Karen Nitkin

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Baltimost: Mera Kitchen Collective

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Photo via Mera Kitchen Collective/Facebook

 

Mera Kitchen Collective

Mera Kitchen Collective has been around only a couple of years, and already it's hard to imagine Baltimore without this intrepid group of women, their incredible food and their message of belonging.

The talented chefs of Mera are all refugees. They come from Ethiopia, Cameroon, Syria, Sudan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East. Many worked as professional chefs in their home countries.

In 2017, a group of recent arrivals met at the Highlandtown Library. They knew they wanted to do something to earn money, raise awareness and become part of the fabric of Baltimore, but they weren't sure what. By the end of the meeting, they had decided food would be their bond to their new city.

"Since that day, my life has changed 180 degrees," says Chef Iman, who settled in Baltimore in 2016 after fleeing Syria. "Now I'm cooking full-time. It's my way of expression. It's my art."

Within a year, the group had formed a worker-owned collective, and began serving their delicious food from a stall at the farmers' market under the Jones Falls Expressway. Every Sunday from April to November, hungry customers line up to buy delicacies like savory stuffed grape leaves and doro wat, the richly flavorful Ethiopian chicken stew.

The group also caters events large and small, and holds cooking classes in homes and restaurants. These classes are much more than step-by-step guides to making hummus or baklava. Each chef infuses the experience with stories about her food and her life, and how the two are irrevocably entwined.

It's never been easy to leave home and move to a new country, and it's even harder these days, when our government's policies make people feel unwelcome. But these women know that food is a connector. The people they fed became their friends, and now they're sewn tight to the crazy quilt that is Baltimore.

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‘Miss You Like Hell,’ at Center Stage, is a mother-daughter road trip that takes some surprising turns

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Lorraine Velez (left), as Beatriz, and Stephanie Gomérez, as Olivia, in “Miss You Like Hell.” Credit: Bill Geenen.

“Miss You Like Hell” starts with a nervous mother blaring music out of her car radio to gather the courage to greet the teen daughter she hasn’t seen in years. It ends with a surprise, a heart-wrenching earworm of a title song and at least one audience member (me) fighting tears.

The hundred or so minutes in the middle of this tender and exuberant musical now at Baltimore Center Stage take the form of an action- and character-packed road trip. Flirtatious, vivacious Beatriz (Lorraine Velez) and her sullen, cynical daughter Olivia (Stephanie Gomérez) argue, cry, get in and out of trouble, make friends and eventually connect during a weeklong drive from Philadelphia to California.

Baltimost: Annetta Holser, retired ballerina and ballet instructor

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A framed picture of Annetta Holser in the 1950s, when she was a member of Ballets Russes. Photo by Karen Nitkin.

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Annetta Holser, is a retired ballerina and ballet instructor. 

In her words: “Dance was always something that was mine. I have the right temperament. You have to be stable. Grind out the work every day. Dancers are a special type of people. They usually don’t talk a whole lot. They have to listen. 

Baltimost: Ernest Shaw Jr., teacher and artist in residence at Motor House

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Credit: André Chung

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Ernest Shaw Jr., 50, is a painter, teacher and artist in residence at Motor House

In his words: “I grew up in a community where art was celebrated. My mother painted. I have other relatives who are musicians, dancers and visual artists.

Baltimost: Audrey Van de Castle, metalworker and makerspace manager for Stanley Black & Decker

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Credit: Quinn Struke

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Audrey Van de Castle, 27, is the makerspace and open innovation manager for Stanley Black & Decker. 

In her words: “I grew up in Baltimore and went to Mercy High School. My dad was in construction, so I was around tools from a young age, but I didn’t really see them as my passion until I got my hands on a welder in college.  

In ‘Crusade,’ a battle over the future of the U.S. may already be lost

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Courtesy of Rapid Lemon Productions.

From its first moments, when militants crash into an isolated cabin and threaten the elderly woman living there, “Crusade” brings the adrenaline. Tensions during the hourlong production just keep mounting after that.

The gunmen, it soon becomes clear, belong to a makeshift rebel army formed after the United States abandoned its Constitution and forged a new one, creating the United Christian States of America. 

Baltimost: Aaron Heinsman, 47, volunteer with Lights Out Baltimore

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Courtesy of Aaron Heinsman.

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Aaron Heinsman, 47, volunteers with Lights Out Baltimore, an organization that helps injured birds.

In his words: “I’m one of those crazy city dwellers. I don’t have a car. I live and work in Mount Vernon, and I walk to my job as director of advancement for Maryland Humanities.

Baltimost: Jessica Watson, founder of the Have a Nice Day Project

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Credit: John Waire

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Jessica Watson, 35, is the founder of marketing firm Points North Design Studio and the Have a Nice Day Project.  

In her words: “I started the Have a Nice Day Project in 2015. It’s a happy hour, once a quarter in a local establishment in Baltimore. You’re essentially coloring at the bar, but really you’re writing positive messages to fellow neighbors in Baltimore who you’ll never meet.

Baltimost: Sharon Buie, founder of Recreation Chariot

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Photo courtesy of Sharon Buie

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Sharon Buie, 57, is the owner of Recreation Chariot, which provides therapy through outdoor activities like hiking, biking and more. In her words:

Baltimost: Jonathan Sneddon, IT administrator and artist behind Teara Newhole Gsus

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Credit: Studio 5 Baltimore

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Jonathan Sneddon, 37, is an IT administrator and artist. In their words:

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