That’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear me say that Houston should aspire to mimic anything that Dallas has done, and that includes things about Dallas that I do find quite lovely: the Arboretum, the Kalachandji temple, the new Whole Foods at Park Lane, large swaths of Lower Greenville and the redevelopment of Oak Cliff. As far as those things are concerned, I feel like Houston has our own interesting versions of them and doesn’t need to look to Dallas as a role model for such things.
But when it comes to the gigantic Farmers Market in downtown Dallas, I feel only a heavy heart for Houston.
It’s long been a fact that our own farmers markets have been segmented due to in-fighting and petty disagreements among the various organizers and farmers themselves. Way to let your entire city down because of ego and unresolved drama, folks.
There have been strides made, of course, and as a result we have a plethora of great markets to choose from…but most of them are only open on specific days of the week and most of them have a limited selection. How wonderful would it be if Houston had a central farmers market that was open at least five days a week, if not seven? I know full well that I’m probably the eight millionth person to complain about this and that my two cents are just that…two cents out of many.
So instead of whining and moaning, let’s be inspired by some of the photos from the Dallas market. Maybe we can be the change we hope to see in Houston.
I’ve been hard at work on my very first cover story for the Houston Press. Admittedly, the story wasn’t my idea (although I wish that it were); it was handed down to us from the powers that be at Village Voice Media. And I’m pretty sure that one of the major reasons they’re allowing me to do it is because it’s very photo-centric and my photography comes at a rock-bottom price: Free!
On the other hand, it meant so much to me that when I offered to do the story — everything from hunting down the participants, scheduling their photo shoots, interviewing the subjects, shooting the portraits, editing the photos, writing the story and doing behind-the-scenes work on the web extras like audio recordings and slideshows to accompany the feature itself — Margaret actually agreed to let me do it. Me. A non-journalist. A lowly blogger. Who — prior to a year ago — had never had anything published in print, yet alone was allowed to work on an entire feature by herself.
So far, everything has gone so well that we’re discussing doing another feature after this. Hooray!
Below, enjoy the outtakes from the upcoming feature “Kitchen Ink.” I think you can probably guess what the story is about.
The sixth day straight (out of ten) of working, walking, networking, schmoozing, live-blogging SXSW and shooting bands can sometimes lead to impaired judgment and poor decisions. Mental exhaustion will do that to a person. Which is what led me to think that ordering – and then consuming – 17 ounces of T-bone at Hoffbrau Steaks would be a good idea. I’ll just let the pictures below speak for themselves.
While the steak was tasty (after I sopped up all the grease with some spare bread and disposed of it), I still prefer my steaks cooked on a real grill – not a griddle – and definitely much smaller. I had a vicious meat headache within minutes of finishing it, and sweated it out walking the umpteen blocks back uphill to our hotel afterwards. The good news is that after all that protein, I had enough energy to finish off the day without consuming any caffeine or any of the terrifying energy drinks that every SXSW party seemed to have on hand like party favors. (Oh, wait – those were party favors. Ick.)
Still, the next time I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and a fuzzy head, I’m letting someone else choose both the restaurant and my food. A responsible someone else. Who’ll choose a salad and some fruit. Anyone?
Sunday night, my friend Marc was showing me handwritten letters that his grandfather, Otis, had saved through the years. They were beautifully written, with the kind of intricacy of language and penmanship (my God, remember penmanship??) that’s been lost to microscopic circuits, illuminated screens and instant gratification. One of the letters was from a friend, wishing Otis luck on the high seas in the kind of boisterous and inspiring yet entirely guileless prose that today’s motivational speakers only wish they could scrape together on their best days behind a podium.
It occurred to me the next evening that we often reserve expressing that kind of fond appreciation for others, keeping it to ourselves. These days it seems almost too schlocky to admit that appreciation, to open ourselves up in that way. And we get far too busy. Busy moments turn into busy days, busy days into weeks and without knowing it, we’ve completely forgotten to take that extra moment and tell our friends and family how much they mean to us, taking it for granted and assuming that they automatically understand our thoughts and feelings towards them.
I had a very difficult day on Sunday. I don’t want to expend further energy on even discussing why, but it was a very painful near-end to a time which I’m hoping will become a vague memory very soon. After taking care of my business, I headed to Anvil.
Say what you will about Anvil, that it’s uppity or expensive or scene-y (none of these things are true, by the way). I love it there. And this is why: Within moments of arriving, one of my favorite bartenders in Houston (it’s a very close tie between Marc Borel, the effervescent and knowledgable sommelier at 13 Celsius, Bobby Heugel, the cocktail wunderkind and gifted writer who created Anvil, Claire Sprouse, the spunky and inventive brains behind the bar at Beaver’s and Justin Burrow, the curmudgeonly yet kind man behind the beard at Anvil) was crafting what he and Bobby termed the “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” Manhattan, and four of my friends had already shown up to rally my flagging spirits and lift me out of my funk.
Anvil is the kind of bar where the bartenders take their craft very seriously, with much care and consideration, yet without an ounce of pretension. It’s the kind of bar where the regulars care just as passionately about cocktails or beer as they do about Filipino food, Russian literature, Nintendo games, graphic novels and 70s yacht rock. It’s the kind of bar where – at least on a week night – it’s impossible to leave without making a new friend, and not the kind of friend who’s hoping to eventually bed you.
And oh, my friends. Ann and Cathy gently listened to me rant and rave, offered kind shoulders and understanding nods. Marc and Jason made me laugh, took me out to get tater tots and French silk pie at House of Pies and took me home after it became apparent that I’d had too much too drink. Countless people consoled me on Twitter and Facebook, offered supportive text messages and phone calls. I felt suddenly so much less alone, so much less adrift in all the craziness that seems to have permeated certain parts of my life lately.
I may not say it enough. I may forget to say it. I may want to say it, but my shyness creeps up and smothers me. (And although people don’t seem to believe me when I tell them this, I struggle with almost crippling shyness nearly every minute of every day – I’ve just gotten better at talking through it and masking it after 29 years…) But I do think it all the time: I have amazing friends. I have an amazing family. And you all make my life so much better simply by existing.
Of all the many throwdowns, smackdowns and showdowns I’ve attended and judged (including the one ill-fated smackdown that I organized), this past Monday’s was the best one yet, both in terms of accumulated talent and organization. And although there were some folks in attendance that I could have done without seeing and frankly wish would leave Houston altogether (is that negativity? or just honesty? sometimes it’s hard to tell…), I had a wonderful time.
And although I really enjoyed judging the first Houston Chowhounds throwdown (Monday night’s was the fourth) — which meant all the fried chicken I could possibly eat and then some — the thing I enjoy most about these get-togethers is snapping photos. Hope you enjoy some of my favorites below.
January can be a difficult time of year for most of us, financially, owing to the one-two punch of the holidays and the fact that most companies no longer provide any kind of Christmas bonus (and, no, Jelly of the Month clubs don’t count). It was particularly tough for me this year, owing to the dual facts that (1) getting divorced is rather expensive and (2) working at an alt weekly – while magical and fulfilling in many ways, including in the way they let us drink beer at work – means that I make very little money.
More destitute than ever, I’ve been hoarding the gift cards I received at Christmas – a $5 Chick-Fil-A card here, a $5 Starbucks card there – knowing full well that there will be dry periods when a chicken sandwich and a grande coffee materializing out of seemingly thin air will make me feel like a triumphant prince among men. Or princess. (It doesn’t have the same ring to it, really.) And I’ve been lucky recently to have meals paid for by thoughtful friends getting me back for a meal they owed me – a great system, I suggest everyone invest in it – or generous friends treating me to a night out for helping them with a project or just because we haven’t caught up in a while.
And while I’m sitting pretty today with $172 in the bank after all my bills have been paid, the shadow of being in debt as I have been so many times before and in much fatter, richer times looms overhead constantly. So on nights when I’m not working or going out, I patiently stare at my refrigerator, my little pantry and wait for ideas to spring to mind from ingredients that I already have on hand. It should be noted that I’m not very good at this. I’ve written about this process (and its accompanying failures) before. And tonight wasn’t all that different.
Tonight’s meal was Basmati rice with stewed tomatoes, cooked down in a little olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar and red wine. Not terribly interesting. Not particularly inventive. Not going into any recipe books any time soon. But it was tasty, it filled me up, it gave me leftovers for lunch tomorrow and it made me happy.
This isn’t some hoary argumentum ad lazarum where I’m going to try and convince you that I’m happier now because I’m poor. Am I making far less money now than I ever have? Yes. Am I more satisfied with my life now than I’ve ever been? Yes. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? No. But it is one of the things that’s making me happier these days. I’m living on less and making more of myself and more of my life. I’m not living on anyone else’s money but my own these days. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. And I’m more accountable and aware than ever. And there is a quiet, calm beauty in that.
I’ve made a few recent weekend trips to Austin — for work both times — but managed to have a little fun on the side while I was there. This most recent trip to the Hill Country was for the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) and just to answer any questions you may have, let me just say this: I saw exactly one band over the course of three days, subsisted on nacho cheese Doritos and Red Bull in the media area and worked for a good portion of the weekend with my laptop in a clear plastic garbage bag to protect it from the torrential rain.
The highlight of that particular weekend was getting fresh carnitas tacos (with pickled habanero peppers!) and elotes slathered with mayonnaise and parmesan cheese delivered to the tent courtesy of an Austin taco restaurant whose name I shamefully can’t remember (I think I was distracted by fighting for the last plug on the lone power strip so my laptop didn’t die). And after the last band played on Sunday night, Groovehouse and I packed our gear, hiked out of Zilker Park and back to our car, where we promptly deposited a heavy load of cameras, lenses, batteries, docking stations, laptops, iPhones, power chargers and all manner of 21st century detritus before walking to Shady Grove for a late dinner.
It was far from the best meal I’ve ever had, but we both dove headfirst into our veggie burgers and salads, clinging desperately to the promise of roughage cleaning out our systems from the trash we’d shoved into it all weekend. I reflected later on the poor quality of my Thai noodle salad and how eagerly I devoured it, thinking that I should never, ever, ever review food when famished.
The trip to Austin before the three-day endurance sport that was ACL was decidedly more relaxed, however. I was in town at the request of Robb Walsh, serving as a preliminary judge for the 19th annual Austin Hot Sauce Festival. I chronicled my misadventures on Sunday in a recent post on the Houston Press, if you care to read about how sick I got somewhere around sampling my 200th salsa. The highlight of that trip was a meal at Moonshine, the pictures from which are below.
And they still look pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself.