Because I can’t be all things to all people at all times (nor can most of my other fellow Houston bloggers), a site called Yelp has stepped in to fill our gaps.  Think Citysearch, but more in-touch and with a cleaner interface.  It also has the added bonus of allowing users to add local events and happenings, not just reviews of restaurants and other attractions around the city.

For example, Sur La Table is having a spring tapas party this evening at 6:30 at the River Oaks location.  For $69.00, you and your friends can learn to make a variety of tapas and learn shortcuts and timesavers in the kitchen to help you spend less time at the stove when guests are over.  Sur La Table  — like Williams-Sonoma — offers classes like these nearly every night of the week, so check out their calendar to see if any of them sound fun to you!  Next Tuesday is “cooking with beer” night!

As far as I’m concerned, there aren’t nearly enough foodie events listed yet.  But the good news is that the way that websites like Yelp, along with Citysearch and b4-u-eat become successful and reliable is by people like you and me adding information, events and reviews and participating in discussions.  So go check Yelp out when you get a chance and start adding your two cents!

Paging Dr. Chef

NPR had an interesting story this morning on a chef turned doctor who’s making it her business to spread the word about healthy cooking and eating to fellow healthcare professionals.  CIA graduate Michelle Hauser, who’s now in her third year of medical school at Harvard, teaches courses on fresh, quick and inexpensive ways to prepare healthy meals through a collaboration between the Culinary Institute and Harvard University.

Image courtesy of NPR.

The result of the courses are doctors  who are taking the information to heart not only for their patients, but for themselves.  So many healthcare professionals that I know don’t have the time or energy outside of work to research and prepare good meals for themselves.  And many more doctors simply don’t encourage a healthy diet to their patients that actually makes sense for the patient’s lifestyle and budget, or — worse — barely mention healthy eating habits at all.  It’s one thing to encourage wellness, but if you’re not supporting it with concrete and attainable methods (such as working with a patient to develop a health plan and outline a diet for them), then that encouragment will end the moment the patient walks out of the doctor’s office.

Food is such an integral part of who we are and how we live — healthily or not.  It’s our fuel.  And yet hardly anyone gets asked about their diet — not whether or not they’re ON one, but about WHAT they eat on a daily basis — when at the doctor’s office.  It doesn’t take a genius, or even a brain surgeon, to realize that what you put down your gullet each day affects your overall health in ways other than blood pressure or weight gain.

A recent and close-to-home example occurred when my grandfather was put on Coumadin by his physician.  The doctor never bothered asking my grandfather about his dietary habits, or warning him about excessive Vitamin K consumption while taking the Coumadin.  If he had, the physician would have found out that — as part of our typical Southern diet — my grandfather ate a lot of spinach and other greens, all bursting with Vitamin K.  When he started to feel sick after taking the Coumadin for only a few days, we called the doctor, who — again — neglected to ask about or mention any possible interactions and said just to let it work its way through Grandaddy’s system.  Thankfully, my mother took it upon herself to research Coumadin and found that it interacted very strongly with any foods that contained Vitamin K.  We took all the dark greens out of my grandfather’s diet and all was restored to normal.  When presented with this information, his physician was nonplussed.

The NPR website has more information to supplement the story, including some delicious-sounding recipes that Michelle Hausman uses in her presentations.  Here’s hoping that more courses like these take off, as a benefit not just to the doctors themselves but also to their patients.

UPDATE:  I should mention, before my friend Dr. Q gets here to defend her profession in the comments section, that not all doctors are such schmucks.  I feel that’s the way this has come across.  Dr. Q, for example, is a very holistically-minded physician and I’m sure that she takes things like this into account when treating her patients.  Then again, she’s an ER doctor, so…I don’t really know from squat.  If you, too, are lucky enough to find a holistically-inclined doctor — that is, one who takes into account the fact that you are many parts that all work together, not just a foot, not just an esophagus, not just an inner ear — then you stick with that doctor, my friend!  They are a rare breed, indeed.

Cestrian Pleasures

It’s been a while since I wrote about our recent trip back home to England (Richard’s home, not mine).  I’ve been busily parsing through the ridiculous amount of photos I took and trying to cull the best ones out of the lot.  They aren’t all food-related, but neither was our vacation.  Today’s trip back through Chester is simply an assortment of my favorite photos that I wanted to share with you.

Chester Street 
Tudor-era timbered buildings and the Eastgate Clock.

While I don’t consider myself that worldly of a traveler — I’ve only been to a few countries in Europe, briefly took jaunts into Canada a couple of times, and have visited Mexico about as often as you’d expect any other Texan to — I still found myself utterly dumbfounded when it came to Chester.  It was unlike anything I could have prepared myself for, and unlike anything I had thought it would be.  If you’re planning a trip to England any time in the future, I can’t emphasize this enough: go to Chester.  You won’t be disappointed.

St John's Church
St John’s Church, outside the city walls.

Chester was originally founded in A.D. 79 as the Roman city of Deva Victrix.  Deva was originally built as a fortress, but a civilian settlement eventually grew up outside the enormous walls that the Romans built around the city.  As such, Chester has an assortment of ruins and artifacts that most other English cities do not.  There is, for example, an excellent amphitheatre that is still being excavated, as well as a very well-preserved section of Roman baths.  The thick, fortress walls that the Romans built beginning in A.D. 120 stand to this day; Chester has the most complete city walls of any other city in Britain.  Although the walls have been repaired and entire sections were rebuilt during medieval and Victorian times, they are nonetheless shockingly imperious and impressive.

Richard and Wall
Richard about to climb up to the walls and begin our walk around the city. 

One fantastic way to observe Chester is from the walls themselves. You will get an unparalleled bird’s-eye view of the city as you orbit from your stony path.  Any time you feel like going down and visiting a part of the city that appeals to you along the two-mile walk, simply exit through one of the many sets of stairs down into the mad bustle below.  A visit to Chester can be split into simple parts this way; most things can be reached while walking along the walls:  The Rows (the main shopping area), the Chester Cathedral, the River Dee and the Roman ruins.

Chester Rows
The Rows.

The Rows are perhaps the most important visual representation of Chester.  They are very unique in both their design and their antiquity.  The best way to describe it would be:

They consist of buildings with shops or dwellings on the lowest two storeys. The shops or dwellings on the ground floor are often lower than the street and are entered by steps, which sometimes lead to a crypt-like vault. Those on the first floor are entered behind a continuous walkway, often with a sloping shelf between the walkway and the railings overlooking the street.  — courtesy of Wikipedia

In the picture above, you can see the white picket railings of the “continuous walkways” and the tops of the signs for the shops below them.  The walkways ingeniously allow you to shop and walk throughout the city while keeping dry, since rain is an ever-present (although not unpleasant) part of life in Northern England.  The Rows themselves date from the 17th century, although most were built far more recently, in Victorian times.

The Crypt
The Crypt, a pub in The Rows dating back to A.D. 1180. Yes, it really was a crypt at one time.

This part of town also houses the most exquisite restaurants and pubs.  Richard and I had a terrible time choosing where to eat lunch and finally settled on, of all things, a French bistro that was absolutely heaving with people.  By this point in our trip, we’d had plenty of meat pies and heavy ales and desired something a bit lighter.  French bistro food sounded ideal.

Easter Time
We shall never forget what time of year we visited England…

We found a table for ourselves on the first storey (second floor, to us Amurricans) of cafe f.b., Boulangerie et Cafe Françaís on Northgate Street.  Their menu was simple and straighforward: an assortment of freshly-made sandwiches served with the soup du jour, potato-leek.  I went with the bacon and Brie sandwich, along with a cup of tea to warm my bones back to normal body temperature.  The sandwich was every bit as delicious as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be: toasty French bread, with thick, dusky strips of English bacon (so different from our own) and hot, bubbly hunks of Brie on top, melting down to the plate.  The potato-leek soup was heavy yet fresh, thanks to the strong taste of the leeks.  It was the perfect meal to fuel us on a cold, rainy English afternoon with much more walking ahead.

Fruit Stand
Fruit stands throughout the city, at every turn.

Second part of our Chester trip to follow tomorrow… 

Searching For Terms In All The Wrong Places

It’s that time of year again folks: the time of year when I take my favorite search engine terms from the past few weeks and feature them here to the delight and amusement of…me.  And hopefully you.  We’ve got some doozies this time, so enjoy!

  1. should I buy a week’s worth of groceries?  I love questions like this.  Totally open-ended questions that divulge nothing whatsoever about your lifestyle, spending habits, cooking skills, number of mouths to feed or personal tastes, therefore almost guaranteeing that any possible answer that a search engine — or a person — could give you will be utterly useless.  Sure!  Buy a week’s worth of groceries!  Or don’t!  I just answered your question!  Whee!!!
  2. is pinkberry kosher for passover?  Although I incorporate a lot of Yiddish phrases into my everyday vocabulary as a result of having a whole lot of Heeb friends throughout my life and prefer Hebrew National hot dogs over any other brand, I don’t think that these two things qualify me as an expert on either Pinkberry or kosher food.  Also, here in Houston we’re blessed not to have Pinkberry in the first place.  We have TCBY, people.  Straight up. But in an effort to answer your question, Pinkberry is still a bit of a mystery.  If there’s any gelatin in it at all, then it’s not kosher, period.  During Passover or any other time.  Kosher means you can’t mix dairy and animal products, which means that yogurt containing gelatin would be non-kosher.  However, if it doesn’t contain gelatin, then you’re fine.  And it’s not made from grain and therefore wouldn’t be considered chametz.  …honestly.  You’re a really bad Jew for not knowing that…  I bet you didn’t get rid of all your chametz before Passover, either, did you, schmendrik?  Long story short: just eat some of this if you’re craving dessert during the Seder:  Cure for Passover blues.
  3. asperation dates on food?  I don’t even know where to begin with this question.  What are you asking?  Are you asking about “expiration” dates?  I hope so, because I wouldn’t know anything about mandated due dates for making food rough and uneven.  Either way, I’m pretty sure no one’s going to answer your question until you learn how to spell.
  4. how to slaughter a lamb on a farm?  Is this even your lamb to begin with?  That’s what concerns me here.  If you’re working on a farm, and that lamb belongs to you, you should bloody well know how to slaughter it without having to resort to Google.  Otherwise, you might want to find a new occupation.  If this isn’t your lamb, you have larger problems which are too numerous to address here.
  5. your can cep about happiness?  …yeah.
  6. rachael ray naked pics?  NO.  NO, NO, NO.  STOP ASKING.  Every single godforsaken day since I wrote this article, I’ve had this same question crop up at least three times per day.  Same goes to you creeps looking for naked Cat Cora pictures.  I mean, there’s food pr0n (the good kind, like this: use real butter) and then there’s me wretching in my mouth at the idea of boudoir photographs of Rachael Ray floating around out there somewhere on the internet.  SHE’S NOT EVEN CUTE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  IT’S LIKE LOOKING FOR NAKED PICTURES OF A STOAT.

That’s it, folks.  To take a line from Jon Stewart and I’ve Got The Munchies, here’s your Moment of Zen:


While this is not at all food-related (unless you’re my grandaddy’s friend Billy Garrett, who loves to eat possum), this made me nearly wet myself with laughter today:

Courtesy of the always hilarious Failblog.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

From the crazy, mixed-up files of…Macy’s and Consumerist:

Macy’s Confiscates Your Item Because Another Customer Wants It

Reader Dyan isn’t sure if she’s right on this one and wants to know if we think Macy’s owes her an apology. She was shopping at Macy’s last Saturday when she noticed a cast-iron pot on sale for $19.99. The display item was the last one in stock, so she asked if she could have it. An employee said she could, but before she could pay for the item the store’s manager stopped her and took the pot away because “another customer want[ed] it.”

Read on at the link above.

All I know (and all my poor friends and husband know, from witnessing my antics in stores and other public places) is that there is no way in hell that manager would’ve gotten away with that pot without a chunk of his ass missing from where I chewed it off.

I’ve been working since I was sixteen years old.  I’ve worked in the retail industry.  I’ve worked in the restaurant industry.  I’ve worked in call centers and I’ve worked in cafes.  My Day Job is in human resources.  And if there’s one thing that all these years of working have instilled in me, it’s this: there is no excuse for poor customer service.

Laziness is not an excuse.  A bad mood is not an excuse.  Being socially malformed is not an excuse.  Your customer is paying your wage, so whether you like it or not, you treat them like a fellow human being.  That’s all I’m saying.

Although it might be embarrassing to others around me, I don’t let people off easy when they’re rude to either me or my shopping/dining companions.  But I do realize that I’m definitely fighting an uphill battle: crappy customer service is winning, and we’re almost encouraging it.

What do you think?  Are Dyan and I making a big deal out of nothing?  Or are standards slipping?

Of course, there’s always the suggestion of one of the Consumerist’s readers: Lick the pot, thereby marking it as yours and putting the ball in the manager’s court.

The Shame, The Burning Shame!

I did something utterly embarrassing for lunch today. If you’d like to help me rid myself of the appalling amount of shame I have associated with this activity, you can read all about the dirty deed here:


There’s nothing like public atonement to cleanse one’s soul (and palate).

And for those of you wondering what I ate it with…a fork. Just a fork. No crackers, no fruit, no anything. A FORK.

*runs off sobbing*