, playing and helping to rehabilitate elephants are just some of the things you can do while visiting. For those seeking to journey into Thai history, just one-hour north in Chiang Rai, one can visit the Akha hill tribe, where homes on stilts, dirt floors and no-electricity bring about a sense of how daily living may have been hundreds, or even thousands of years ago.
Cathedral Rock- Sedona, Arizona
For more local travel, the red sandstone mountains of Sedona, Arizona, offer hiking and site seeing at it’s best. While from afar the mountainous area appears dry and rocky, exploring within the range of red rocks proves otherwise, with lush forests and bodies of water ripe for exploration. And while you’re there, don’t forget to catch a sunset at the Sedona Airport Overlook, where a nearly panoramic view of the skyline glows shades of orange and pink behind the vast range of red, rocky peaks. Enjoy!
Lake Titicaca- Puno, Peru
Although widely known for it’s ancient Incan ruins, Peru is no one-trick pony. From east to west, the country is rich in natural beauty and modern architecture. But alas, one of its most breathtaking sites is the lesser known, Lake Titicaca. From the city of Puno you can catch a boat and head east to navigate the worlds highest body of water and land on Taquile Island. Nestled between Peru and Bolivia at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters with a view of the Andes Mountains, this spot is sure to make you feel like you’re the queen of the world. Eat your heart out, Leonardo DiCaprio!
Victoria Falls- Livingstone, Zambia
As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls offers hiking, swimming, white water rafting, hang gliding, bungee jumping, and countless photo ops among its falls towering over 300 feet high and 5000 feet wide. It is truly a site to be seen! After your day at the falls, adventurers can enjoy local cuisine like fried meats, vegetables and nshima!
Alder Street Food Cart Pod- Portland, Oregon
How could I end this blog without suggesting a destination that represents the very thing that brings us all together- good eats! Portland, Oregon is a food lover’s dream, with dozens upon dozens of food carts lining the streets of downtown, featuring cuisine from all over the world, from Korean barbeque to Caspian kebab, this travel destination brings it all- good food in a beautiful city and great memories with friends to last a life time.
Are you planning a trip this coming season? Tell your stories in the comments below and share why your travel destination should be our next!
Actually, I’m the one who went MIA, but alas here I am again. And here’s what’s been going on…
So back in May, my hubs suggested that we move back to Los Angeles after living in San Diego for two years. My heart sunk at the thought of it, but after careful thinking and consideration I agreed that going back home would be the right thing to do to meet our longterm goals. Why does adulting have to be so dang hard?
That said, I’ve been away from blogging due to working more, planning more, and going through the mental process of parting with this beautiful place that I’ve been calling home. I also spent lots of time reading a new book by one of my favorite authors and speakers, Rob Bell (What Is The Bible). Just a quick note on the book- I loved it. I think the book is a gift to those who grew up in Sunday school and/or have been taught to read the bible in a way that inhibits it’s beauty and impact. What I learned was that the story of Jesus was so much more political and his message was so much more subversive than I had been taught. Context makes a big difference and Rob Bell has done a beautiful job synthesizing years of information and learning to articulate a perspective on the bible that is liberating, exciting and fresh. Good times.
So, that’s it for me today. I just wanted to reach out to say hello and that I think about Bonita Brown everyday. More to come once this move to LaLa Land is complete. Sending lots of love…
You’ve undoubtedly noticed the stark contrast in political and social views prevailing in our country today. It seems that gray is no longer the new black, but that black or white is the new black.
Black or white. Left or right. This side or that. Not either or, but just, or.
This observation made me think about what it might take to depolarize what seem to be two very different, very opposing sides (and whether that’s even possible). This thought then led me to think about things in nature that undergo the process of depolarization and what benefits derive from it. Allow me to explain…
Have you ever tried doing a bicep curl? Specifically, the kind where your fist is gripped firmly around a double-double cheeseburger while watching your bicep contract and perform a glorious act of gross motor skill, lifting the burger every so gracefully toward your face hole? I mean, mouth. (insert veggie burger if vegan or something else if you don’t live in California 🙂 )
Do you know what is happening at the cellular level?
The muscle cells of your arm are undergoing a process called depolarization!, causing your bicep muscle to contract! When a cell depolarizes, it becomes more positive (this is measured in millivolts, by the way) and when the need for the contraction ceases, positively charged ions exit the cell (making it more negative), and the cell repolarizes back to its resting state.
And so− depolarization means action. Movement. Getting stuff done! Which got me thinking that the only way that the citizens of our nation will ever gain traction and create real change is by agreeing to disagree with people who have very different, very opposing views. (And because I don’t have the energy to explain that I don’t mean that this applies to racists or misogynistic or fill in the blank, please just know that I mean meeting in the middle on things that are reasonable to disagree upon, and be okay with it.)
Now, going back to the cell metaphor, what would happen if that same cell went into a state of hyperpolarization, becoming even more negative (i.e. below it’s resting point)?
The answer? It would take an even greater stimulus to give the cell enough steam to create the action potential necessary to create a contraction.
Now, this is not to say that any of us are at risk of our cells entering and staying in a state of hyperpolarization! But I simply want to use the metaphor of a cell in action (depolarized) and a cell that is, well, insensitive (hyperpolarized), and relate it to the way in which the world around me seems. When I say world, I mean my world (America).
My world has become hyperpolarized- a bit numb and in a state of unrest. Which leads me to beg the question, what can be done about this?