Feeding a Community with Love and Charity in Tashana’s Kitchen

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It may seem impossible to imagine how one can withstand trial after trial and still seem to rise.  But one woman who has selflessly dedicated her life to caregiving for others has found a way to rise again taking her passion for cooking to new heights and spreading love throughout her community with food from the heart.

Tashana’s Kitchen all started six years ago at Tashana Small’s Patchogue, N.Y., home as a simple love for cooking that eventually turned into a catering business, and a means to help with additional expenses for her 31-year-old daughter Ishana “Shani” Small, who has suffered a lifelong battle with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).  LGS is a severe form of epilepsy onset during childhood with symptoms of countless seizures and cognitive dysfunction. 

The seizures of LGS are known to be difficult to treat with antiseizure medications, and the single mother of two has openly shared not only her fight to keep her daughter alive, but also her advocacy with the public on the effective medical marijuana treatment Ishana has experienced.

“I am just going to keep moving,” she said.

Right before Covid hit, Tashana said Ishana became gravely ill and suffered from aspiration as a result.  During this time, Ishana was discharged from her day program and when Covid came along Tashana said there was no place for Ishana to return to when she was well. The day program re-enrollment is still on hold according to Tashana, because of staffing related issues, no weekend respite, and now she has been left with not being able to work outside the home as a result of her need to provide round the clock care with limited help.

When everything shut down, Tashana was hit with a second blow when there was nothing to cook for anymore.  She said she couldn’t sell dinners or have a function, but through it all she stayed in a grateful heart and just did what she had to do to keep going.

“I have been affected by it (Covid) in such a traumatic way,” she said.

Catering is Tashana’s biggest endeavor in cooking presently, and is available in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as all five boroughs.  Tashana works alongside her sister, Jazmin McCain, entertainment company owner and manager of Tashana’s Kitchen.  Tashana said for years prior to opening her business she would regularly entertain family and friends on weekends, and they would always tell her how much they loved her food; building her passion to take it to the next level. 

The first place Tashana said she ever cooked professionally was for a jazz place in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that needed someone to cook food to bring in clients.  Tashana said the owner’s daughter continued to reach out to her after she moved on to tell her the people missed her food.

“The people loved the food even after I left there,” she said.

Tashana said growing up in Brooklyn, she had to grow up very fast and had a very hard life.  Her parents both suffered from addiction, so Tashana lived with her grandmother and helped raise her brother and sister.  It was during this time, when Tashana said she learned to cook from a young age.  She would watch her grandmother in the kitchen, and she said she naturally got a knack from that to cook.

When she was 14 years old, Tashana said the first dinner she ever cooked was beef stroganoff.  After her grandmother ate her meal, Tashana said she remembers her grandma calling her friend and telling her she couldn’t believe how good it was.

“It’s really engrained in me from my grandmother and my family,” she said.

Before cooking became her full-time mission, Tashana was an Aide and LPN in nursing.  Now retired from that profession due to a car accident that left her with severe back injuries, she has taken that same passion for caring for people as a nurse and applied it to her passion for sharing love through her cooking.

Six years later to date, Tashana said in spite of the Covid setback, she has watched the business grow tremendously.  Between social media and always having so many of her self-described “bonus kids” around the house with her 17-year-old athlete son, Joseph Harrison, word-of-mouth has traveled. Her regular dinner nights open to the public happen as often as she has the means to do it, she said, but hosting them as often as possible is her goal to take the business to the next level again; saving enough money to buy a food truck and expand her brand.

“I am at a place now where I want to truly branch out and make it a big business,” she said.

Living in Patchogue for the past 21 years, Tashana said she has never cooked for restaurants or any other business than for her family, friends, and community other than through Tashana’s Kitchen, and is primarily supported with the help of her best friend, Cheryl.  Not only does Cheryl help in the kitchen, but Tashana said she is a constant help with Ishana as well. 

“You’ve got to start from somewhere.  I stay humble and I am blessed because of it,” she said.

While Tashana and her volunteers run multiple ovens, grills and smokers built one piece-at-a-time surrounding her outdoor kitchen, members of the community come and go steadily to pick-up food. For now, Tashana said she pays forward by giving food to her volunteers and their families but she said she hopes one day soon to able to have a paid staff.  Tashana tries to make everything as welcoming as possible and even has a section of comfortable outdoor seating set-up for people to wait for their orders.  At any given time, you can hear people talking amongst themselves and sharing stories of how they met, know, and love Tashana.

Thanks to her passion for cooking and the support of her community, Tashana has been able to also host dinner events to help keep up with necessities such as repairs for Ishana’s handicap accessible van.  Tashana said she was blessed to have purchased the van for only $1 from a dear friend who wanted to help the family stay on their feet, but when the van needed thousands of dollars of repairs, she didn’t despair and turned to her cooking.  In the one weekend of opening her kitchen door for the event, Tashana said she earned enough money to cover costs for all of the repairs and couldn’t feel more blessed for all the people who continue to enjoy her food.

“I used my God-given gift to do the fundraiser.  That’s what I do,” she said.

Sundays through September starting this Sunday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tashana will be selling take and bake gourmet baked macaroni and cheese cupcakes at the Patchogue Outdoor Market in the LIRR parking lot.  Continuing to pay forward, Tashana’s Kitchen will be selling meals at the first annual Robert Permenter Memorial Car Show on June 19, 2021 in honor of her son’s best friend who tragically passed away in a car accident.  Tashana said helping others means everything to her and she will be donating half of her proceeds to the Robert Permenter Scholarship Fund.

“The family lost their son, their only son, and then their father a year later,” she said.

As far as favorite foods to cook, Tashana said she loves to cook anything seafood, but no matter what she cooks it is making others happy and she said she lovesthe reaction to people when she gives them their food that she loves the most.  Dinners such as crab clusters, jumbo shrimp, smoked sausage, and shrimp jambalaya are favorites. 

“It’s not one specialty.  I have been blessed. Anything I put my hands on and my mind to I have mastered it,” she said.

Tashana’s Kitchen is located at 76 Thorne St. in Patchogue.  Customers are encouraged to call 631-627-9201 to book a catering event or to order meals in advance.  You can also follow Tashana’s Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram for future dates and new menu items.  For more information about catering and everything else Tashana’s Kitchen, you can visit tashanaskitchen.com.

Feature Photo: Amy Nicole Tangel

Gallery photos courtesy Tashana Small

The Process of Country-Pop Artist Arizona Lindsey

By Amy Nicole Tangel

If you looked at country-pop singer Arizona Lindsey and saw her bubbly disposition, one would probably never imagine what adversity lies beneath, but with her recent second album release, “The Process,” she opens the door to her own trauma with hopes of letting others know they are not alone.

With an emerging career as a recording artist, the 24-year-old Lindenhurst, N.Y., native has been a musician and performer for almost her entire life, and with that she has also dedicated her life as a counselor who advocates for mental health.  Although she said she has always been completely open in talking with other people about mental health it was when she was recovering from her own life-altering event when she decided she was going to share her experiences with others in hopes to help and heal through her music.

“’The Process’ is a concept album that is about going through life-altering trauma and entering into the trauma recovery process,” she said.

Arizona said the reason she describes her recent work as a concept album is because it starts out from a place of being stuck in mental illness, and the aftermath of what she refers to as being diagnosed with “complex trauma,” leading to her getting help.  In the past two years, Arizona has opened-up with her own personal trauma as a childhood abuse survivor singing her opening track, “The Desired Way,” and said like a lot of people who have been through what she has, she thought she would just “get over it” into her twenties; until a tragedy happened.

“I was hit with a pretty major trauma which was my mom’s unexpected passing, and it seemed to have sparked something in my brain where I was having uncontrollable symptoms of what I later learned was a trauma disorder,” she said.

Arizona suffered paralyzing flashbacks of childhood abuse stemming from her mother’s passing and panic attacks that eventually got to a point where she said she was dealing with severe suicidality. It wasn’t until some time later, when Arizona said she finally got help and pretty much wrote the second half of the album in the hospital over a two-month-period.  This June, it will be three years since her mother passed and it was the year following her passing when Arizona said she had her first intervention with trauma disorder.

“It got to a point I was completely debilitated.  Not getting out of bed, not eating, not showering; I was scared to move,” she said.

This past week, Arizona announced she has recently collaborated with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., and will be releasing a yet, unnamed bonus track, to the album this upcoming September as part of awareness during Suicide Prevention Month.  McDaniels is the author of, “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide,” a memoir that shares his own personal story about his battles with depression and fighting suicidal thoughts.  Arizona said she is so excited to have the opportunity to create a song with him geared towards suicide prevention.

The music in Arizona’s heart has led to an emerging career as a performing artist that began at a young age in the second grade when she started lessons with drums.  In junior high, she picked up the guitar, and from there it was highlighted by theater work, primarily as an actor until she started focusing on her voice years later.  She continued with classical percussion all the way up to college, and it was on the day of college orientation when she said she decided to switch gears, eventually going to school for psychology.

Growing up doing musical theater and playing in pits on percussion, Arizona said it was a sudden switch of gears when the passion to help people grew stronger, but she followed her heart and decided she wanted to learn how to help people first and then she would be a band teacher.

“As that grew, this love for counseling and this love for learning how the human brain works grew,” she said.

In May of 2019, Arizona won the Gold Coast Arts Center’s Young Big Break Competition and met contest judge, former pro-wrestler and founder/host of The Grindhouse Radio show, William “Brimstone” Kucmierowski, who eventually became her manager after much self-described persistence.  Arizona said Kucmierowski introduced himself to her during the competition, and not only shared his appreciation for her work, but was the first person who really thought she could do it; what followed as a new manager and a revelation to bring the two missions together.

“He helped me to at least build the courage; I can do this,” she said.

Initially in her solo-music career, Arizona said she looked at her work as a mental health advocate working in the court systems helping  people convicted of felonies and being a musician as two separate careers.  After facing her own battle, she realized her destiny to bring the two together was meant to be and trusted she was on the right path to do more.

“When people found out that I was a trauma survivor there was a sense of quick acceptance versus a pushback of questioning it,” she said.

In addition to presenting herself from an authentic place through her music, Arizona said she also takes into account the importance of her social media presence and tries to make everything she puts out there a true-impression of who she is.  Whether it is putting a disclaimer out there every time she uses a filter to let other young people know it is not a realistic-image, to adding her touches of comedy every chance she can with her dancing videos and written dialogue, Arizona said if she had a second-life as a comedian it would be hilarious to her.

The pandemic hit Arizona just like most other musicians, and she said she used the down-time to learn to grow when she worked on trying to “put her guitar down and just sing.”  For Arizona, she said her guitar has always been her comfort zone with singing, but she was ready to challenge herself further to continue to build. 

While things continue to open back up, finding places to sing on a regular-basis is not only something Arizona said is necessary financially, but it’s the best way to build a fan-base; creating fans who come back and fans who request songs. Arizona plans on heading back to splitting her time between New York and New Orleans in the fall, but until then she will be spending the summer singing across Long Island.  As part of making that happen, you can see Arizona perform tonight for the first-time ever at Daisy’s Nashville Lounge in Patchogue as part of their new monthly event, “Bluebird Tuesdays-Songwriters in the Round,” featuring local country-pop-rock artists from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For all happenings with Arizona and to find local dates to check her out, you can find her on Instagram @arizonalindseymusic, Facebook, Tik Tok, and Twitter.  Arizona’s music can be found on all streaming platforms.

Photos courtesy Arizona Lindsey

Entertainment Diva Sonia Caligiuri Turns Adversity into a Life of Inspiration

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Setting goals in life and achieving milestones are drives of human nature. Although it has been an uphill battle for one entrepreneur who is expanding her career in entertainment amidst great challenges, she is determined to rise above and never give up.

Event planner, cake artist, model, actress and creator, Sonia Caligiuri has been building her brand Heaven Desires, LLC one venture after the next and if that wasn’t enough for one person, she is now adding author to her list of titles with her upcoming new book, “The Rise of a Broken Woman.”

Appropriately titled, the book reflects the adversity Sonia has faced not only in her personal life with an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship but her own quiet battle with cancer. Through the struggles Sonia has not let any of it slow her down. In fact, with every challenge Sonia said it has only made her drive stronger.

“I feel you can be anything you want to be no matter what,” she said.

While Sonia is still waiting for surgery to remove a tumor in her small intestine, she said she is expected to only have a few more rounds of chemotherapy when all is said and done and is looking forward to getting on with the rest of her life from there.  Sonia has lived by action and has continued to live life as much as possible everyday baking cakes for events, working on her book and filming in a new upcoming action/drama series, “The Italians.”

Sonia said staying busy with her ventures and remaining productive through it all helped her a lot and kept her going.  For Sonia, she said there was time when it was a little touch and go, but she is grateful she was able to fight it and make it through to today.

“It’s a little bump in the road; I didn’t let it bring me down,” she said.

With a career that began primarily as a cake artist, Sonia said her passion is driven by her love for creating and for making other people happy.  Sonia credits herself with being primarily self-taught thanks to the help of YouTube and Google, and said her process is easy and complicated at the same time.  Sonia said taking the time to really listen to her clients and customers is the key to get a feel and vision for each event.

“I’ve always been artsy. I’ve always drawn.  I was always playing with playdough as a kid; that’s how my mom kept me busy.  I’ve always loved to create,” she said.

In March 2019, Sonia said a highlight of her cake artistry career came when she had the opportunity to bake and present a Wonder Woman birthday cake to the late and legendary Mary Wilson of The Supremes at Big Apple Comic Con in NYC.  Sonia said it was an honor that she never imagined possible to see Mary so happy and amazed, and Sonia said she still looks back in awe of the memory.

“It was an amazing moment in my career as a cake artist.  It started out as a hobby, winded up being a business, and I love it; I just love it,” she said.

Prior to Covid, Sonia’s career had continued to expand in what she said were completely unexpected happenings when she began acting only to be followed-up by modeling; resulting in a television series role and becoming a Human Canvas Magazine cover girl.

Sonia said she went into acting as a fluke when “The Italians” creator and producer, Zach de’ Epey was filming in an office building where she was working at the time, and randomly approached her to consider acting.  Sonia said she told the producer that she wasn’t interested and didn’t take it seriously until he had searched the entire building for her after their meeting.  The rest was history for Sonia, and she said from that day on she and de’ Epey have been friends with a great working relationship.

“I am excited.  It’s my first-time-ever acting,” she said.

Just like acting for Sonia, she said modeling was also something that “just happened” when she accidentally walked into a fashion show at a photoshoot for “The Italians” when designer, Queen Iris of Queenslay Clothing, simply looked at her and threw something at her to put on.  Looking around at a room full of women younger than half her age, Sonia said she couldn’t believe what was happening and thought for a second there was no way she could pull it off, but ultimately she said to herself, “What the hell? You only live once.”

In that moment, Sonia began her modeling career and since then she said Queen Iris has become her mentor, promoter, and business partner. Most recently, Sonia did her first body paint shoot and said she felt a little out of her element, but in her true fashion she didn’t let it stop her, and as a result ended up as a centerfold on the cover of Human Canvas Magazine.

“Something that I was uncomfortable with and going out of my element turned out to be a very good outcome,” she said.

When Sonia said she realized she didn’t have to stay on the straight line in her career she knew she could do whatever she dreamed of and all the doors opened.  Sonia carries a strong-willed mindset and said she doesn’t care what people may think of the risqué edge to her photo shoots.  As a woman she said she feels good and is grateful to have a second chance, so she is living her life to the fullest in whatever way she can.

Like many others in the entertainment industry, Sonia was home during Covid and searching for ways to continue to expand her brand, Heaven Desires, LLC.  She said cakes were down, because nobody was having parties, and any fashion shows or performing was out.  While she has an existing line of jewelry, clothing, and makeup; brainstorming and creating during the pandemic led Sonia to expand from lip glosses, plumpers, and mattes to now developing eyeshadows.  All the while she said she just keeps asking herself, “What can I do next?”

To keep up with all things the ever-versatile Sonia Caligiuri is doing next or to inquire about any event services, you can contact and follow her on social media through Facebook at Sonia Caligiuri of Heaven Desires Events and Instagram @heaven.desires.llc.customs.

Photos courtesy Sonia Caligiuri