The Dallas Farmers Market: What Houston Should Aspire To Emulate

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.

Continue reading The Dallas Farmers Market: What Houston Should Aspire To Emulate

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

I started this blog in November 2007. Over two and a half years later, things have changed significantly.

I am no longer employed in the HR department of a large, corporate behemoth, but am now working for an alt weekly.

I am no longer married, but am now kicking it Mary Tyler Moore-style surrounded by amazing friends and a supportive family.

I am no longer living in a thoroughly modern condo in the suburbs, but am now the current custodian of a lovely 1920s slice of history in the inner city.

And soon I will no longer be the web editor for the Houston Press, the amazing job that I’ve held for the past year and a half. Continue reading To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

The Art of Charcuterie

My first “real” feature for the Houston Press, “Designer Meats,” came out last Thursday. It was the third attempt at writing a full-blown feature in a couple of months, as my first two ideas fell though.

Charcuterie is something I’ve always been interested in, and was planning on doing a series of blog posts for Eating…Our Words about the various chefs around town who were reviving the craft here in Houston (seeing as how it’s already experienced a long overdue renaissance in other cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco).

So when my other two stories fell through, this seemed like the perfect answer: combine all those blog posts I was going to do into one, full-length story. Brilliant! Except for one thing…

I found out through the course of interviewing various chefs that some charcuterie — in particular, the hard cured meats that are hung to dry — is considered illegal in Houston. It seemed ludicrous to me that a food preparation technique that has been around since the dawn of man and is still used throughout the world to this day would be illegal because U.S. health laws are still in the dark ages compared to, say, Europe. On the other hand, this wasn’t why I set out to do the story and I eventually turned in my copy with no mention of the illegality of the situation.

You can probably guess what happened next. Continue reading The Art of Charcuterie

Maple-Mustard-Ginger Glazed Chicken

Another night at home? With no events to attend? Cooking for myself? With fresh veggies and fruits and a bottle of wine? This must be what heaven is like.

I had expected to have some friends over tonight, but the rain saw fit to give us a literal raincheck. Only wanting to cook something for one, as well as use up some stuff I’d bought a few days earlier at random, I threw together a pantry meal that made me as happy as any meal in a restaurant.

I had one chicken breast left over from Friday night, so I butterflied it and made a glaze of one part maple syrup, one part ginger and two parts Gulden’s brown mustard, with a pinch of salt, then set about pan-searing it. (With all apologies to Plinio, for whom the phrase “pan-seared” is offensively redundant.) In another pan, I cooked down some fingerling potatoes and multi-colored French baby carrots. I left the carrots a little crunchy, which is how I prefer them and — if I’m being honest — why I sometimes prefer cooking for one. We can indulge in all of our strange dining peccadillos without imposing them on others.

If I weren’t feeling so tired tonight (and if I hadn’t been so hungry), I would have breaded the chicken and stuck it into the oven with that glaze. Perhaps next time. As it was, it was quite delicious. And dessert — the rest of the strawberries and raspberries from this weekend’s FAILberry pie — with a little almond milk and sugar — wasn’t too shabby, either.

I could get used to this.

Sweet Potato Curry

I’ve been so busy lately that to get a rare night at home — on a weekend, no less — is pure bliss. I had intended to spend my Friday night cooking and baking — two things I haven’t been able to do at all recently — but the baking portion of the evening ended up as a big old pile of fail, and should never be discussed again. Luckily, my best friend invited herself over to “watch me cook,” which I found highly amusing but welcome, and the night turned into a cooking party for two.

It’s always nice to have another person in the kitchen, especially when they’re good at chopping vegetables. I’m so accustomed to cooking alone — which, like I imagine gardening or sewing are for other people, is extremely calming and meditative for me — that I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to create a meal with another person.

I made my mother’s lovely sweet potato curry, which is more of a winter dish but with liberal amounts of lime juice and cilantro can be easily perked up into a summer dish as well. Her recipe is below (p.s. Thanks for writing all your recipes down for me, mom and Meemo! Best. Gift. Ever.). It’s quick and easy to throw together and will feed at least four people, especially with a potful of Basmati rice to go along with it.

Sweet Potato Curry

  • 2 1/2 t. canola oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs. chicken or pork, cubed
  • 1 1/4 lbs. sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 T. oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 1/4 T. fresh ginger
  • 2 T. curry powder (I prefer Maharajah curry from Penzey’s)
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 c. frozen green peas
  • 1/2 c. frozen edamame
  • zest from one lime
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro

Saute chicken or pork in canola oil until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In a deep pan or pot, saute shallot in oil. Add ginger, curry powder and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add chicken, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and two pinches of salt. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.

Remove from heat and stir in frozen peas, edamame and lime zest. Serve over Basmati rice and top with chopped cilantro. I also like to add the juice of the lime I zested for even more pep.

—-

This recipe makes fantastic leftovers if you’re only cooking for one (as I usually am). But with Hala around on Friday night, I only had enough leftovers for one meal. Here’s to good friends and good appetites.

Cheers!

Takeout. Er…Outtakes.

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.

Taka Sekiyuchi, executive chef at Sushi Raku.
Chaunte Gooden, executive chef at Lucky Strike.
James Silk, chef and co-owner at Feast.
Chefs and line cooks at The Rockwood Room.
Jose Luis Vela, executive chef at Mockingbird Bistro.
Mindy Kucan, mixologist at Anvil.
Brandon Allen, sous chef at The Rockwood Room.

The Meat Sweats

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.

Parnters in crime: Brigitte, Hala, Dave, Marc and Adam.
World famous for one thing, and one thing only: steaks.
There's no menu at Hoffbrau. You eat what they have. Including this very garlicky salad.
Adam decided to be a rebel and ordered extra onion rings with his meal.
Hoffbrau is more than a bit lost in time, in a comfortable and comforting way.
Hala was ready for her steak.
My rare T-bone (yes, it's sitting in a pool of butter) before...
A brief interlude of steak fries, each one the size of an ear of corn.
...and my steak after. The gristle was happily consumed by Adam, as we all watched in horror.
Shiner Bock beer, salad, steak fries and T-bone grand total: $22, including tip. Not bad.

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?

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Justin Burrow and a perfect Manhattan.

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.

German-style pretzel with mustard at 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.

The bottle marked P.I.G. holds pear-infused gin.

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.

Marc.

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.

Jason (fuzzy, in foreground).

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.

So thank you.

Mushroom Madness

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.

Carlos Rodriguez of Vic & Anthony's may be a jerk, but he plates a mean dish.
The team from Brenner's was like a mad symphony working the line.

Patricia Sharpe of Texas Monthly took photos of all the dishes she judged.
Continue reading Mushroom Madness

Why Are You So Terribly Disappointing?

Photo by bottleleaf

Big thanks to Jeff Balke for sending this timely article my way.

One only needs to read the comments section of this Eating Our Words post to see just how painfully accurate Mark Morford’s recent op-ed piece in the SF Gate is: Why Are You So Terribly Disappointing? This passage in particular rings true for anyone who writes or blogs publicly:

You have but to take a peek in the comments section below this column, any column, any article on this or any news site whatsoever, to see just how mean and nasty we have become. It does not matter what the piece might be about. Obama’s speech. High speed rail. Popular dog breeds. Your grandmother’s cookies. The anonymous comments section of any major media site or popular blog will be so crammed with bile and bickering, accusation and pule, hatred and sneer you can’t help but feel violently disappointed by the shocking lack of basic human kindness and respect, much less a sense of positivism or perspective.

Why? What happened to us along the way? Are we the ultimate generation of entitlement, having never been taught that we have to earn respect, material possessions and upward mobility and not have them blindly given to us? Are we the ultimate generation of lazy, idle dissatisfaction, doomed never to be happy with anything no matter how fantastic those things may be? Are we the ultimate generation of hatred, rudeness and enmity?

Is this legacy that we’re going to leave behind for future generations? When did so many of us become so unhappy?

If fewer of us could hide behind the anonymity that tools like the Internet provides, if more of us could look to the many positive aspects of our lives, if we could all abide by the Golden Rule, how much happier would we be? And how much simpler would life be? It’s easy to fall into a funk of your own, focusing on the negativity of others. But we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to each other and to our children and grandchildren, to not allow an entire generation to be swallowed and consumed by complacent, needless hatred.

The question is: What will you do to fight back?