Cook and get by is a series of @HungryEditor Profiling people about what they are cooking and how they are coping in this world of social distancing during COVID-19 pandemic.
Aurora James is a fashion designer who grew up in Canada and Jamaica but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the founder and creative director of Brother vellies.
“When we were growing up, we spent a lot of time traveling. On the side, my mother managed to curate a collection of vibrant, culturally influenced fashion pieces – silk kimonos, Danish clogs and ornate hats. She spent hours in her closet imagining the glamorous women who would wear these traditional pieces. As I got older, reading fashion magazines through the work of Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon and their muses brought that fantasy to life. ”
James did her first internship at Next Models in Toronto at the tender age of 15. She then studied fashion and journalism at the Ryerson University and worked with Jeanne Beker Fashion television. James later moved to Los Angeles and consulted for Elite and Gen Art, among others. During her first trip to Africa, Morocco in 2011, James spent a couple of years experimenting with design and different craftsmen. In January 2013 she founded Brother Vellies with the aim of maintaining the shoemaking trade in Africa and creating new jobs for craftsmen. You can find them on Instagram: @aurorajames and @brothervellies.
Benjamin Liong Setiawan: Which recipe do you love right now?
Aurora James: Banana bread.
3 ripe bananas, mashed
⅓ Cup of melted butter
¾ cup of brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1½ cups all-purpose flour (lightly measured, not compacted)
A pinch of sea salt
Garnish with chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 ° F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter with the mashed bananas with the wooden spoon.
3. Mix in your beaten egg, sugar and vanilla.
4. Sprinkle in your sea salt and baking soda, mix.
5. Finally mix in the flour.
6. Pour your finished mixture into a 4 by 8 inch buttered baking pan and add walnuts.
7. Bake at 350 ° F for at least 1 hour.
8. Cooling. Disc. Serve.
Setiawan: How did you come across this recipe?
James: This recipe started when I was a kid living in Jamaica. My house was on a lot with several dozen banana trees. I had a caretaker who baked banana bread several times a week with bananas that had started to spoil. When I got back to Canada I remember going to bake banana bread with my grandmother and only slightly remembered the recipe so this is a mix between my grandmother and the caretaker I had when I was eight.
Setiawan: What do you love about this recipe?
James: Its simplicity. I often find that the best recipes are simple but precise.
Setiawan: Any special memories of this recipe?
James: Cooking for friends over the years. When I first moved to New York I was young. We all tried to find out every day, pawing by as assistants and setting off to pursue our dreams. When I baked for friends in my apartment, it became a really sentimental act of service for me – an attempt to make them feel at home in a city that hadn’t fully welcomed them. For many of my friends, it was the first freshly baked meal since leaving the house. I still often bake bread for my friends, but what is even more special now is baking for some of their children.
Setiawan: Once people can meet IRL again, who would you like to make this recipe for first?
James: A friend I call Dilee.
Setiawan: How do you deal with spending more time indoors and ensuring social distancing?
James: I was very present with my body, my emotions and also my intellect. It’s important to check out how each of these aspects feels every day in order to stay grounded. I’ve done a lot of creative problem solving around work – which is actually an area in which I am successful. In my (sufficient) free time I cooked, painted, wrote poetry, wrote a diary and designed new product categories.
Setiawan: What are you doing to stay healthy?
James: Zooming in with my friends who are all crazy which in turn makes me healthy.
Setiawan: What do you do to stay creative?
James: Letting go of the pressure of commodifying the creative act. So much of my creativity in recent years has been related to consumer consumption, it’s nice to even create a release – knowing that it’s not subject to judgment.
Setiawan: What do you do to stay connected?
James: Calling, texting, FaceTiming, being that friend who is omnipresent for the ups and downs that we all go through together.
Setiawan: What gives you hope
James: To know that change is constant and that everything will come to an end at some point. This is not our forever. This is not our new normal. This is a stage. It is a period of grief, a phase of growth, and a phase that challenges all of us to be deeply connected to ourselves and the larger world around us.
Setiawan: What do you learn from all of this?
James: That if you resist change, change will find you anyway. If you ignore the truth, the truth will crowd in on you. And if you think the world’s problems don’t concern you, the world will prove you wrong there, too. Nobody is free until we are all free, right?
Setiawan: Amen. What changes do you hope for in the future?
James: More mindfulness and connectivity. A restructuring of our value system. What makes us happy, what makes us connected, where do we put our value – these are all things that I hope people will take into account.
Setiawan: Which rhythms do you implement during this time?
James: I’ve been in bed for almost an hour since waking up. Don’t mess around with my phone, don’t play music – just think and be present in this moment, the new day that was given to me and my health. I want to set myself an intention for this day.
Setiawan: What projects are you working on?
James: I just launched a home item last week, Cup at home. I started working on it when we were told to find shelter on the spot. It’s an item that I’ve owned for several months and that I enjoy. It is made by our artisan community in Oaxaca and will support them during this time.
Setiawan: What was the most surprising?
James: The joy I have of doing some of the things I haven’t had time for lately. Meeting old friends, reading books, trying new recipes.
Setiawan: What was the most inspiring?
James: People’s ability to slow down and just be still.