You Only Live Once

February 1, 2008 by  
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Camp offers teens the time of their lives

Dealing with life’s little challenges can be difficult for anyone. For teens coping with life-threatening illnesses, the challenges are enormous and day-to-day life can be a tough uphill battle.

For these teenagers, life is vastly different from their peers. Instead of focusing on friends and social events, they are occupied with treatments and hospital visits. At a time when other teens deal with growing pains, they face surgeries, the possibility of losing their hair or learning to live without the use of their limbs. While other teens feel immortal, these teens understand reality; they know the end can be very near. The Periwinkle Foundation at Texas Children’s Hospital aims to help make their lives a little more normal, even if only for a weekend.

Named for the perennial flower used in the treatment of cancer, the Periwinkle Foundation develops and provides recreational and artistic programs that help patients emotionally, while the doctors help them physically. The foundation and Texas Children’s Hospital launched the first camp for teens in 1998. The first session was called simply “Teen Camp.” The participants of that inaugural weekend were asked to choose a formal name for the camp, and came up with “You Only Live Once,” YOLO for short.

Have fun
Camp YOLO is held two weekends each year at the Camp For All facility in Burton, Texas; each session hosts about 300 campers and volunteers, and is free for Texas Children’s Hospital patients. A positive, empowering theme is created for every session of Camp YOLO by co-Directors Jen King, Mital Brahmbhatt, and Assistant Director Tahra Peterson. Last fall, the message was “Mission: Possible.” There are a multitude of activities at the camp: high ropes, arts and crafts, horseback riding, paintball, archery and a 50-foot rock-climbing wall with a zip line. Participants gather around campfires, watch fireworks and attend parties. Camp YOLO ends with a symbolic Wish Boat ceremony where campers light candles signifying wishes they made for themselves, the kids in their cabin or the whole camp. When all wishes have been made, they sail the candles across the camp’s lake in a boat.

Getting loose
The camp is staffed by many of the doctors and nurses who help treat the teens. A few former campers have also returned to lend their support. Dr. Bryan Cannon, a pediatric cardiologist, serves as a counselor and contributes to the advisory board. “It just feels stiff and uptight at the hospital, but then [at Camp YOLO, the campers] see me running around, jumping off things and having fun,” says Cannon. “It gives them a different perception of us, and we have a different relationship. I can see the treatments that help the kids, and they can see the nurses and doctors as people who care about them, instead of people who just care about their disease.”

The counselors have very simple goals at Camp YOLO: make camp a fun experience for every participant, encourage them to have fun, and keep order. “After all, they are teenagers,” Cannon says. “When the camp first started, we were basically guessing at what we were doing.” Their guesses were right on the mark. In April, Camp YOLO celebrates a decade of helping teenagers build confidence and gain independence while they fight life-threatening illnesses.

Happy Campers
Camp YOLO also allows campers to bring a sibling of the same age range with them. Many times, when one sibling is diagnosed with an illness, other siblings feel neglected or restricted from normal interaction. Often they are afraid that they will hurt or harm their sick brother or sister. Camp YOLO allows them to play games and have fun while having the security of a health professional to intervene if the fun exceeds the limits of the ill teen.

“Camp YOLO is basically whatever they need,” Peterson says. “Whether they need to have fun or have someone to talk to, Camp YOLO is a safe haven for them.”

A year ago, one patient was told she did not have very long to live. One of her last wishes was to attend Camp YOLO. Shortly before she died, she scaled the climbing wall and rode a horse. “She had a big smile on her face, and we gave her a weekend to just be a teenager,” says Peterson.


The Truth in Consequences

February 1, 2008 by  
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Teens learn how CHOICES Impact future

For teens and their parents, life has its fair share of growing pains. Among the biggest challenges they face is learning to communicate effectively. Gary Frizzell, an employee from Seattle-based Qwest Communications, faced a similar problem when he tried connecting with his troubled 14-year-old son. Instead of making progress, he found himself constantly butting heads with his teen. Before losing all hope, Frizzell wrote a series of letters to his son. He carefully thought of what he had to say, how to logically say it and demonstrate how consequences come from choices made each day. By giving his son the simple facts about life in an objective voice, Frizzell hoped he could break the communication barrier between the two of them … and it worked.

He wondered if this could work for his son, would it work for others?

In 1983, with the encouragement from a local school counselor, Frizzell founded CHOICES, a workshop that helps teens realize the important role academics play in achieving success. No nagging, lecturing or confrontations – just straightforward conversation to get facts and insight from a person who has experienced the real world.

It takes a village
Within a year, Frizzell successfully amassed a team of about 400 co-workers to work with teens across the Pacific Northwest giving CHOICES presentations. More than 20 years later, the program touches lives coast-to-coast. By licensing the material and providing training to volunteers, the social enterprise reaches out to 1,000 students in 260 different locations each school day. Texas’ six program sites alone will reach more than 11,000 teenagers in 2008.

Entergy Texas and the Education for Tomorrow Alliance brought the program to the Houston area. Business people and students tackle challenging questions about school, the working world, life and the future.

Keith Hazelwood, a 55-year-old financial planner has volunteered for the program in Conroe since 1998. He first heard about CHOICES at a chamber of commerce meeting. Since then, he has given more than 50 presentations. “The fact that I’m not [the student’s] parent or teacher gets them to listen to me more often than not,” he says.

CHOICES incorporates activities into its workshops where Hazelwood points out the importance of self-discipline, goal setting, time and money management and personal responsibility. Through interactive role-playing situations, Hazelwood helps teens understand the importance of education to their future.

“I start with an introduction that compares today’s teens, to teens [from when] I was in ninth grade,” says Hazelwood.

In two 50-minute sessions, volunteers take students through real-world exercises to show teens they can take charge of their lives. Following the workshop, teens should be able to develop positive skills and habits for success in high school and beyond.

At the end of each presentation, the teens get a chance to speak their mind about their experience with CHOICES through a survey. “The feedback for me is mostly positive,” notes Hazelwood. “My daughters never thought I was ‘cool’ when they were in high school, but I get that comment quite often.”

What is the key to crossing the generation gap?

“I talk to them the same way I talk to my customers – with respect,” says Hazelwood. However, he does recount one memorable comment on a survey where a teen wrote: “It was all good information; he can’t help it if he is a boring speaker.”

“Guess you can’t win ’em all,” jokes Hazelwood.


Betsy Weber

February 1, 2008 by  
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Betsy Cook Weber’s passion for music developed at an early age — even her childhood dream was to become a music teacher. Dreams do come true; she is the director of undergraduate choral studies at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. That long title has its genesis in a small scholarship.

Raised near Hobby Airport, Weber loved and admired her music teachers. “I wanted to grow up to be just like them,” Weber says. She wanted to follow their footsteps, and planned to major in music education at North Texas State University in Denton. “Back then, NTSU had the best music education program,” Weber says.

Just as she set her heart on North Texas State (now called the University of North Texas), her father suffered a back injury that forced Weber’s family into a financial bind. Her parents told her they could still afford college tuition, but not room and board. Determined to chase her dream, Weber began the process of finding a way to earn money.

It was during this time, in 1970, that Ross Sterling High School faculty members established a college scholarship by pulling $450 together. Weber was awarded the money. She still gets teary-eyed when she recalls how much that scholarship meant to her. “[That] doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it was enough to spur me on my way,” she says. “It got me thinking that with a part-time job, I could just make it. Small scholarships are huge gifts to students like me on the economic edge.”

Four years later, she earned her Bachelor of Music degree from NTSU and began her full-time music education career at Wilchester Elementary in the Spring Branch school district. “I earned $7,800 a year. That amount is emblazoned on my mind forever,” Weber says. “It helped me realize how difficult it was for my Sterling High teachers to raise the funds for my scholarship.”

Wanting to perpetuate the spirit of giving, Weber found a way to save $450 from her own small teaching salary. She took the money to the choral director at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and requested it be anonymously donated to a deserving student. “I asked her to find a student like me who wanted to major in music education. I trusted her to find the right person,” Weber says.

More than 30 years later, learned who received the precious $450 scholarship she had donated during her first year of teaching. The student was Jan Taylor, who is now the choral director at Prairie View A&M University. Taylor is also in the doctoral program at Moores School of Music and Weber is among her faculty advisors.

Since that first donation, Weber has kept up and expanded her scholarship contributions. She and her husband Rick now fund a heftier music education scholarship. The two will be honored for their generosity and dedication by the Moores Society at the annual dinner and concert Feb. 23. The event is the major fundraiser for the Moores School of Music.

Constantly teaching and coaching musicians, Weber has taught in public schools and at the University of Houston; she served for nearly 10 years as the assistant choral director for the Houston Symphony. Today, she concentrates on directing college vocal ensembles. Under Weber’s guidance, the Moores School Concert Chorale wowed its audience at the American Choral Directors biennial convention in Miami in March. Moores’ concert chorale received two standing ovations. “It is the equivalent of winning the national championship in football,” Weber said.

Weber, the proud mother of one daughter who is in college, has nurtured and taught students at all levels in Houston and throughout nation. It is Weber’s teaching and coaching skills that are in great demand for festivals and clinics all over the country. “I’m a bad singer but a good coach,” Weber says. “I get others to sing well.”

*(Author Fran Peterson is one of the Chairs of the Moores School Dinner Concert)

Here Comes the Bride

February 1, 2008 by  
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More than 18,000 people, 5,933 of whom were brides planning their weddings, attended the two-day Bridal Extravaganza Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center last month. Taking up a space as large as five football fields, this giant show featured amazing displays of cakes, gowns, flowers, invitations, limos and virtually everything else needed to plan a dream wedding.

One of the most popular attractions was the Couture Collection, a special section of vendors who offer custom items. Many of the designer’s creations were highlighted in VIP fashion shows on the Couture Stage. Featured gowns were from: Winnie Couture, Ora’s Exclusive, Miguel Rodriguez and Princess Bridal. Other custom vendors included: J Roe Photography, Who Made The Cake?, Elegant Bridal Bouquet, The Perfect Touch Linens, Courtyard on St. James, The Perfect Face, Designer Destination Weddings, Distinctive Details, Rockefeller Hall and the Hilton Houston Westchase.

A total of nine fashion shows took place on the main stage during the two-day event. Each show pulled in about 1,200 spectators to view fashions by: David’s Bridal, Alfred Angelo and Al’s Formal Wear, MW Tux and Ventura’s Bridal.

Best Chefs

February 1, 2008 by  
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Sylvia Casares
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen
12637 Westheimer
Houston 77077

Sylvia Casares decided to work through tough times, and in the end, it was the right choice. After opening her establishment in January 1998, she had little success and considered selling her eatery. “I wasn’t making any money,” she says. “But I slept on it and decided to fight.”
The chef redecorated the restaurant and reorganized the menu, lumping all the enchiladas into two categories: north of the border and south of the border. The most prominent difference was a name change: Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen.
“That’s what people were giving me compliments on,” Casares says. “I renamed it so that they’d know what we were good at.”
And Houstonians do know, as the kitchen boasts 18 different enchilada varieties, all made from select ingredients.
“Some recipes are still the originals, while others I’ve tweaked a bit,” she says. “I know it’s a cliché but I use fresh ingredients, not powders,” Casares says. “I think a lot of places do the powder of out convenience. We do it the old fashioned way.”
Casares’ culinary skills stand out amongst the pack thanks to a prior career in food preparation. “I’ve figured out how to prepare home recipes in commercial quantities,” Casares says. “I’ve applied my professional and ethnic background. It’s basically 30 or 40 years invested in this.”
Before achieving success with Sylvia’s, Casares worked for two decades in the food research and development industry. She has a degree in home economics with a concentration in food and nutrition, and worked for Uncle Ben’s tasting recipes and developing and testing products.
“It was a big jump, going from corporate America to owning a restaurant,” Casares says. “But I had known how to cook from my time as a kid in Brownsville. I used to joke that I ate Mexican food every day for 18 years.”
In her younger days, Casares planned to become a teacher. Through her success at Sylvia’s she offers cooking classes in a dining room adjacent to the restaurant. Subjects include desserts, meatless enchiladas, breakfasts, tamales, and soups and stews.
“They love it,” she says of her students. “We all have a great time. I love what I do and I think it comes across in teaching. I’ve taken everything I ever learned in life to do this.”

Charles Clark
2450 Louisiana St.

Whether it’s going toe-to-toe with Chef Mario Batali on “Iron Chef America” or pleasing 400 guests, Ibiza’s Charles Clark is up to the challenge. “It’s actually more difficult to please the 400 guests,” Clark says with a smile. “That’s a lot of people to make happy, but we find a way. Houstonians are well-traveled, but they know there’s great food [in the city].”
His culinary training and experience took him from his hometown of DeQuincy, La., to Spain and Morocco, before bringing him in Houston. Clark waited tables throughout his life while assisting chefs with their menus. “I would point out different items and give them suggestions,” he explains. Before long, his employers realized his suggestions were right on the mark.” That’s when it clicked for me,” Clarks says. “I thought I didn’t have to work my way all the way up.” He enrolled in the Art Institute of Houston’s culinary school. After graduating, he set up shop in the Bayou City.
In 2001, he opened Ibiza — the convergence of his Iberian and Cajun influences — and dazzled Houstonian’s palates with incredible infusions of eclectic creations from down-home ingredients. His popularity grew in Houston, and it wasn’t long before he hit the national scene.
While attending the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., Clark met with individuals from the Food Network. After hearing Clark speak about his passion for the culinary arts, they asked him to submit his menus.
“I got a call asking if I wanted to go on Iron Chef,” he says. During his appearance, he chose to compete against Iron Chef Batali, who was undefeated. Following their battle, which featured halibut as the theme ingredient, Batali told Clark, “You got me.” “He had not lost up to that point, but he thought I beat him,” Clark says. However, the judges sided with Batali in one of the closest battles ever in Kitchen Stadium — Batali won by a single point.
Even so, Clark continues to be a winner in Houston’s fine dining scene.

Mark Cox
Mark’s American Cuisine
1658 Westheimer Rd.

Mark Cox risked a lot for love. He came to the Houston area to be near the woman of his dreams. His story has a happy ending — he married the woman and Houstonians have since fallen in love with him. Dining at Mark’s American Cuisine can be a religious experience. The restaurant is tucked inside an old church and the menu selection is nothing short of divine. Although Mark’s is at the forefront of the Houston fine dining experience, the original goal wasn’t to take the city by storm. “My main goal was to be under the radar, produce great food, make a living and be happy,” Cox says. Ten years and four major renovations later, Mark’s American Cuisine is a dining destination for Houstonians and visitors to the Bayou City. “There’s a special element to our location,” Cox says. “It’s an 81-year-old building, so there’s lots of history. But, there’s also lots of warmth. It’s a comfortable environment that feels like a big living room.” By consistently meeting and exceeding customers’ high standards, Cox has entrenched himself as one of the top chefs around. “We opened up to be a neighborhood place, built on good food and service,” he explains. “We pay attention to all of the details — on the menu, in our presentation and even the upkeep and maintenance schedule of the building. I think all of that makes a difference.” Before he was established in Houston, Cox says he didn’t plan to stay in the city. Instead, he has spent years winning the approval of critics and clientele. He has garnered dozens of awards for food, service, atmosphere and more. “I’m very honored by all the accolades from Houstonians,” he says. “We take the awards we’ve earned very seriously and we strive to provide an excellent dining experience for everyone. We’ve been here almost 11 years now and we’re improving with age.”

Lance Fegen
Glass Wall
933 Studemont St.

If Lance Fegen doesn’t appear on any “Best Chefs” list, that’s fine with him. “I’d rather be known for being a good dad, a good husband, or friend,” says the New Jersey native. “That’s what means the most to me.” Even so, Houston’s “Best Chefs” lists aren’t complete without his name.
Fegen was pleasing palates before he ever began his formal training. “My mother is Italian and growing up in New Jersey, we had the big family gatherings a few times a week,” Fegen says. “The kids would roll the meatballs and help out in the garden. It wasn’t unusual for 30 to 40 people to be in the house.” While other high school bachelors took their dates to movies or out to eat, Fegen cooked romantic dinners to win over his dates. “That was my move,” he says.
Fegen, a co-proprietor at Glass Wall, now wins over patrons with a menu and ambiance that reflects Fegen’s live-for-the-moment attitude. The menu changes monthly and food is ordered on a daily basis. “It’s just my personality,” he says. “I have a lot of fun in my life. When I learned to put being a good person, father and husband first, work got a lot easier.”
While Fegen admits his personality could ruffle feathers, he is at peace with his ability to live the lifestyle of his choice while pleasing discerning diners. “We do things a little bit differently, but it works. We are open five nights a week, [and we don’t slack off],” he says. “We still make time for surfing, fishing or whatever. But, when we are here, it’s all business.”
And for Glass Wall patrons, Fegen’s business is their pleasure.

GianCarlo Ferrera
5000 Westheimer

Chef GianCarlo Ferrera’s passion for culinary excellence upholds Arcodoro’s reputation for exquisite, authentic Italian food. “It was my passion for food [that led to this career path],” Ferrera says. “I was always helping my mother in the kitchen when I was 10 or 12. We used to cook Sunday lunch for everybody.” Raised in Italy before attending the culinary school at Centro Professionale Alberghiero in Salerno, Ferrera has 22 years of professional experience. Stops and training in Tampa Bay, Germany and Ireland, have led to his success and popularity. Ferrera caught his break in 2003, after a meal at Dallas’ Pomodoro Ristoranti Italiani. “[I was told] they needed a chef in Houston,” he recalls. “I called the owner and after a couple of meetings, I decided to come to Houston.”
The move planted the Italian squarely into Houston’s fine dining scene. Located in the Galleria area, Arcodoro impresses patrons with an expansive setting accented by natural light and aromas of pizzas baking in wood-burning ovens. “The thing that makes me feel good is when people tell me they had a wonderful meal, or that they’ve never had an experience like that before,” Ferrera says. “That makes me feel so happy.”
Ferrera spends most of his time pleasing customers with extraordinary, seasonal dishes in the cozy confines of a lavish patio and dining room. Entrees such as carnaroli rice simmered with squid ink, baked scampi and thyme exhibit Arcodoro’s Sardinian influence. Ferrera’s dishes, presented with incredible attention to detail, must be seen to be believed. “I cook for passion, not because it’s a job,” Ferrera says. “I cook with my mind and heart. It’s very important and that’s why I love this job.”

Rafael Galindo
Café Red Onion
3910 Kirby

When starting at the bottom of a restaurant’s hierarchy, there’s no place to go but up. That was the case for Café Red Onion’s Rafael Galindo. He started his journey as an 18-year-old dishwasher. Twenty-five years later, he is the chef and owner of a Houston restaurant empire featuring regional Latin American dishes.
For Galindo, a hectic day is a good day. “To me, the crazier the day, the better I thrive. I rise to the challenge under unbelievable high pressure; and I love it,” he says.
While Houston has more than its fair share of Mexican and Tex-Mex establishments, Galindo satisfies patrons with dishes from his home country of Honduras. His Central and South American fare with Caribbean influences is sure to please Tex-Mex enthusiasts. Diners who like Latin flavors are sure to enjoy his unique combinations like pork and plantains, a truly tropical flair.
In addition to combining tastes, Galindo combines enticing textures. Tender chicken breasts are stuffed into pablano peppers. Then the whole dish is covered in a crunchy corn and fruit relish. Or, for a more tropical flavor, chicken breasts are coated in pistachio nuts, and served over black beans with a fruit berry relish.
Houstonians don’t have to go far for a tropical get-away. Galindo’s Caribbean décor, Latin flavor fusions and cool, refreshing drinks create a tropical paradise. From the chips and pineapple salsa to the decadent tres leches, Galindo’s guests are wowed night after night.

Jason Gould
807 Taft St.

For Gravitas’ Jason Gould, there’s no place like home — whether it’s Houston, London, New York or Melbourne, Australia.
When he arrived in the Bayou City five years ago, he already had nearly 20 years of culinary experience under his belt. “I ended up in the United States by pure luck or divine intervention, whatever you want to call it,” says the Australian. “I trained in London and other places around Europe for 10 years and decided to go to New York.”
Hoping to find work, Gould actually moved out of Manhattan on Sept. 10, 2001. “I was going to go looking for a new job the next day. After the tragedies [of Sept. 11], I helped feed rescue workers around the city,” he says.
Having family in the Houston area, he relocated to here and has become entrenched in the culinary scene. Gould spent three years at Aries before opening Gravitas with Aries’ owner Scott Tycer two-and-a-half years ago. With a menu featuring an eclectic spin on steaks, seafood and even calf liver, Gould’s culinary artwork cannot be ignored.
Touting what he calls rustic American cuisine, Gravitas has fine dining in a casual atmosphere. As the eatery continues to grow in popularity, Gould plans to keep it in the forefront of Houstonian’s minds through a constantly evolving menu. SideBar, the lounge at Gravitas, features has an extensive drink list with top-shelf liquors and great section of wines and imported beers. Gould’s offerings in a chic, trendy setting have captured the hearts — and tastes — of diners across the city and state.
Gould says the Bayou City is a haven for fine and casual dining establishments.
“They say that in Houston, you can go out to eat every night for three years and not eat at the same place twice,” he says. However, with Gould at the helm, Gravitas is a stop Houstonians will want to make time and time again.

Kent Rathbun
9595 Six Pines Drive, Ste. 900
The Woodlands, TX 77380

At Jasper’s, Chef Kent Rathbun adds a personal touch to dining experiences not visible in food or presentation. “I think customer service is a dying art,” Rathbun says. “People will go to a restaurant with OK food if there’s really great customer service.” However, Rathbun is quick to add he does not settle for OK food. That determination has garnered local and national praise for Jasper’s in The Woodlands, as well as his establishments in the Austin and Dallas areas.
The chef earned national accolades after his apprenticeship at La Bonne Auberge, a five-star restaurant in Kansas City, Mo. Since then, Rathbun has exhibited his expertise at the world famous James Beard House in New York and at President George W. Bush’s 2001 Inaugural Ball. For the last four years, he has participated in the Taste of the NFL, the pre-Super Bowl culinary extravaganza. His experience also includes working in kitchens in New Orleans and Bangkok, Thailand. He uses all his experience to blend American, Cajun and Pacific Rim tastes with other Southwestern and Mediterranean influences.
Since opening his first restaurant in 1999, Rathbun has made his unique dining experience stand out, both on the plate and in the ambience. His travels include tours with top designers to see the latest in culinary decor. “I think in terms of design, Jasper’s can stand up to anything in Houston,” Rathbun says.
Recently, Rathbun completed an episode of “Iron Chef America,” which will air Feb. 24 on the Food Network. The chef says it was vital to come out with a good showing, which he felt he did, but not before working up a sweat. “The kitchen is very hot. Pretty much every piece of equipment is on full blast,” Rathbun says. “It was an experience unlike anything else.”
From training to his national television experience, Rathbun feels the time has paid off, as Jasper’s “gourmet backyard cuisine” has become a top draw for Houstonians and tourists. “I think Jasper’s offers a level of sophistication [at a price] that’s very palatable,” Rathbun says. “When I conceived Jasper’s, I wanted it to be a place where people could come a couple times a week and eat their favorite meal over and over.”

Marco Wiles
Da Marco
1520 Westheimer

When Houstonians asked, “Why can’t we have Italian food in Houston like they have in Italy?” Marcos Wiles answered with Da Marco Cucina e Vino. The Italian-born Wiles was never formally trained in the culinary arts. However, he honed his craft under the tutelage of legendary Houston restauranteur Tony Vallone.
“I learned a lot from Tony and working with him was a great experience. I also spent my summers in Italy,” Wiles says. “When I opened Da Marco, I wanted to open a place that would be successful in Italy, but located in Houston.”
Wiles has not had to worry about success. His innovative creations, exquisite service and indulgent dishes make him one of the best chefs in the United States.
By taking advantage of a world market, Wiles says he is able to provide patrons with authentic Italian food; products and preparation techniques in his Houston kitchen can be found in Italian kitchens. While New York and Los Angeles are usually at the forefront of the country’s fine dining locales, Wiles says Houston establishments can hold their own against those cities.
“There’s a lot of prestige with being in those cities. But there’s a lot of great places outside of there,” Wiles explains. Although Wiles could take his expertise to either coast, he insists on staying in the Bayou City. “This is a great city to raise a family,” he says. “New York is considered the ‘Capital of the World,’ and Los Angeles has all the celebrities, but neither city offers what Houston has.” As Wiles continues to impress Da Marco’s regular diners and win over newcomers, he has plans for another establishment specializing in coastal seafood.
“The menu will feature specialties from the Italian Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts,” Wiles says. “We will keep the same simple approach that we use in our kitchen.”
Whenever he decides it is time to open his new venture, Houstonians can be sure they will be treated to the same innovative indulgences they’ve come to expect from Wiles.

So you think you know Houston?

February 1, 2008 by  
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You know that Houston is the fourth-largest city in the nation; or at least you should know. Sure, as a typical Houstonian, you can tell us Houston was named for a great Texas general, sneak through back streets to avoid traffic jams and find Nieman Marcus with your eyes closed. But, really, how well do you know Houston? Let’s find out.

1. Houston was founded by the Allen Brothers. What were their first names?
A. John and Augustus
B. Calvin and John
C. Calvin and Hobbes
D. Augustus and Dallas

2. Incorporated on June 5, 1837, our city was named after Gen. Sam Houston. In what state was he born?
A. Texas
B. Virginia
C. Tennessee
D. New York

3. Speaking of Sam Houston, which government office did he NOT hold?
A. President of the Republic of Texas
B. Governor of Texas
C. Governor of Tennessee
D. U.S. Representative from Texas

4. Augustus Allen teamed up Gail and Thomas Borden to plot Houston’s streets. Originally, all of the streets were 80 feet wide except for Texas Ave., which was 100 feet wide. Why?
A. To accommodate cattle drives B. To accommodate parades C. To accommodate a Venice-style gondola system D. It just worked out that way

5. The far southeast boundary of Houston was the intersection of Crawford St. and Texas Ave. on the street grid designed by Allen and the Bordens. What famous Houston landmark sits on the east corner of that intersection?
A. City Hall
B. Union Station
C. The University of Houston
D. Market Square

6. Why is Downtown Houston’s street grid “tilted on its side?”
A. Surveyors were confused about which way was north
B. To fit in to that little pocket between I-10, I-45 and Hwy. 59
C. The streets were designed around the path of the bayou
D. Why not?

7. The Houston Evening Journal and the Houston Morning Chronicle merged to form which Houston publication?
A. The Houston Chronicle
B. The Houston Post
C. H Texas Magazine
D. The Houston Defender

8. In terms of height, Houston’s skyline is ranked No. 3 in the nation behind New York and Chicago. Which building is the tallest in Houston?
A. The JP Morgan Chase Building
B. One Allen Center
C. Shell Plaza
D. The Williams Tower

9. Union Station, which now houses the offices of the Houston Astros, served the city from 1911 to 1974 as a train station. During that time it also offered all of the following services EXCEPT… A. Meals
B. Newsstand
C. POW holding facility
D. Morgue

10. Before the Astros moved into Minute Maid Park, originally called Enron Field, they played in a facility known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” What was the official name of that building?
A. Colt Stadium
B. Harris County Domed Stadium
C. The Astrodome
D. Buffs Stadium

11. In 1960, the Houston Oilers were charter members of the American Football League. Where were home games played in their inaugural year?
A. Rice Stadium
B. Delmar Stadium
C. The Astrodome
D. Jeppesen Stadium

12. The Beatles’ concert tour came through Houston only one time. What year did they play at the legendary Sam Houston Coliseum?
A. 1963
B. 1964
C. 1965
D. 1966

13. Opened in 1937, the Sam Houston Coliseum was home to many of Houston’s famous musical acts, the rodeo and many sporting events. What concert venue was located right next to the Coliseum?
A. Rockefeller’s
B. The International Ballroom
C. Liberty Hall
D. The Music Hall

14. What do Ross S. Sterling, Howard Hughes, William P. Hobby and Roy Hofienz have in common?
A. They are all buried at Glenwood Cemetery
B. They all have Houston-area high schools named for them
C. They were all governors of Texas
D. They were all portrayed on film by Leonardo DiCaprio

15. In 2005, the Houston Astros became the first major league baseball team from Texas to play in the World Series. Which of the following players from that historic team is NOT a native Texan?
A. Lance Berkman
B. Brandon Backe
C. Roger Clemens
D. None of the above

16. For almost 50 years, Houston has made immeasurable contributions to the NASA program. Now known as the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, what was the original name of the NASA complex?
A. Space City U.S.A.
B. Space Center Houston
C. Manned Spacecraft Center
D. Mission Control

17. The Rockets were the first Houston franchise to win a major sports championship. The team was also the first area franchise to boast a league MVP. Who won it?
A. Moses Malone
B. Hakeem Olajuwon
C. Yao Ming
D. Rudy Tomjanovich

18. Which of the following events has NOT happened to Sammy the Owl, the mascot of Rice University?
A. Appeared in Playboy magazine
B. Put on trial
C. Kidnapped
D. Skydived into Rice Stadium

19. Sheryl Swoopes, one of the original Houston Comets, is widely credited for putting women’s basketball on the map. Where did she attend college?
A. San Jacinto College
B. Texas Tech
C. Southern Methodist
D. The University of Houston

20. Houston was the first major city to appoint a female police chief. Name the chief?
A. Kathy Whitmire
B. Sylvia Garcia
C. Elizabeth Watson
D. Yolanda Adams

21. Following her graduation from the University of Texas Law School, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison became a political correspondent for which Houston TV station?
A. KTRK Channel 13
B. KRIV Channel 26
C. KPRC Channel 2
D. KHOU Channel 11

22. FM 1093 is better known to Houstonians as what?
A. Westheimer Road
B. Old Spanish Trail
C. Richmond Avenue
D. Houston’s top hit station with the phrase that pays

23. According to Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Houston means _____________________.
A. “The Great Land” in the language of ancient Mayan culture
B. That I’m one day closer to you
C. I won’t stop driving until I’m through
D. The land of opportunity in the energy business

24. The novel-turned-movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” portrays how a Texas congressman and aHouston socialite influenced the fight against communism. Who now holds Charlie Wilson’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?
A. Nick Lampson
B. Jim Turnerv
C. John Cornyn
D. Ted Poe

25. In the movie “Apollo 13,” Tom Hanks utters the famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem.” Who was he portraying?
A. Neil Armstrong
B. Alan Shepherd
C. John Glenn
D. Jim Lovell

Quiz Answers

1. A. John and Augustus Allen founded Houston on Aug. 30, 1836.

2. B. Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793 in Rockbridge County, Virginia.

3. D. Sam Houston never served as a U.S. Representative from Texas. He was president of the Republic of Texas from 1836-38 and 1841-44, the governor of Texas from 1859-61 and the governor of Tennessee from 1827-29. He was also a U.S. Senator from Texas and a U.S. Representative from Tennessee.

4. C. Texas Ave. was “14 steers wide” to accommodate cattle drives.

5. B. Union Station was the hub of Houston’s growth. Opened in 1911, the 17 rail lines at Union Station connected Houston to any destination reachable by rail. Today, the building is the main entrance to Minute Maid Park

6. C. The streets were designed around the path of the bayou. Doing so would maximize commercial use of the waterway.

7. B The Houston Post was founded 1885 and was published daily until it folded in 1995. For years, the Hobby family owned the Post. Famous short-story author O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) worked for the newspaper for a brief time.

8. A. The JP Morgan Chase Tower stands 1,002 feet (75 stories) tall. It the tallest building in Houston, the tallest building in Texas, and, until 1990, was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Overall, it is the 10th tallest building in the country.

9. D. Union Station never housed a morgue. During World War II, the sixth floor of Union Station truly was a POW holding facility. The room still exists, but today it holds parties.

10. B. Harris County Domed Stadium, the world’s first fully air-conditioned mult-purpose stadium, had a couple of nicknames — the Eighth Wonder of the World and the Astrodome. The Astros moved there from hot, humid, mosquito-infested Colt Stadium in 1965.

11. D. The Houston Oilers played at Jeppesen Stadium from 1960-1964, the Astrodome from 1965-1996, then they bolted to Tennessee and became the Titans. Jeppesen Stadium, now known as Robertson Stadium, is home to the University of Houston Cougars and the defending MLS champion Houston Dynamo.

12. C. The Beatles visited Houston Aug. 19, 1965. The Fab Four played two shows; the afternoon show drew 10,000 screaming fans, while the evening show drew 12,000. Ticket price: $5. The Beatles’ share of the gate: $84,000.

13. D. The Music Hall was one of Houston’s most intimate musical venues. With a seating capacity of 3,000 and incredible acoustics, people flocked there to see performances by the Houston Symphony, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys and others. In 1998, the Coliseum and Music Hall were demolished to make way for the Hobby Center.

14. A. They all share Glenwood Cemetery on Washington Ave. as their final resting place.

15. C. Roger Clemens was born in Dayton, Ohio. He may be called the Katy Rocket, but he lived in the Buckeye State until 1977. Lance Berkman was born in Waco while Brandon Backe hails from Galveston.

16. C. The Manned Spacecraft Center opened in 1961 in Clear Lake. In1973, the year former President Lyndon B. Johnson died, it was renamed in his honor.

17. A. Moses Malone earned his first of two NBA MVP awards in 1979; his second came in 1982. Following the 1993-94 World Championship season, Hakeem Olajuwon earned MVP honors.

18. D. Sammy the Owl never skydived into Rice Stadium. In 1917, he was kidnapped by students from Texas A&M; in 1995 he was put on trial for disturbing the peace during a football game against the Aggies;and in 2004 he appeared in Playboy, fully feathered, of course.

19. B. She attended Texas Tech. Known as the female Michael Jordan, Swoopes has three Olympic Gold Medals and is the only three-time MVP (2000, 2002, 2005) in WNBA history.

20. C. Elizabeth Watson was the first female police chief of a major US city. She served from 1990-1992.

21. C. KPRC Channel 2 hired Kay Bailey as its first female reporter in 1967.

22. A. Westheimer Road. Probably the most popular street in Houston, FM 1093 begins where Westheimer Road intersects the West Loop and extends for more than 50 miles, ending at FM 3013 in Colorado County.

23. B. “Houston means that I’m one day closer to you” is a line from Larry Gatlin &the Gatlin Brothers’ No. 1 country hit “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You).” Larry Gatlin also played football at UH.

24. D. Republican Ted Poe has held the seat representing Texas’ Second Congressional District since 2005. Charlie Wilson — known as the Liberal from Lufkin (among other nicknames) — held the seat from 1973 to 1996. The district now includes the areas of La Porte, Spring, Humble and Kingwood, stretches northeast to include Cleveland before turning south and then east to include Beaumont and Port Arthur.

25. D. Hanks portrayed Jim Lovell. The commander of Apollo 13 reported to Mission Control a major malfunction aboard the capsule. However, Lovell’s actual quote was “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Lovell made a cameo appearance in the 1995 film as the captain of the Iwo Jima, the ship that recovered the capsule in the Pacific Ocean.

Hell Hath No Fury

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Revenge takes center stage in this story

Houstonian Jo Barrett’s second novel, “This is How it Happened,” hits bookstores just in time for Valentine’s Day. Ironically, it’s not a love story; it’s more like a chick-flick tangled inside an episode of “CSI.”

How far will one woman go for revenge? Is hiring a hit man taking things too far? Not for Madeline Piatro, who has been dumped, betrayed and pushed out of her company by her ex-fiancé. She spends the first half of the book obsessing about killing her ex and the second half having covert meetings with an actual hit man. All the while, she recalls the initial love story – thus providing the chick flick factor.

Will she conspire to kill her ex? Will she fall in love with the hit man? Will she pull the trigger? Will she actually send poisoned brownies to her former lover?

Similar situations might sound absurd; however, a brief review of local headline proves stories like Barrett’s aren’t too far from reality. Consider Clara Harris, famous for running over and killing her cheating husband in 2002. Last year, astronaut Lisa Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando, wearing a diaper, to confront her romantic adversary. Beware! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

While researching this book, Barrett interviewed hundreds of women with great “how I got back at my ex” stories. She does not advocate hiring a hit man: women don’t need to harm men in a physical way. They can use their minds to do much greater damage, she says.

Barrett is making the public relations circuit in New York, Los Angeles and Houston promoting her three-book contract with Harper Collins/Avon. Although small in stature, this Texan is the center of attention at most events. She’s giggly, bright and sexy, in a wholesome and appealing way. Her clean, expensive, New York style does not mask her sparkling personality. Like a gift from Tiffany’s, Barrett is the entire package: polished, dazzling and full of style. Her third book, “Inside the Loop,” is set in Houston, so be careful what you say the next time you see her at a social event.

Facts of Life You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have Houston

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

You are right. There are more people around town, more cars to take the parking space you want, and we have the nation’s second-largest Bible museum. You need to know all of this, and more, about your potential customers if you are going to recoup your investment losses in the Clemens &Pettitte Drug Store.

Here are a few short facts about Houston and our neighbors:

* Houston has more HOV lanes than any other city in the nation.
* More than one of every four Houstonians is foreign-born.
* The Houston area has more jobs than all of the state of Colorado.
* If you moved here from most any other big city, consider that you just got a hefty raise.
* Our living costs are 22 percent below average compared to most other major metropolitan areas.
* We spend more than half the city’s budget (52.78 percent) on public safety — so why can’t we ever find a cop when we need one?
* On average, we go through 393 million gallons of water a day.

Attention Lounge Lizards: One guaranteed ice-breaker is Houston traffic, so remember these facts and figures because they are great pickup lines in singles’ bars. “Hello, good looking. Did you know we have 3,107,456 vehicles in Harris county, including — no surprise — 31,730 large trucks? That is an increase of 169,081 total vehicles over the previous year. Every time you backed out of your driveway in 2007, weekends included, there were 463 more vehicles on the road than there were the day before.” Such sweet nothings work every time.

Incidentally, we number crunchers and head counters speak in strange terms, so when I refer to an MSA, that is our Metropolitan Statistical Area. This includes Harris and the surrounding seven counties, plus Austin and San Jacinto counties.
In this MSA, there are a stunning 43,965 adults with no schooling completed. Another 287,316 got no further than the 8th grade. At the other end, we have almost 300,000 neighbors with a graduate or professional degree.

Speaking of education, including Texas A&M and Sam Houston State, we have 144,017 students attending our senior colleges and universities in the region, which is actually down 2,430 from the previous year. But we have even more students (149,179) enrolled in our community colleges.

Let’s look at our continuing flow of newcomers, because they keep arriving. As of the last official count, summer of 2006, Houston’s population was 2,144,491, up 190,860 from the 2000 census. Harris County’s population stood at 3,886,207, which was an increase of 485,653.

This MSA’s population was 5,539,949 – a jump of 824,547. So in those six years, the city of Houston increased by the size of Amarillo, while the county’s population jumped by the size of Corpus Christi and Amarillo combined. Since 2000, it was as though every man, woman and child in the Albuquerque MSA moved to this MSA. Sometimes, I think they did.

If Harris County was a state, it would rank 27th in the nation in population, ahead of Oregon and Oklahoma. If the city of Houston was a state, it would rank 36th in population, behind Nevada but ahead of New Mexico.

Here in the nation’s fourth-largest city amidst the skyscrapers and freeways, 1,034 Houstonians list their occupation as farmer, fisher or forester. Include the entire county, and the number is 2,173. We are big into agriculture, with nursery crops being worth more than a half billion dollars annually. We even do more than a million dollars a year in Christmas trees. But we continue to pave over the back 40. Harris County is now 19.12 percent agriculture acreage, down from 20.2 percent in 2005. The year before it was 22.7 percent, and the previous year it was 23.2 percent. In the meantime, we have 20 nuclear engineers. At this point, some are asking, “How do we know this?” Once again, the Greater Houston Partnership has produced Houston Facts, a compilation of everything around us. The new twist is that the annual report is now online. You can read it at: But, Houston Facts is 66 pages long, so you may want to go ahead and buy a copy. It costs $10.

OK, where were we? The Bayou City is aptly named: 25 percent of Harris County lies within the 100-year flood plain. Elevation varies from zero to 310 feet above sea level. In area, the city of Houston covers 639 square miles, adding five square miles since 2005, and spreads into three counties. Within this area, Houston could contain all of the following cities: New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. Harris County contains all or part of 35 cities, and there are 126 cities in this MSA. That’s a lot of mayors and a lot of gavels.

How do you commute to work? In Houston there are 2,468 workers who ride a bike to their jobs, while 16,357 walk. When it comes to income, households making $10,000 or less per year outnumber households earning $200,000 or more, by 76,090 to 23,689. So we’ve got roughly three poor people for every Richie Rich.

Four years we may want to remember: 1882 –Houston and New York City are the first two cities in the nation to build electric power plants. 1929 — The City Planning Commission recommends Houston adopt zoning, but finds little support. Nothing’s changed. 1930 –Houston becomes Texas’s most populous city with 292,352. 1995 — KHOU Channel 11 is the nation’s first all-digital TV station.

Which is the largest private employer in the Houston area? Exxon Mobil? McDonald’s? Or maybe that department store where all the employees are standing around talking to one another while you’re trying to find a homecoming gift for your uncle who was cleared by the DNA test? Wrong on all counts. It’s the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, with some 19,000 workers.

We now have 87 foreign consulates, up three in the past two years, ranking us third in the nation. OK, I know a lot of you have been asking, “But what about museums?” There are 62 museums around here, including those specializing in battleships, funerals, offshore drilling and, as mentioned earlier, the nation’s second-largest Bible museum.
In this MSA, we travelled 134,219,397 miles in 2005. That means the average per vehicle moved 33.1 miles per day.

The Port of Houston remains the busiest port in the nation in foreign tonnage and ranks 10th worldwide in tonnage.

As for religion, Roman Catholics are by far the most numerous with 18.2 percent. We have more Muslims than Episcopalians, Jews or Presbyterians (USA).

Face the facts: we are growing, expanding; more people are arriving who need everything from beer to babysitters. If you’re not making a killing in Houston these days, you’re just not trying.

Don’t Mess With Texas Children

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Dr. Oz and Gracie Cavnar Whip Up a Recipe for Success

Gracie Cavnar and Dr. Mahmet Oz at “A Harverst Luncheon with Dr. Oz” benefiting Recipe for Success.

Ideally, the adage “Everything is Bigger in Texas” describes the size of t-bone steaks served in Texas saloons, or our sprawling state’s land mass. Unfortunately, the saying now refers to many local children, and a soaring childhood obesity rate is nothing to brag about. Nearly 50 percent of Houston area 4th graders are overweight or obese, and thus at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other health problems. These unsettling statistics prompted Gracie Cavnar to establish Recipe for Success, an organization dedicated to battling this fierce health crisis. Cavnar called in the expert: Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiac surgeon and frequent contributor to “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Dr. Oz’s proactive health movement, HealthCorps, aims to decrease childhood obesity through school-based peer-mentoring, community events, and outreach to highly affected neighborhoods. For the 2008-2009 school year, HealthCorps established its program in 45 schools, including KIPP Houston High.

Modeled after the Peace Corps, the program enlists aspiring health professionals to serve as coordinators at each school site. Coordinators work with teachers and school administrators to implement the HealthCorps curriculum. The program stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, while arming students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve optimal health and educate their peers and families.

“The only way to reverse the problem is to teach kids how sacred their bodies are,” Oz says. Many HealthCorps Coordinators are recent college graduates who, as Oz puts it, “are making health cool and hip.”

In April, Dr. Oz and HealthCorps recognized Cavnar with an award for her efforts. The two have since formed a partnership between their organizations to further their common cause and broaden their reach to more young people.

Cavnar’s grassroots effort aims to change the way children understand and eat food. The program operates in five Houston ISD elementary schools, where the majority of students receive free or reduced priced lunch. Its Chefs in Schools program involves forty-three of Houston’s premiere chefs who teach fourth graders how to cook and host field trips to their restaurants.

“We share a passion for taking change straight to the children before destructive patterns are in place,” Cavnar says of herself and Dr. Oz. “Recipe for Success is honored to be associated with such a dynamic agent for change.”

Did you know?

  • Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled nationally.
  • 26 percent of Houston area teenagers are obese.
  • A study of 186 Texas schools revealed that the average high school lunch contains 816 calories and 28 grams of fat.
  • Obesity and overweight issues cost taxpayers $9 billion annually.
  • In response to the obesity epidemic at her school, McArthur High health teacher Cathy Roach set up a program modeled after “The Biggest Loser,” motivating 215 students to lose a combined total of 815 pounds.

Gracie Cavnar and Dr. Mahmet Oz: kim coffman; child with lunch: Heidi Anglesey