Grande Lakes Orlando

September 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Orlando you glad to see me?

Avoid Mickey Mouse crowds. Enjoy Grande Lakes

By Laurette Veres

As a life-long Marriott rewards devotee, I’ve logged a lot of nights at hotels under this flag throughout the globe. My friend Bobby and I often text each other our view withIMG_7486 the question where am I? On a recent trip to Orlando Grande Lakes, I texted him my view. His reply: Maui. That’s how beautiful this 500-acre Orlando resort is. Our balcony had a view of the sprawling golf coursOrlando_Grande_Lakes_Golf_Coursee, beautiful lakes and most of Orlando’s famed parks in the distance. Heading to Orlando? Avoid Mickey Mouse crowds. Enjoy Grande Lakes comprised of The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Orlando. Guests at both hotels can enjoy all the facilities and services at Grande Lakes Orlando, including the 18-hole championship golf course, designed by Greg Norman, the 40,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Spa with total-wellness treatments and a rooftop eco-space. The lush grounds offer walking trails, nature installations and two grand pools, splash pads, and winding river.


Highball & Harvest 

Grande Lakes has been dedicated to farm-to-fork dining for over ten years. Guests can view fresh herbs, vegetables and more in the Primo Garden, and taste them in their food at award-winning Chef Melissa Kelly’s Primo restaurant. The property also bakes all their bread in house and raises chickens at the Whisper Creek Farm coop. We met with Chef de Cuisine Mark Jeffers after the recent opening of Highball & Harvest. Having grown up on the water, the Daytona, Florida native pulls his culinary inspiration from his home state. H&H’s signature dishes: Pig-n-Potatoes, an all-day breakfast dish of poached egg, potato hash, and tender pork cheeks with sweet peppers, caramelized onions, H&H Hot Sauce, and hollandaise sauce. Smoked Lamb Brisket, Raw Oyster Bar with signature house-made H&H Hot Sauce. “The dishes we create at Highball & Harvest are designed to give restaurant-goers a sense of nostalgia while enjoying southern classics infused with regional flavors,” says the chef.

Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen

Showcasing a rustic yet polished design, The Kitchen has the vibe of eating in your family’s kitchen, with a variety of communal, high-top, sofa, outdoor, and bar seating. Menu items at The Kitchen feature seasonal ingredients from the 7,000-square-foot on-site garden at Whisper Creek Farm as well as fresh eggs daily from the farm’s chicken coop. The Kitchen’s sausages and charcuterie, prepared by the JW Marriott butcher, pair perfectly with The Brewery’s hops-laden creations.

Whisper Creek Farm: The Brewery

The first Marriott property to launch a nano-brewery, Grande Lakes has brought in a local Cicerone-certified brewmaster to lead The Brewery. The Brewery produces 28 gallons of beer weekly including five styles of beer created each season—Dark, Wheat/Light, Amber, IPA and a Special Brew (a seasonal made from the freshest farm ingredients). Signature Special Brew varieties will include the Maple Bacon Stout, Soup of the Day IPA, and Ghost Pepper Wheat.

Grande_Lakes_Spa_PoolThe secluded lush gardens at the Spanish-Moorish style The Ritz-Carlton Spa Orlando create a relaxing environment. They surround over 40,000 square feet of spa facilities, including 40 treatment rooms. Unique to the Ritz are treatments in the outdoor Rooftop Eco-Space and herb garden. The Eco-Hammock Massage combines “zero gravity” and massage techniques including Thai stretching, deep tissue and Cranial Sacral (balancing the central nervous system through neck massage). Allow yourself to melt into the hammock as it rocks in a soothing, rhythmic motion. The therapist lies under the hammock and digs into your shoulders with her heels. Fitness classes include Yoga Stretch, ZUMBA, Tai Chi Qi Gong, INSANITY, Spinning and Cardio Kickboxing.

Orlando_Grande_Lakes_PoolThe grounds at Grande Lakes property are reason enough to visit. We spent hours walking and along the way, learned about local flora and fauna, butterflies and more. Perfect for families, or couples, there is something for everyone here. And yes, they’ll shuttle you to Disney World.


September 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


THE LIVING ROOM – The couch can easily hold two, three if they squeeze. Put a mattress in the bathtub and pup tents in the backyard. This is because I am getting ready to receive some refugees, and you should get ready, too. Yes, once again America is set to host newcomers, this time from Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, and possibly Oklahoma. We see on TV the literally millions of refugees pouring out of the Middle East, staggering through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, then to Germany and eventually, of course, to Texas. This is traditional. Give us your poor, your tired, your chefs and baseball players. Some 75,000 refugees have arrived in Houston in the last 35 years. Houston has been the Number 1 city for refugees in the past two years. And among the states, Texas is also Numero Uno in receiving refugees the past two years.

Follow me as we whittle down these numbers. According to U.N. data, between 2010 and 2014 – before this latest deluge — the U.S. alone resettled 71 percent of all refugees. Out of every 1,000 refugees resettled by the U.N. around the world, more than 700 came to America. All 50 states received some, and 75 of those 700 will end up in Texas, according to U.S. State Department numbers.

More of those will come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas: The state health services department reports that nearly 40 percent of Texas’ refugees land in Harris County. This means that Harris County alone welcomes roughly 30 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the entire world. According to the Houston Chronicle: “This is more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement.”

But wait. That number might increase. President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. would take at least 10,000 Syrians displaced by their war. That’s five times the 2,000 the U.S. accepted this year. Wait again: Now the U.S. says it will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017. Most of the additional refugees would be Syrian. Others would come from strife-torn areas of Africa. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Harris County received refugees from 40 different countries in fiscal year 2014. The Houston ISD reports its students speak some 94 different languages.

These newcomers are in addition to the flood of others making an end run around the established immigration quotas. We’ve long had an express lane for Cubans. Then there were the Vietnamese. By 1981, Houston had the largest Vietnamese population outside of California. In 1990 there were 31,056 ethnic Vietnamese in Harris County. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the figure was 80,409. Next came refugees from our latest foreign adventures. Apparently half the population in Iraq served as interpreters for U.S. forces there, and now face retribution from Al-Quida. This group wants to get to the head of the line for resettlement in the U.S. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, it seems every other male over 15 worked for the U.S, and fears etc. etc.

It is estimated that 250,000 Katrinians fled to Texas, mostly to the Houston area. Today, 10 years later, 40,000 of them are still here. Immigrants from south of the border have always come — and stayed. But Texas holds a particularly warm spot for youngsters from ravaged lands. They have fled the gangs, the drug lords, extortion, the midnight shootings and kidnappings. to ford the river and arrive in Texas. I wouldn’t want to live in Chicago, either. Youngsters also pour in from Central America, and of the estimated 58,000 who came to the U.S. last year, 40 percent arrived in Texas. They have been duly handled by ICE, appeared before a judge who told them to come back at a certain date to be told their fate. Thus far 80 percent have never been seen again. Today one out of every four residents in Harris Count is foreign born – and I don’t mean Californians.

“We have too many immigrants,” as Marco Rubio told Ted Cruz. Yes, the U.S. has the most generous immigration quotas on earth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013 the U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 41.3 million, or 13 percent, of the total U.S. population of 316.1 million. Between 2012 and 2013, the foreign-born population increased by about 523,000, or 1.3 percent. U.S. immigrants and their U.S.-born children – aka anchor babies — now number approximately 80 million persons, or one-quarter of the overall U.S. population. This figure includes the legals, the illegals and the ubiquitous “political asylum” seekers who now include victims of spousal abuse.

Incidentally, how many refugees from this latest group have been accepted by the Muslim states besides Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon or Israel? None, or nada as we say in Walmart. Still, some like to get here a bit faster, they simply wade across the Rio. Also, ICE estimates – good luck – of the 11-million illegal immigrants in this country, fully one-third arrived here perfectly legally, as tourists, or on student or temporary work visas. Then they just disappeared.

This enormous influx of permanent visitors has caused changes in Texas’ demographics. Now we have Mex-Tex restaurants, and schools teach EOPL — English as Other Peoples Language. We have Ethiopians to do the jobs Guatemalans won’t do. Our newcomers say, “As-salamu alaykum.” Peace be with you. We answer: “Take off your thobe and slowly back away,” because some fear that these new Texans, mostly of the Syrian persuasion, may include Al-Quida or ISIS terrorists. We should ask them when they arrive, “Have you ever been a suicide bomber? Are these hand grenades in your suitcase? Obviously they aren’t cans of deodorant. Complete this sentence: Death to _______. That’s close enough. Come on in. As-salamu alaykum.”


Ashby migrates at



















September 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

My recent get-rich-quick schemes had turned into get-broke-even-quicker schemes. I had opened the Donald Trump Barber College & Humility School. Motto: “It’s Huge!” So was my debt. It closed with a minus 2 percent of the vote. Still, these days politics is where the money is, so my next venture was the Draft Joe Biden campaign. But Joe couldn’t make up his mind, should he or shouldn’t he? As George Will said about another indecisive politician, “He makes Hamlet look like George Patton.”

After that enterprise folded, I launched Surfers for Bernie Sanders until I found out Sanders just turned 74 years old, and his surfboard would need a handicap sticker. Too late, or too early, I made a down payment for a gigantic ballroom to hold the Rick Perry Presidential Inauguration Ball. Then I tried to hit the jackpot by appealing to the really big spenders, but Sheldon Adelman hired a concrete truck and asked for my shoe size. The Koch Brothers introduced me to their third brother, Knuckles.

I sought advice from my financial guru, who was in his usual executive suite. “Welcome to Walmart,” he said, pushing a cart to me. I explained my problem. “You’re too late to get in on the kale religious fad, or the Kale Mary Play as we financial wizards called it. So invest in the next big craze, lion hunting. Dentists will pay thousands to shoot a lion. You can even supply a script about how the lion was about to attack a little old lady in a wheelchair when you dropped that beast with one shot at a thousand feet, and that was the end of Simba – it’s what the kids who rode him in the playground called him.”

After giving it some thought, I dropped the plan, mainly because I can’t stand the sight of blood — if things get out of hand, my own blood. My next job was as a stock broker and adviser. OK, so I got Enron and Exxon mixed up. It’s an easy mistake to make. The lawsuit should be settled soon. And I agree, steam locomotives did not regain their prominence. My advice to buy redwood seeds was only for long-term investors.

I wanted to buy the Texas franchise for Tesla, only to discover that there aren’t any franchises for the car in Texas. Elon Musk, the driver – so to speak – behind the super-vehicle, is trying to sell directly from the factory to the customer, but the all-powerful Texas Auto and Roll Bar Dealers Monopoly Association explained to the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott that such competition was “a violation of the American free enterprise system” and “restraint of trade” — their trade. “Who does Musk think he is selling directly to the customer? Michael Dell?” The dealers’ statement to the lawmakers was reportedly accompanied by large campaign donations, but I doubt there was any connection.

My efforts to get rich quick were not going well. I was offered the job of food taster for Dick Cheney, but I wanted something safer, like being a human cannonball at the circus. I attempted to get a job with the NFL, but was turned down when I wrote on my resume, “Ball pressure inspector for Patriots.” In desperation, I returned to politics. Hillary Clinton hired me as an excuse counselor, but I was fired after I advised her to tell the 14th Congressional investigative committee, “My laptop was destroyed during the attack I led in Benghazi.” Jeb Bush’s campaign was clearly in trouble and needed my help. That’s when I came up with a new slogan: “Dynasties Forever!” It didn’t fly. Neither did: “A Bush for President – He’ll get it right this time.”

I needed some wisdom on money matters, so again I checked with my financial adviser on a Sunday afternoon during visiting hours. “People are tired of Classic Coke,” he said through the thick glass. “Sell the idea of Coke-Cola II or the New Coke. The public will eat, or drink, it up.” When I made my proposal to Coca-Cola executives, they put me in a bottle and tossed me into the sea. I moved to Hollywood where I made a pitch to a group of producers on my script about a hirsute mug maker who teams up with a druggie chef, “Hairy Potter and the Stoned Saucier.” Disney said it was a Mickey Mouse idea. My next pitch was about a Russian monarch’s attempt to run a saloon, “Czar Bars.” I had no better luck with that or with “Indianapolis James.”

So much for Tinsel Town. I approached UT-Austin with a plan to erect a statue on campus to Henry Wirz, the commandant of the Andersonville POW camp. “After the Civil War, he was the only Rebel officer hanged as a war criminal. We’ll call it ‘Yankee Justice.’ It should go over great with all the Longhorns who got rid of Jefferson Davis.” I escaped with only a rope burn around my neck. That’s when my contract was cancelled to make Stars and Bars license plates for Texas’ Sons of Confederate Veterans. Down but not out, I tried to open a pub in Galveston featuring memories of the island’s past. But it failed. Guess I shouldn’t have named it “The Chaos & Debris — Ike’s High Watermark.”

It was then that a pattern in my family’s failed business attempts dawned on me. Ebenezer Ashby thought Revere said it was two if by land. Another ancestor had trouble translating Sioux for Custer. “Twenty” and “two thousand” sound a lot alike in that language. It was much the same when Jose Ashby thought JFK said “Bay of Figs.” Granduncle Private “Sleepy” Ashby was a lookout at Pearl Harbor, and his story is self-explanatory. Finally, I applied to Jade Helm 15 to carefully monitor the Texas State Guard. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned my brief stint as a health inspector for Blue Bell.
Ashby is broke at


September 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Events

WHO: Uptown Houston
WHEN: Thanksgiving Evening
Thursday, November 26th, 2015
Begins at 4 p.m. with holiday music and concessions
Live Entertainment starting at 5 p.m.
Fireworks Extravaganza at 7 p.m.
FREE and Open to the Public

WHERE: Uptown Houston – Post Oak Boulevard
(Between San Felipe and Westheimer)

WHAT: The 30th Annual Uptown Houston Holiday Lighting will be held Thanksgiving evening, Thursday, November 26, 2015. To kick off the holiday season, Santa will make his annual appearance to light up more than a half-million lights on 80 trees lining Post Oak Boulevard and on area building rooftops. The spectacular evening culminates with a dazzling fireworks extravaganza presented by Carnan Properties.

PARKING: Public Parking – FREE parking is available throughout the area.

INFO: (713) 621-2504


September 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby 14 Sept. 2015

THE BANK – Remembering the $1,200 I had already received, I am checking out the safe deposit boxes here to see if one is big enough to hold my stacks of cash, silver doubloons and the sketches Picasso made on a napkin in Nice. You should make such arrangements, too, unless you don’t like money. If so, I’ll be glad to take that filthy lucre off your hands. My sudden — well, not too sudden — interest in wealth is because I am about to gain a fortune. Let me guide you straight to the pot of gold. The State of Texas currently holds about $4 billion in unclaimed funds, and is trying desperately to get rid of them, but some of you won’t cooperate. The money is from all sorts of sources: forgotten utility deposits or refunds, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts and abandoned safe deposit box contents.
All told, that’s 25 billion in various “properties,” as they say in the vault. The office of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has just announced (without much notice or many headlines) that this past fiscal year it returned $248 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners. That’s a record, easily breaking the $205 million in unclaimed property returns in fiscal 2014. Since Texas’ unclaimed property program began in 1962, the comptroller’s office has returned more than $2 billion to Texans who didn’t know grandpa had left them the deed to Spindletop or, even better, the Starbucks franchise for greater Houston.
There are all sorts of stories behind these billions, so let’s take a look. Today we are exactly 42 people short of 27 million Texans, and many, over the years, have put down deposits on utilities and moved away without realizing they legally can get their deposits back, not that the Sparks & Watts Power Monopoly is going to hunt you down to tell you. People die and leave bank accounts under false names to cheat the IRS, stocks hidden in the backyard, those gold bars Great Uncle Clem discovered in a Nazi lake and forgot to tell his commanding officer. Or you were the recipient of an insurance policy that your ex-spouse didn’t bother to change after the divorce. Remember that little old lady who slipped on the curb and you pulled from the onrushing Peterbilt? She remembered you, and that million is yours mow that her cat has died.
The mechanics to this little-known giveaway program go like this: Businesses turn property over to the program after the ownerless property has been dormant from one to five years, generally. Then it is the comptroller’s job to find the unknowing heirs. This past year they located recipients from Amarillo to Brownsville; from Nacogdoches to El Paso.
OK, all this time you have been wondering, greedily, “How do I get my hands on my share of that $4 billion?” Simple. Just go to the comptroller’s unclaimed property website at or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463). If you go to the website, there is a line reading: Search Unclaimed Property. Click on it and up pops a couple of blanks to fill in. Last name, first name or your business. Hope you can handle the grilling. I found two Texans with my name who are owed money. One is in line for $1.38, the other for $107.79. We’re big spenders in my family.
Now here’s the odd thing: Supposedly the comptroller’s office is trying to hunt down these winners. Maybe they should knock on the recipient’s door, Ed Mcmahon-style, with balloons and a big check and say, “Congratulations, Mister Bankrupt! You have received a dollar and thirty-eight cents!” I agree, some winners are hard to find, or don’t want to be found, but why can’t anyone locate Exxon, which has 1,259 properties in limbo? The Texas A&M System is owed $348, good enough to rent a running back for a Saturday afternoon. Comcast, you forgot some of your own deposits. AT&T, collect your 217 properties.
You are wondering about the size of the properties already handed out. The winner is a nameless Houstonian – unlike Lotto winners, property recipients can remain anonymous – who received $12.3 million. Two people in little ol’ Weslaco got properties: $3.7 million and $1.7 million. But wait! There’s more! Bags of cash stuck in an Austin bank with names on them are: $581,413.85 for someone in Laredo, $476,650.04 for a Fort Worthian and $453,134.33for a resident of Pasadena.
Up till now we’ve been talking mostly about cash, but there also safe deposit boxes. According to the comptroller’s office, when a customer loses contact with his or her bank and misses payment for a safe deposit box rental, the box is eventually drilled and the contents are stored in a secure location by the bank. Once five years have passed from the first missed payment or last contact with the owner, the contents are reported as unclaimed property and sent to the comptroller’s office. Over the years, the staff has recovered lots of interesting things including: a bloody glass eye, dried deer legs, a brick, mercury, ashes, Apollo 15 postal stamp covers, 16th century receipt for wool written by Michelangelo’s namesake great nephew, a 4.22 carat diamond ring and a stock certificate Number 1 from Dr Pepper Co. in Waco signed by the inventor of Dr Pepper.
As for that forgotten half-million in cash you left in the back seat of the patrol car, go to the website, print out a form and fill it in showing you really are Dang Wang Foo. You were adopted. There are also mailing and phone addresses. Incidentally, there is no deadline. Finally, about that $1,200 I actually did receive: A few years ago I checked the list and found my name and $1,200 I was owed and never collected. My ransom note was a bit unclear. So get on your computer, and grab your fortune. Did I mention my finder’s fee?
Ashby is helpful at



September 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                7 Sept. 2015

THE HILL COUNTRY – For years in late summer, peaches were the purchase of choice here. Tourists, headed to the shops in Fredericksburg to buy the latest instant antiques from China, would stop at these shacks along the road and buy bags of peaches, peach jams, peach pies and probably peach antiques from China. Today the peach parade is still here, but more and more there are official looking road signs announcing the presence of vineyards, wineries and big barn-like structures packed with – one guess — wine. Yes, after many false starts, overcoming drought, storms, hide-bound Anglo settlers who thought alcohol was the devil’s drink and more than a decade of Prohibition, Texas wine is coming on strong here in the Booze Belt.

How strong? According to the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association (yes, there is one), in 2013 the industry in Texas produced 1.3 million cases of wine, up from 944,000 in 2005, with a retail value of $134 million, an increase from $92 million in 2005. Those are huge increases for any industry. In that 8-year period, the number of wineries jumped from 200 to 389. Remember, this was a time of the Great Recession, when many other industries were shrinking.

But grapes, like marijuana, are an agricultural product, subject to the whims of nature. For instance, 2013 saw a late freeze, which badly hurt the vineyards. The number of grape growing acres deceased by 5 percent and vineyard revenue was down 18 percent. Grape growers have another problem: Unlike some crops and livestock, when there is a stretch of drought, floods or bugs, you can’t just move a vineyard to the next ZIP code or time zone. Vineyards are literally rooted here, good times and bad. But 2015 should be a good time. Grape growers across Central Texas say this year’s harvest will be one of the best in recent memory. So stock up on vintage 2015.

It is not generally known, but viticulture in Texas is older than in California or Virginia, by almost a century. We can credit the Franciscan friars coming up from Mexico back in1682, who brought with them grapevines for a mission near El Paso. The area became known for its fine wines, not that there was much competition, but by the 20th Century the industry had petered out. The Anglo settlers who came along in the 1800s didn’t know much about wine and didn’t care. But the German pioneers did, and vineyards started appearing around Central Texas in small numbers. Most failed. It took a while for Hans to figure out he wasn’t in Old Braunfels anymore.

In 1895, Texas had about 1,800 acres in vineyards that produced more than 1.5 million pounds of grapes and nearly 1,900 barrels of wine. Then the wine industry slowed down. From the 1920s through the 1960s grape production remained small, with a number of small vineyards ranging in size from one-half to 10 acres scattered around the state. From 1922 through 1946 production averaged about 1,800 tons annually, possibly because wine was not part of Texans’ culture. My parents never had wine with their dinners, although my father almost singlehandedly supported the bourbon industry. Restaurants didn’t push wine, some had BYOB, and private clubs sprung up to sell booze to the hypocrites who kept voting dry. (I remember one time in Tyler, I joined a restaurant’s private club for $1.50, then could order the bar.)

For some reason, in the 1960s Texas took to wine. Maybe my father got tired of Maker’s Mark. Today Texas is the nation’s Number 5 (some claim Number 4) wine producer, and Number 7 wine grape producer. Go into any liquor store and most likely you will see signs proclaiming wines from such exotic lands as Chile, South Africa, Australia — and Texas. When the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has a wine judging event (“Billy Joe, do you prefer the Syrah or the Muscat Canelli? Both are wet.”) you know vino has arrived.

If you want to help The University of Texas, and don’t we all, buy a case of Ste. Genevieve. In 1981 a vineyard with that brand name was established on UT land in Pecos County. By 1986 plantings there totaled 1,000 acres of fine grapes. The university entered into a lease agreement with a Texas-French consortium that built a large winery at the site. By 1992 it was the largest wine producer in the state, accounting for 67 percent of the 1.5 million gallons of Texas wine, and won 18 wine awards that year. The Longhorns are going to start selling booze at sporting events this term, so we can only hope it’s Ste. Genevieve. And Aggies, who can grow moss on a rolling stone, think they are the green thumbs of the Lone Star State?

Now a true story on how Texas Saved French Wines: In the 1870s the European wine industry, and especially in France, were devastated by lice. More than 6 million acres of vineyards were destroyed in France, Germany, and other regions of Europe. The French, who knew about the viticulture work of Thomas Munson of Denison (vineyards are all over the state), asked for help. Munson and a Missouri colleague shipped carloads of phylloxera-resistant native rootstocks to France and other vineyard regions, and saved the crops. The grateful French heaped awards and medals on Munson.

Back in the Hill Country, I see more signs directing visitors to more wineries. And here’s a good idea: you can take mini-bus wine tours so you don’t have to drive around the countryside with map in hand missing most of the scenery, and you can sample more without the DPS pulling you over. One last point: Texas wines generate money for us. State and local taxes from our wine industry reached $85 million in 2013, a 117 percent increase in eight years. So keep your money in Texas.


Ashby is sipping at


Mark’s American Cuisine assisted Children from Families-in-Need

September 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Events

SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young, benefited from Mark’s American Cuisine’s generosity as they helped raise funds and awareness.

Proceeds Benefiting SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young

During the month of August, Mark’s American Cuisine offered a specially-priced Prix Fixe 3-course lunch menu for $29 and a 6-course dinner Chef’s Tasting menu for $75. In addition to enjoying an epicurean adventure at Mark’s, guests supported children from families-in-need with every purchase. Mark’s donated $5 from each Prix Fixe lunch, and $10 from each Chef’s Tasting dinner .

“Mark’s is thrilled to offer our guests a culinary experience that will not only satisfy their appetites but that will feed their hearts as well,” said Cox.

Cox was inspired to give back to SAY after Houston Astros George Springer hosted the Inaugural All-Star Bowling Benefit in Houston recently. The overwhelming success and momentum created from the event, with SAY supporters, Springer, his fellow Astros and celebrity friends lead Cox to open up his heart and help send young people who stutter to a life changing summer camp.

Editor’s note: I attended experienced some of Mark’s food recently. Yes, you are looking at Frozen Foie Gras.

Innovative new dessert from Mark's American Cuisine

Innovative new dessert from Mark’s American Cuisine

Oysters in Dune from Mark's American Cuisine

Oysters in Dune from Mark’s American Cuisine





Lasting Impression: Blaffer Art Museum

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


Founded circa 1971–1973 (formerly Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery)

by Clifford Crouch • photos by Nicholas Nguyen

blafferBlaffer Art Museum, located on the University of Houston campus (near the intersection of Cullen and Elgin), is but the most visible and outward sign of the ways in which the Blaffer family has graced Houston and the art world.

That grace proceeds in particular from philanthropist Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885–1975), born 130 years ago on August 27. More broadly speaking, it proceeds from the anointing of Texas oil wealth. As the daughter of William T. Campbell (a founder of Texaco) and the wife of Robert E. Lee Blaffer (a founder of Humble Oil, now ExxonMobil), the Texas-born Sarah might almost be viewed as corporate petroleum merger made; but her interest was less in oil drilling than in oil painting. After her wedding—Ima Hogg was maid of honor—Sarah spent a long European honeymoon that included touring the continent’s art museums. She subsequently became a collector of fine art, and then a patron and benefactor, finally establishing the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in 1964. Her son John H. Blaffer also contributed the massive Robert Lee Blaffer Wing (completed in 1953) to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts in memory of his father. The Blaffer Foundation’s extensive collection continues to make works of the old European masters accessible to Texans. H

Houston’s Top 8 Doggie Destinations

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


Get your best friend out of the (dog) house! Read on for our city’s hottest spots for well, Spot.

by Ian Kretz

Just because summer’s coming to an end, doesn’t mean you should stop making the outdoors your playground. And for all of us doggie lovers, no family outing is complete without our pups by our sides. Fortunately, digging up exciting and enjoyable experiences we can share with our dogs right here at home is, sometimes literally, a walk in the park. Here are some of our favorite, distinctly Houstonian destinations where your whole family can have a ball together this season.

Doggie_BarnabysWhy it’s a doggie do: The Barnaby’s Café franchise offers Houston’s best-loved doggie dining experience by far. What began in Montrose as a comfortable neighborhood café and tribute to the owner’s departed childhood best friend, Barnaby the Sheepdog, has expanded into eight locations spread among some of Houston’s most recognizable neighborhoods, from The Heights and Memorial to Midtown and Downtown. Each location is dog friendly, though some are friendlier than others; the River Oaks location, in particular, has the same quirky menu as the others but the most spacious patio area, where Fido foodies are invited to sit with their families and enjoy a relaxed evening.

H Texas recommends: Barnaby’s French Dip sandwich, served on fresh bread with natural au jus, makes for a decadent diner classic, and every salad on the menu is fresh, surprising and generous (smaller sizes are available, too). Kids will love the burgers, hot dogs and warm brownies served à la mode. Dog biscuits and water will make your pooch’s evening extra special.

For more information:

Doggie_StDanesWhy it’s a doggie do: Saint Dane’s is a fantastic bar to take your children to…as long as your children walk on four legs and prefer barking to talking. One of the few Midtown bars that welcome fur babies, Saint Dane’s prides itself on having “plasmas everywhere you look,” making any spot ideal for watching the big game. Wood-framed, raised tables and plenty of neon lend the bar a dive-y quality that belies a well-stocked bar with daily drink specials and a draft beer selection that will impress. Dogs will love lounging on the covered porch or on the street front before a spectacular view of Downtown; all the game day excitement is sure to keep them entertained.

H Texas recommends: The “Wes” Burger, served with a fried egg on top, is one of Houston’s great bar burgers (available at lunchtime as a special), and the Sweet Chili Lime buffalo wings are crispy to a fault and offer a flavor (and how) off the beaten bar fare path. Live music (most Saturday nights) includes a selection of classic rock favorites; bands usually take requests, so be sure to ask for “Hound Dog.”

For more information:

Doggie_BlackLabWhy it’s a doggie do: Even dogs appreciate the finer things in life, and despite its name and buttoned-up British air, all breeds are welcome to enjoy a dining experience worth begging for at The Black Labrador. Since 1986, this English-style pub, a favorite of Houstonians, has served a mix of authentic British cuisine and more familiar fare in a meticulously recreated English-pub atmosphere. The interior is warm and bright, with characteristically low ceilings and wood paneling aplenty, while the outdoor seating area (complete with cobblestones) is airy, comfortable and shaded by a canopy of trees—perfect for an after-lunch dog nap. All in all, The Black Labrador offers a quiet, distinctly British environment to enjoy delicious food with English Mastiffs, Scottish Terriers and everything in between.

H Texas recommends: The mussels on the appetizer menu are a bountiful yet light entrée to any of the traditional English menu items, including piping hot, flaky Beef Wellington and classic English-style Fish & Chips. The Black Labrador Pub exceeds the promise of its name, offering an exhaustive roster of delicious beers that pair well with any dish. Sunday brunch begins at 11 a.m., and the Bangers & Mash hounds of Houston tend to come running-—be sure to get there early for a cozy table outside.

For more information:

Doggie_GoodDogWhy it’s a doggie do: Reward your dog with a trip to Good Dog Houston, where local ingredients and that American standard, the hot dog, are celebrated par excellence. The restaurant gained its pack of loyal followers during its incarnation as a favorite food truck before setting up a permanent shop in The Heights. You’ll find a curated menu of one-of-a-kind franks (including tofu dogs), handcrafted toppings, classic sides and an ever-changing selection of locally sourced beers on tap. Good dogs and humans alike will find plenty of space on the comfortable outdoor deck to enjoy these highbrow hot dogs.

H Texas recommends: The Texican Dog is a spicy, South-of-the-Border dream that combines refried black beans, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, pickled jalapeños and fresh vegetables atop a perfectly cooked frank. The Fried Corny Dog, served with signature sriracha ketchup, is the be-all, end-all ideal corndog. The average price of one of these masterpieces is about $7, so don’t forget to order something for Rover.

For more information:

Doggie_BillArcherParkWhy it’s a doggie do: Think of Bill Archer Bark Park as Houston’s doggie Disneyworld. Located north of I-10, about halfway between Houston and Katy, the park features more than 20 acres of off-leash play space for your pup. These expansive, beautiful grounds alone make the park well worth the trip (about a 30-minute drive from Downtown), and attractions like canine agility equipment for large and small breeds and swimming ponds seal the deal. Extensive, manicured walking trails and shaded benches provide relaxing options for owners and those dogs deemed people persons.

H Texas recommends: The park is open from 7 a.m. until dusk, so peak hours tend to coincide with evening free time during the workweek, while weekend days are busy throughout. Depending on your dog’s temperament around other dogs, you may want to plan your trip accordingly. Note: All the usual dog park rules apply, including no outside food or drink (for either you or your pet), so be sure you both have a snack before your outdoor romp. Water fountains for two- and four-legged friends are available inside the park.

For more information:

Doggie_GeneGreenParkWhy it’s a doggie do: This dog park gives adventurous pups a chance to walk or run on the wild side. Gene Green Beltway 8 Dog Park, located about 20 minutes from Downtown, on the northeast side, boasts, in addition to spacious grounds, off-leash play areas and other standard dog park attractions, several areas of natural Texas brush and flora that offer all dogs, particularly sporting breeds, an opportunity to use their instincts and get in touch with their wolfish ancestors. For those dogs that don’t know they are of the canine species, manicured green space enjoyed from one of many shaded benches offers all of nature’s best aspects.

H Texas recommends: The equally top-flight splash park, skate park and children’s playground at Gene Green Beltway 8 Park will be difficult for younger kids to resist for any length of time; be sure to bring swimwear, skateboards and another adult to supervise the kids in their own adventures without taking any time out of Rover’s. Don’t forget the camera!

For more information:

Doggie_HotelDerekWhy it’s a doggie do: Hotel Derek is arguably Houston’s most lavish and popular boutique destination hotel. Located a stone’s throw from The Galleria in Uptown, Hotel Derek is a beacon of contemporary glamour in our city. Elegant, comfortable rooms and refined dining, spas and amenities are perfect for Houstonians looking for a luxurious staycation or travelers who prefer to do so in style. Best of all, Hotel Derek is dog friendly, with several unique amenities geared specifically toward pups. Pets do stay for an additional fee, a large portion of which is donated to the Houston SPCA. Your pooch will thank you for, and quickly become used to, a seat in the lap of luxury over a splendid stay at Hotel Derek.

H Texas recommends: Dog-friendly rooms are all on the “dedicated pet floor” with convenient outdoor access for making such trips fast and easy. However, space is limited, so be sure to book your room well in advance. For pampered pooches, the recently unveiled Wag Lounge is an unforgettable relaxation destination located just down the hall from your suite. Beyond the hotel, Memorial Park, just five minutes away, offers exciting possibilities for doggie daytrips.

For more information:

Doggie_DiscoveryGreenWhy it’s a doggie do: Discovery Green in Downtown Houston is a vibrant, verdant oasis hidden among the buildings and bustle of our city’s center. With athletic fields and walking trails, jungle gyms and paddleboats, and of course, plenty of greenery, Discovery Green has something for everyone, including dogs. Pups are sure to enjoy the more literal jungle within the urban one; the shaded off-leash dog runs (one for large dogs, one for small) offer a chance to play in a new environment filled with fascinating sights and sounds. And when your pup is all done, feel free to leash him up and take him on a tour of the larger Discovery Green area for an even more vivid day of adventure.

H Texas recommends: From outdoor art installations and film to ice skating and free yoga and Pilates classes, something fun is always going on at Discovery Green. Try to time your dog park trip to take advantage of interesting and usually free community activities. A full events calendar is available on the Discovery Green website.

For more information: H

Where Do We Go from Here?

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


A Roadmap for Houston’s (Possible) Future

by Lynn Ashby

You know Houston is on a roll. Boom, boom, boom, with the occasional resounding bust. Our skylines (we have several) are dotted with cranes. Our traffic increases daily. We need more schools, hospitals and animal-control vans. This area is spreading out in every direction. Okay, we all know that, but in the back of our minds is the burning, if not nagging, question: “What’s in it for me? Hey, I didn’t come to Houston from Frost Bite, North Dakota, for the August afternoons or the public school system, not even for the running of the cockroaches. I came to turn a buck, and when that buck quits turning, I’m off like a prom dress.” Good question, and fortunately for you, I have answers. Clip and save so you won’t come sniveling around here in 2030 saying, “But I didn’t know.”

First, a bit of our future depends on other people and events, such as hurricanes, our lawmakers’ ability to feed NASA, the Ship Channel, expressways and light rail, and all those other treats we want from Washington while cursing the federal government. Pollution and anti-pollution laws will affect our future, along with energy prices, cheap labor and, of course, Wang Jing. As for you, buy land. Any land anywhere in these five or 10 counties. Yes, some acres will occasionally be underwater, economically and literally, because Houston was founded by land developers who greatly exaggerated, if not outright lied, about the “abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” and our developers today do love tradition.

Things move quickly around here and so should you. Westheimer Road, which is also State Highway 1093, was named for M.L. Westheimer, an early entrepreneur, who built a five-mile shell road from his home and businesses west of the city into town, then gave the road to Houston in 1894. You can see what it is now. I can remember when R.E. “Bob” Smith had a ranch complete with grazing cattle, just west of the Galleria. Rice University was laid out at the end of the town’s trolley line. The Strake Boy Scout Camp is now in its third location because Houston keeps paving over the wilderness. (If you’re wondering who’s Bob Smith, go back to Newark.)

Invest in food. For reasons that have never been clear, Houstonians eat out all the time. Indeed, Houston residents eat an average of four meals a week outside the home, according to the 2012 America’s Top Restaurants report from Zagat, the bible of eateries. That’s more than any other city in the nation. Ethnic restaurants are hot and will remain so for decades, or until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) moves in. These restaurants are a reflection of our diversity, said to be the most in the nation. Open an Eskimo-Croatian café, or a pub catering to country boys returning from the Mideast wars, Shucks & Awe. We have created a city where one-third of business owners are foreign-born, where the number of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus has tripled in the past three decades, where more than 100 languages are spoken by students attending Houston public schools. Our crystal ball shows more of the same.


We are ever so slowly adding to light rail. Figure out where the next lines will go and buy acreage for cheap housing. (Rich people don’t ride buses or take trams.) Here is Houston’s growing traffic problem in a nutshell: We tear down a one-story strip center with adequate parking and replace it with a 35-story condo. Each condo has owners of one or two vehicles. There are parking places for these cars and pickups in the building, but each morning and each evening, they are trying to crowd into the streets which have added not a lane, nary an overpass, no more space for cars. That two-gallon bucket still holds two gallons, but we are trying to pour three gallons into it. A perfect example is CityCentre, with its new high-rise lofts and apartments, but same streets as before.    

More vehicles arrive in the county every day. Eventually gridlock will paralyze the entire Inner Loop, and people will demand mass transit. Bob Lanier is dead, Tom DeLay is paying off legal bills and U.S. Rep. John Culberson has been MIA since 2000, but now is slightly changing his mind (there must have been a new voters poll), so the three amigos who managed to postpone, if not kneecap, mass transit are no longer effective. Houston hasn’t had good mass transit since the mule died. Speaking of transportation, when what is now the George H.W. Bush Intergalactic Airhub & Uber Outpost was built, it was thought that Hobby Airport would be phased out. Hobby is busier than ever. Air traffic will only increase by great numbers. Buy rice fields west of Katy for the Nolan Ryan Airport & Crop Dusting Extravaganza.

Currently Harris County’s air is near the U.S. average in carbon monoxide, but is above the national average in ozone (one hour) and significantly above the U.S. average in ozone (eight hours) and particulate matter. With the continuing onslaught of newcomers and their vehicles, our air pollution is going to get worse. Go to the coal mines and buy canaries. Have you been by the Texas Medical Center lately, and not in the back of a careening EMS ambulance after you brought a knife to a gunfight? The TMC is growing, in good times and bad. It is, as we like to proclaim, the world’s largest medical center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. We are going to need more hospitals, doctors and rubber gloves. Another medical school is not if, but when. 

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Texas’ population, currently 34 million, will hit 54 million by 2050 or even double, and we know Houston will get more than its share of newcomers. (Houston gained 35,000 in population this past year, which was more than it gained in the previous year.) Growth estimates for the Houston area in 2020 are everyone who doesn’t live here now. Word of caution: Ever since the very first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City has been the most populous city in America. Every other city has changed places in the pecking order; next, in that first census, came Philadelphia and Boston. No surprises there, but then came Charleston, SC, followed by Baltimore, Northern Liberties, Salem, Newport, Providence and Marblehead. For the next 50 years, Northern Liberties was among our largest populated cities. I have no idea what or where that place was and is, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Where will we rank in 2050?

Claudia Grisales, writing in the Austin American-Statesman, reports that workers will turn more and more to telecommuting. That’s sort of a new term to me, but we all know what it means: work from home. Texas is second only to California in the percentage of telecommuters—5.2 percent for California, 4.1 percent for us. While that might not seem like much, nationally the figure in telecommuting has increased by 80 percent since 2005. At this rate, figure out how it will affect you.


Houston is cheap. Putting the average U.S. cost of living at 100 percent, currently the cost of living index in Harris County is 92.7 percent. When you moved here, you got a raise even if you didn’t. This wage gap will close. So keep getting raises. Two-thirds of us (66 percent) earn a private wage or salary. Just under one-third (31 percent) are self-employed or not incorporated. Only 2 percent work for the government. In the future, we shall all work for the government and just think we don’t. We have been called “the nation’s fattest city” by some fatheads somewhere. Yet 73.2 percent of residents exercised in the past month. This is about average.

  • 39.9 percent of residents smoked 100-plus cigarettes in their lives. This is less than average.
  • 78.6 percent of adult residents drank alcohol in the past 30 days. This is more than average.
  • 63.8 percent of residents visited a dentist within the past year. This is less than average.
  • Average weight of males is 196 pounds. This is more than average.
  • Average weight of females is 169 pounds. This is also more than average. So maybe we are fat.
  • 28.6 percent of residents keep firearms around their homes. This is less than average. The others lie.

Forbes magazine rated Houston the “coolest city in America.” That was not due to our sophistication, but to our air conditioning, because we fit A/C on every structure and some places that are outside. This brings us to 2035 and global warming, which will melt the ice caps, causing immense flooding, creating Bellaire Beach and the Montrose Marina. Houston developers, ever the clever, will show properties by using glass-bottom boats. Stay ahead of the crowd and sell flood insurance—or maybe buy it. Your first clue that high tide is coming is when animals at the Houston Zoo start lining up two-by-two.

Forbes also ranked Dallas as second among U.S. cities in the number of billionaires with 17. Houston finished seventh with 11. This shall change, as our billionaires spawn more scions. Houston’s Theater District is second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area, and we have a huge and growing museum district. These two facts—billionaires and couth—are connected. The very rich love to see their names on concert halls, theaters and museums. So in 2020, open the Houston Class Act—home for smart performing artists, or just those with funny names, and sell naming rights.

Lynn_Roadmap2ROOT FOR THE CANAL        

Here are some predictions for Houston’s future (actually have you heard anyone predicting the past?):

2020: Local TV stations will stop breathlessly saying, “Breaking news!” when a Houstonian uses his turn signal.    

2028: Opponents of video cameras at major intersections to record red-light runners will get T-boned by a red-light runner. We shall miss them—sort of.

2040: Ed Emmitt, county judge emeritus, announces the perfect solution for the Astrodome: a monumental, covered, all-weather monument to himself.

2050: Houston lands the Summer Olympics, adding a few new sports: the 20-meter marathon; the parking-place race at the Galleria (which will be followed by the 30-minute destruction derby); yacht racing on the Houston Ship Channel, training-wheels category; javelin dodging and manhole-cover discus; synchronized sweating; and the 100-yard pothole obstacle course.   

2052: Zoning will be enacted after a majority on the City Council mistakes the vote for “enabling strict ozone.”    

2055: The 10,000 children from Central America who arrived in Houston illegally in 2014 will have their court deportation hearings postponed again. Same for their grandchildren.

2060: Every time something goes wrong here, outsiders will stop saying, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

2070: After 55 years, The Houston Chronicle finally wins its second Pulitzer for its series on: The Pulitzer—Who Needs It?

Oh, about Wang Jing. He is a Chinese billionaire leading a consortium that won approval from the Nicaraguan government to build a $50 billion canal across the country, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and, we must assume, vice versa. The Panama Canal is about 450 miles south of the proposed route, so the Port of Houston will be closer to West Coast ports and Asia. Not to be outdone, the Panama Canal itself is being vastly widened to accommodate massive Post Panamax container ships. And since the Port of Houston is the closest major East Coast port to these canals, it is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars getting set to receive. In future decades, the already-mighty Port will become even more important to Houston’s economy. Buy water.

Ashby is futuristic at