South Padre Island… a Vacation for Mature Adults

If you haven’t been to South Padre Island since Spring Break 1987, it’s time to see what you’ve been missing. Really, there’s no excuse not to spend a long weekend at this Texas island gem, especially when Southwest Airlines offers several flights a day into Harlingen, and Continental offers a few into Brownsville.
If you’re having bad flashbacks to the keg-dive you did when you went for Spring Break 1987, while the boom box (Hey Mom, what’s a boom box?) was turned on full-stop to the Beastie Boys, “You’ve Gotta Fight for your Right To Party,” and you ended up:
1. Getting sand in your bathing suit that you carried with you all the way to Matamoros that night, because you actually…crossed the border in your bathing suit. And then lost your driver’s license in the process of buying the Chicklet gum from the little kid on the bridge. And then had to beg the Border Crossing Guard to let you back into the U.S. without your driver’s license. (No Sir, I swear I’m a U.S. citizen. Look at how young and drunk I am.) And the U.S. border guard looked at you, pityingly, and waved you through the TURN-STILE. Yes, we used to cross the border through a turn-stile. It was awesome.
2. Having the cops write you a ticket for a Minor in Possession (No Officer – this is NOT my wine cooler. I only drink Seagram’s Very Berry-licious and this is clearly a Bartles and Jaymes.)
3. Waiting in line an hour at the drive-thru of Whataburger to find out they were out of fries. Who runs out of fries?
4. Wondering why your school let out a week earlier for Spring Break than all the rest of the schools – what kind of torture is this? Why did your school have to “suck so badly?”
5. Buying a t-shirt that read: ‘Official Muff Diver.’

If you think South Padre Island is still only for Spring Breakers. Not to fear, the Girls Gone Wild truck has left the building.

South Padre has undergone a massive transformation, while at the same time retaining its Tex-Mex character and laid-back island charm.

You can still sit on the bay on a lazy Friday night, watching the fireworks and drinking ice cold margaritas at mainstays such as Louie’s Backyard, Wahoo Saloon, or Tequila Sunset.

Or you can go upscale with a plate of Oysters Rockefeller at Scampi’s Restaurant. I recommend a table with a view of the bay, and going just in time for the sunset – they ring a bell as the sun disappears into the water. This is the type of fiery Texas sunset rivaling any on the cover of Conde Nast Traveler. Ask for Leti to be your server, and she’ll make sure you get your homemade chips and salsa before they run out.

Upstairs on the deck, enjoy the live lounge singing of a true South Padre island entertainer, Mr. Larry Battle.

For those of you interested in health food and fresh squeezed juices, you can’t beat Naturally’s for breakfast or lunch. Or, just over the bridge, in Port Isabel, Manuel’s serves the best breakfast burritos in town – and the best cheese enchiladas at lunch. (This is down-home, eat-it-like-it’s-going-out-of-style, Tex-Mex at its finest.)

For lunch with the locals and a view of the rolling waves and sand dunes, try the fried shrimp basket at the Palm’s Restaurant.

And, if you’re concerned about where to stay – don’t be.

Houston’s very own Randall Davis, a visionary developer, has graced the island with the newly constructed Sapphire South Padre – the hottest, most elegant condominium high-rise property to hit the island in years. Located just over the island bridge, between the Sheraton Hotel and Schlitterbahn water park, the Sapphire manages to bring that missing element to South Padre Island – think Miami Beach hits Texas, with a stunning 300 foot long swimming pool, ocean and bay views from every gorgeous unit, a 24 hour concierge, and a gym and full service spa to rival anything in downtown Houston. I don’t know how Randall manages to make the building so magnificent – it has to be seen to be believed. The Sapphire takes South Padre Island to another level – and why not? The best beach in Texas isn’t just for Spring Breakers anymore. …

photo courtesy Jo Barrett

Houston’s Mexican Riviera: PUNTA MITA

Imagine taking a short two-hour flight from Houston and finding yourself in one of the most enchanting resort developments of Mexico’s Pacific Coast.  With activities ranging from high-end golf, tennis, hiking, horseback riding, sailing, surfing, fishing, yacht charters, rare bird and whale watching, Punta Mita is the new “It Destination” for Texans seeking a relaxing vacation home with all the amenities and none of the hassle.

Known primarily for its Four Seasons resort and private villas– the first Four Seasons unveiled in Mexico-Punta Mita is becoming much more than a vacation getaway.  The area, encompassing ten miles of Pacific Coast, is now a significant resort community, offering a range of homes to suit nearly every budget.

Prices in certain communities start around $400,000 and go up to $25 million for the most exclusive oceanfront homes.  Non-qualified financing on a range of products with 30% down means that the resort development is appealing to a broad range of potential buyers, and is selling out fast.

According to Gary Pepin, Vice President of Sales for Punta Mita Properties, private single-family villas that would cost over five million dollars in Los Cabos, Hawaii and the Bahamas can be purchased for significantly less than half in Punta Mita.

“The value for dollar is significant for American homebuyers seeking a 2nd, 3rd or 4th vacation home.  And since Punta Mita is so convenient to Texas, the opportunities make sense.”

Residential options at Punta Mita range from Mexican-designed luxury condominiums and villas to exclusive private homes and estates.

For Texans looking for an ease-free vacation getaway, the Four Seasons resort, private residence club, and private villas offers several restaurants, top notch service from experienced hotel personnel, a sexy stretch of white sand beach, and some of the best cuisine in the area.  For weddings or honeymoons, ask the concierge to arrange a sunset cocktail on top of “The Rock.”

The Four Seasons has a great fitness center, a large freeform pool, as well as an adult pool complex.  Don’t miss the bento box sushi at the adult pool bar.

A beach sports center offers kayaks for guests, snorkeling equipment, and anything else you need, including complimentary bottled water, sunscreen, books, newspapers and magazines for all your beach reading.

Punta Mita’s newest resort is the St. Regis, styled around the concept of “barefoot elegance.”  The guest rooms feel like a luxury private oasis, as each one boasts its own terrace, Remede bath amenities, and both indoor and outdoor showers.  The bathrooms are opulent, as is the décor. The setting is both serene and dynamic.  Wireless Internet is actually strong enough throughout the entire property so that you can Google to your heart’s desire while sitting in a beachside lounge chair with a laptop – making it effortless for guests who need to combine both work and play.

The St. Regis offers the newest spa in the area, and romantic guest rooms that you won’t want to leave.  Don’t miss the chef’s five course tasting menu at Carolina, or the fresh catch of the day at Sea breeze.  Special Mexican wines to try include small vintners that cannot be found in Texas, such as the red wine named Jala.

Puerto Vallarta is a short hop away, as is the neighboring arts community of Sayulita.

Punta Mita is fast becoming one of the world’s most famous golf destinations, and was recently voted the #1 Golf Resort in North America by readers of “Conde Nast.”  The newly opened Bahia course, compliments the famed Pacifico course-both Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses, including Punta Mita’s most original landmark, the “Tail of the Whale,” the world’s only natural island green.


For vacation ownership options in Punta Mita:

U.S. toll free:  (888) 647-0979


For the Four Seasons:

(800) 819-5053

For the St. Regis:

(877) 250-8871

No More Rules Allowed! Wait a Sec! That’s a New Rule!

Texans have never been hell-bent into playing by the rules, much less following them. If you don’t believe me, just watch a Texan exiting the Interstate and blaze through a yield sign at 85 miles per hour.  (It’s a recommendation, right?  Not a hard and fast rule.)  Historically, Texans have always created their own trails, made their own rules on the spot, and broken those same rules with a proud, boisterous grin.  Think about it:  we probably wouldn’t even have a state if we’d been following the rules.  Because it was Mexico at the time.  And Mexican rules didn’t really sit well with our State’s Founders.

But suddenly, and inexplicably, we find ourselves surrounded by rules and regulations on a scale never seen before.

I blame Plaintiff’s lawyers.  And dumb people.  And the makers of Purell.  I mean, honestly, how much hand sanitizing is sane?

Rules have become like a warm blanket to keep us feeling secure at night.  No longer do we throw caution to the wind; these days, we ride bicycles with titanium-infused helmets and drink coffee out of cups insulated with little protective “sleeves.”  (P.S.  We should call these “wimp sleeves.”)

Rules have become so prevalent and outrageous in our society, that people are now spouting them out everywhere for everything.  I understand that some rules are necessary.  Like the rule where you must be at least 42 inches high to ride on Space Mountain, or the rule where pregnant women should not be allowed to drink tequila shooters at Ladies 2 for 1 Night.

However, we’ve gone slightly nuts over the rules.  I don’t know where, when or how it happened, but we’re suddenly ACCEPTING RULES carte blanche as if we actually NEED THEM TO SURVIVE TO THE NEXT MORNING.

I recently boarded a flight (not Southwest.  Thank Goodness the Love Airline still retains a glimmer of Texas bravado.  I once had a pilot dressed as Santa Claus and flight attendants singing and throwing peanuts around the cabin). Let’s just say I boarded another air carrier and, as I was boarding, I had the sheer audacity to be carrying a cup of coffee in my hand.  This coffee did not have a lid, but I was balancing it with all the millions of years of Darwinian evolutionary gifts at my disposal.  The flight attendant asked me if I was in first class.  I happened to be flying in first class due to the miracle of mileage upgrades so I said, “Why yes!  I am in first class.”  At which point a wave of relief washed over her.

She said, “Good.”

I said, “Why is this good?”

She said,  “Because you can’t take a cup without a lid on it into the coach cabin.”

New rule:  No cups without lids for flyers in coach class.  Every flyer in coach must only be drinking from cups with lids and protective sleeves.  And be wearing a bicycle helmet.

Thank Goodness I’d been upgraded or else I would’ve had to ditch my fresh coffee in some hermetically sealed garbage bag wielded by this flight attendant, or possibly been kicked off the flight entirely – who knows?

I wouldn’t have gotten riled up, except for the fact that I’d literally just come to the airport from the mall.  At the mall, I’d encountered ANOTHER RULE.  I’d been browsing inside the Gucci store with a friend of mine.  Yes, I will name names here.  I was with a lovely friend who decided to try on a pair of shoes.  He tried on the shoes and wanted to buy them, but the saleslady informed him that they weren’t available in his size.  At this point, he took his i-Phone out of his pocket and snapped a picture of the shoe saying, “I guess I’ll have to see if they have these at another store in my size.”

The sales lady– we can call her Generalissimo de Gucci – said – and I’m quoting verbatim here, “You’re not allowed to take photos of the shoes.”

To which a tremendous pause was heard throughout the entire store.


(Look, Lady.  This ain’t Beijing.  We aren’t trying to duplicate the Gucci shoe, create a fake, ship it over on a slow boat, and sell them on a street corner in Times Square.  We’re simply trying to remember what the shoe looks like so we can find it at ANOTHER Gucci store.)

The gentlemen with whom I was shopping replied – and this blew my mind – “NO.”

The saleslady said, “What do you mean, No?”

He said,  “That’s not a rule.”

She said,  “Yes, it is.”

He said:, “Call the FBI and let’s find out.”

Okay, he didn’t actually say this last part.  What he did say was, “That’s crazy.  I don’t want these stupid, overpriced shoes anyway.” And then he showed her the photo of the shoe on his iPhone and deleted it right in front of her face.  BAM!

I was flabbergasted at this novel approach to random rule making.  Just Say No. Tell the person that the rule they’re expounding actually doesn’t exist, and perhaps they’ll believe it!

Wake up, folks.  If we continue to accept the status quo with absurd rules, we forsake our own hard-fought, historical independence.
Are we brash, intelligent, fearsome Texans or are we a bunch of simple, dimwitted cattle that need to be herded over to the next green pasture?

The Staggering Rise in Teenage Plastic Surgery

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett


When I was a teenager, my biggest tools in the beauty arsenal consisted of cans of Aqua-net hairspray, a pair of skintight Jordache jeans (that could only be worn after a fierce struggle involving me lying flat on my back and kicking my legs to shimmy the denim up) and a comb in my back pocket (to tease my crunchy bangs.) 

At the time, cosmetic surgery was unheard of for girls my age.  We were interested in posters of a young Don Johnson wading through the crystal waters of Miami Beach wearing a white mesh t-shirt and pastel pink pants.  We were interested in singing along to the annoyingly persistent lyrics of Dead or Alive:  “You spin me right round baby, right round, like a record baby, right round, round, round.”  We were interested in Pizza Hut, Lemon-Lime Slice, and banana Bubblicious gum. 

Words like Botox, teeth whitening, breast augmentation, and cosmetic surgery weren’t in our vocabulary.  If someone broke their nose playing volleyball, they typically went to prom and had their photos taken sideways.

And yet, what twelve year old girl today doesn’t wish she was twenty after seeing the rocking life styles wielded by Hollywood’s young A-list reality stars:  the Britney’s, Lohans, and Hiltons.    

HTEXAS recently sat down with Dr. Franklin Rose of Utopia Med Spa, who was flown out to Los Angeles and featured on a teenage plastic surgery special of the Dr. Phil Show, in order to find out more about the dramatic rise in teenage plastic surgery. 


HTEXAS:  When is it considered safe for teenage patients to seek out plastic surgery?

Dr. Rose:   It is common for patients around age 15 or 16 to undergo cosmetic rhinoplasty if they wish to improve the appearance of the nose.  In certain patients, breast reductions can be performed quite safely.  We have also performed liposuction on patients around 16 or 17, that gives them enhanced self esteem, and a reason to lose additional weight beyond what we can remove with liposuction.

HTEXAS:  You mentioned breast reductions.  What about implant surgery? 

Dr. Rose: In terms of breast augmentation, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has really mandated that patients wait until 18 years of age. 

HTEXAS:  Have you ever turned down a young patient for being too young?

Dr. Rose:  One particular case comes to mind.  Several years ago a patient’s mother came in with her pre-pubescent daughter.  She informed me that she was in receipt of a rather significant divorce settlement.  The mother mentioned to me that “money would be no issue” if I could operate on this very small 4’6” pre-pubescent eleven year old.  The mother wanted cheek and lip implants and facial lipo-contouring, and the daughter actually wanted it, too.  I adamantly refused to do surgery on this young girl, and the child burst into tears because her best friend who was also eleven years old evidently just had the same procedures done in New York City.

HTEXAS:   What is the effect of television and magazines on teenagers seeking out plastic surgery?

Dr. Rose:  Patients come to me with magazines in hand about who they want to look like.  People Magazine and US Magazine feature young girls who’ve had these procedures. 

HTEXAS:  On the Dr. Phil show you discuss the Lolita effect.  Describe this.

Dr. Rose:  The Lolita Effect is the increased sexualized depiction of young teens and prepubescent girls in society at large.  Childhood is no longer the sacred realm that it once was.  It’s not so much peer pressure as it is cultural pressure for these children to want to mimic adults.   

HTEXAS:  What are the safeguards for teenagers wanting plastic surgery who won’t take “no” for an answer?

Dr. Rose:  Really the family should be the best support system in this regard.  Choosing a board certified plastic surgeon carefully and wisely is a good caveat for all families.  Of course any patient under the age of 18 requires parental or legal guardian approval.

HTEXAS:  Give us the percentage of teenage patients.

Dr. Rose:  Teenage patients only encompass about 2 – 5% of our practice, but we are seeing ever increasing numbers of college students, particularly during break periods.

HTEXAS:  What is the bottom line for teenage plastic surgery?

Dr. Rose:  There is always time.  Teenagers have no reason to rush into these procedures.  And of course as we age, we are going to look somewhat different, and sometimes young adults need to allow for further growth before entertaining thoughts of plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Walking the Red Carpet

February 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

by Jo Barrett

I’m admitting something here, and I don’t want it to come back to haunt me. Like, I don’t want people coming up to me and saying, “You’re old news, lady.”

Okay, here it goes …

I had my fifteen minutes of fame. There, I said it. The limelight, I’m afraid, has faded into pale limey-ness.

I’m disappointed for a few main reasons:

Number One: I imagined my fifteen minutes to be so much glitzier. I wanted to feel like Victoria Beckham when she landed in Los Angeles with dreamy David and sauntered off the plane in the tight mod dress and the big sunglasses. I wanted to be invited to a “Sushi and Scientology Sunday Night Dinner!” with Tom, Katie, and Suri Cruise. I wanted to be on the “Today Show,” or at the very least, “Top Chef.”

Number Two: And this is the big one, folks. I didn’t realize it was my fifteen minutes, until it was over. You can’t rewind fifteen minutes of fame. It just happens, and then the clock strikes minute number sixteen, and you’re done—zapped of all Angelina Jolie-ishness.

Number Three: My fifteen minutes wasn’t that great. I felt as if I’d been invited to the Oscars, but not the Vanity Fair after-party. Or, to put it differently, like I’d been to the best steakhouse in town, and had bad shrimp cocktail. Sadly, my fifteen minutes passed with a whimper, not a bang.

I traveled to Los Angeles, where I had the pleasure of walking the red carpet at some fundraising event. All I know about the charity is many A-List stars support it and the dinner includes chicken, and fish, and a vegetarian option. People will do stuff on the stage, like auction off lunch with Paris Hilton (can you stand it!) and there is singing and dancing, and general preening and strutting around.

Before the event begins, there’s a red carpet walk with photographers crowded around on each side. They shout out stars’ names to get their attention, and the entire thing takes place in this colorful, circus-tent like atmosphere. The big name stars, like the Will Smith’s and Brad Pitt’s, walk the carpet oozing casualness, as if they’re simply walking down a sidewalk in Portland, Oregon or something. Their body language and attitude brim with this impressive, laissez-faire, it ain’t no big thing, type of nonchalance.

Meanwhile, I’m invited to lag behind some of the A-listers on the red carpet, because I have a new book out, and my publisher wants me to be the next Candace Bushnell. (Which is a lot of pressure, by the way.)

The event is indoors, which is strange for Los Angeles, but people are still wearing big sunglasses as if they are tanning on Waikiki Beach.

Oh, if only I’d worn big sunglasses. What a difference it would’ve made. Instead, I’m wearing a short aqua-colored Cesar Galindo dress and diamonds gifted to me from Bulgari.

I’m kidding.

I’m in a blue dress I bought on sale at Nordstrom’s and rhinestones, baby. But you really can’t tell the difference, I swear.

The publicist in charge of the red carpet rushes up to me wearing one of those imposing black headsets.

“WHO ARE YOU?” she shouts in my face, because everyone shouts at these things.

“Don’t you know?” I ask, crossing my arms defiantly over my chest. “I’m Jo Barrett. The novelist.”

She looks at me and blinks a few times, then flips through the pages of her clipboard. “Jo Barrett … Jo Barrett … novelist … novelist … I don’t have you down,” she says, cutting me with her knife-like smile.

“Oh,” I say, stepping off the red carpet. “Okay. I guess I’ll just walk around.” Apparently, someone in publicity has dropped the ball, and now I’m forced to do this walk of shame around the entire group of photographers who were staring at me, and waiting for my turn.

“Oh wait! Here you are!” shouts publicity girl, grabbing me by the elbow. Then, like Moses parting the Red Sea, she whisks back the red velvet rope and allows me to pass. I hear her speaking these fabulous words into her microphone: “Jo Barrett, the novelist. It’s Jo Barrett, the novelist.”

Stepping onto the red carpet, I expect people shouting my name, the click and flash and bright white flood lights of cameras trained on me, and of course, requests for my autograph.

But as I step into the first few feet of red carpet, it seems like the photographers decide to change their film all at once. I promise, you can hear a pin drop. What had once been shouts of, “Lindsay, over here! Meryl, look this way! Renee, we love you!” becomes sucked into a silent red carpet vacuum void.

I walk quickly, my face flushing in dismay. If you can imagine a woman hustling down the red carpet at top speed, as if her ass is on fire, this is what I look like.

When I reach the end of the carpet, one of the photographers takes pity on me. “Jo Barrett, over here!” he shouts.

I pivot around and flash him a dazzling smile. He clicks my photo, and looks at me the same way the vet looks at a wounded dog.

“Thank you,” I mouth to him. Then I do something zany. I shake my shoulders as if I’m salsa dancing, hike up my dress a little, and flash him some thigh.

“Get a load of this!” I say, as if I’m Zelda Fitzgerald and could pull off burlesque.

The other photographers raise their cameras for a split second, but then Paula Abdul hits the carpet and steals my thunder.

Damn, that Paula Abdul.

Resorting to Luxury, Capella Pedregal – NOW OPEN

By Jo Barrett

Capella Hotels and Resorts— following up on its successful hotel launch in Telluride, Colorado and Ixtapa, Mexico— has recently unveiled its latest luxury escape in Cabo San Lucas.

The Capella San Pedregal is the first luxury hotel within walking distance to the town of Cabo, and the resort itself is a feat of architectural accomplishment of man over nature.

Imagine entering a one thousand foot tunnel dredged through a mountain and lit with torches beckoning you to your own private luxe escape.  The dramatic entryway leads to a breathtaking scene – Cabo’s first luxury hotel located on the Pacific beach next to Land’s End.
Boasting several infinity pools, tasteful swim-up bars, and an al fresco restaurant with a prime cliffside location amid the rocks and crashing waves below, Capella Pedregal is an enchanting newcomer to Cabo’s luxury resort scene.

The new Auriga Spa is the finest in Cabo, with fresh herb foot massages prefacing each treatment.  The massage treatment rooms are set amidst cascading streams of water, which add to the spa’s therapeutic appeal.  The resort offers special spa rooms for guests interested in indulging in a soothing, total relaxation vacation.

The service is friendly, without being in-your-face.  Ask for a tequila lesson in the tasting room from Alejandro and Jose, the resident sommelier and bartender.  Service staff do much to please, often delivering fresh-made guacamole and ice-cold Mexican Cerveza in the afternoons.  Don’t miss the lobster tacos at lunch, and the artful amuse bouche the Chef surprises guests with prior to each meal.  The breakfast buffet includes fresh baked breads, cheeses and croissants, as well as a range of top-notch Mexican specialities.

Each room comes with a private assistant who arranges the excursions Cabo is famous for:  whale watching occurs right outside the windows during prime season, fishing expeditions, and of course, golfing and spa appointments.
A private yacht is available for those wishing to cruise the shore, and for groups.

Capella Pedregal is a blissful setting for weddings, honeymoons, couples in need of a romantic escape, and also families with children.

For those Texans with a more vested interest in Cabo vacations, check out the Capella Residence Club on-site which offers large scale floorplans, separate swimming and beach club facilities, a resident majordomo/ personal assistant, and one of the best locations on the entire peninsula.

At night, the scene is serene, sexy, and contemplative.  The entire hotel is lit by torches, and streaming water runs in smooth lines across the outdoor reception area.

Capella Pedregal deftly integrates a vacation for everyone:  for couples seeking a romantic escape, the resort offers several infinity pools with expansive views of the Pacific beyond.  When you’re staying at Capella San Pedregal, you feel like the property exists in its own private space.  With a mountain rising up behind you, a private, torch-lit tunnel for hotel guests only, and a strip of beach with views rivaling those of any in Cabo, there is no reason to leave the property at all.

Capella offers the best location around:  walking distance to the town, or a five minute taxi ride to Squid Row and Cabo’s other famed nightlife attractions.

With its superb service staff, unrivaled location, and unique design, Capella Pedregal firmly joins the ranks of the top luxury contenders in Cabo.


Cabo San Lucas
(US Toll Free)


Hot New Sushi and Tequila Bar Opens at Las Ventanas

For a modern spin on sushi, check out the sizzling new sushi and tequila bar concept at Las Ventanas.  The sushi is prepared with a deft nod toward contemporary cuisine and the tequila bar is stocked with the finest 100 percent agave tequila in Mexico including Las Ventanas’ own brand.

Or, for those of you yearning for a taste of Provence, check out the alfresco dining scene at one of the sexiest pools in Cabo.  Chef Fabrice Guisset, who hails from France, prepares superb fresh ceviches, not to mention a trio of grilled octopus, lobster and sea bass which deserves all the accolades it has received.

Las Ventanas offers a remarkable list of wine, tequila, champagne, and liquor rivaling those of the best restaurants in the South of France.  Taste the range of Calvados, Grappa, champagne, and for dessert, trust Cabo’s best French chef to take care of you.



Discovering the Essence of Portugal

Although an international gateway to Europe boasting a rich history and heritage rivaling that of its European neighbors, Portugal is often overlooked by American tourists. Which is a shame because unlike the cookie-cutter tours to Rome, Paris and London, the country which gave us some of our greatest explorers including Ferdinand Magellan, and the Porto wine for which it is so widely known, sneaks up on you. That is, you have to live it to feel it.

The convergence of old and new is apparent upon touching down at Portela Airport in Lisbon. The Iberian Capital is experiencing a dazzling rebirth. As I waded through security, I noticed travelers surfing wireless internet while sitting at shiny café’s and noshing on Portugal’s famed custard pastries, locally known as pastel de Belem.

The country is known for its quality of life. Lisbon, as a gateway capital of Europe, is a unique compromise. The city enjoys a fantastic year round climate, and its proximity to the sea ensures all the benefits this affords. Unspoiled wild sand dunes, waves lapping upon quiet shorelines, and a calmness that permeates the fresh breeze.

Portugal is preserved, having learned from the mistakes of Spain’s urbanization efforts which some claim cast a pall on the seaside resorts. A beautiful old port city, Lisbon features fresh seafood brought in daily, sailing and surfing. In the North, there are elegant mansions lining the seaside and the atmosphere is akin to what you’d find in Biarritz, or even Cape Cod. No wonder the royal family of Spain decided to live in exile in Portugal, and that the King of Italy also chose Portugal as his place of exile during WWII.

As a capital city, Lisbon is easily discovered on foot. With sidewalk café’s and alfresco dining around every corner, the palpable rhythm of the city creeps up on you.

Many Americans travel with a checklist in hand of sights they wish to visit. Discovering Lisbon is a journey to be undertaken without a checklist. Tourists come to Lisbon to experience life, to enjoy the bustling outdoor café’s and the winding, cobblestone streets.

Which is not to say Lisbon is sleepy—quite the contrary. Like the international airport terminal, mixing old with new seems to be the trend. In the Old Quarter, trendy boutiques selling the latest fashion may be found next door to an elderly woman hanging out her clothes, or selling antique bird cages. The city is mixed, like its people, who herald from many parts of Europe.

Late night haunts include trips to local bars to hear musicians sing the Fado, the traditional Portugese music. The harbor is another evening hot spot with tourists and locals partying late into the night.

Although there are significant historical sights and museums to be had, Lisbon is not a place for the cruise ship mentality, i.e., a checklist approach to a vacation. As in: been there, saw that, check.

Take the cherry drink called ginginha. This old, traditional drink where the alcohol is mixed with cherries is savored by locals and tourists alike on street corners where they buy the drink from local stalls.

Portugal is, of course, famed for its Port wine — not simply the red syrup that Americans expect as an after dinner liquor, but also the light, white crisp tasting port served with meals.

As far as accommodations, the city offers numerous hotels tailored to fit any budget. Lisbon’s finest hotel is managed, not surprisingly, by the Four Seasons, and is called The Ritz Four Seasons Hotel, Lisbon.

Originally opened in 1959 when Portugal was controlled by Antonio Salazar, the hotel was established with the aim of becoming one of the fanciest, luxury hotels in Europe. Twelve of the wealthiest families in Portugal came together to ensure that Portugal’s capital city, with its burgeoning business community, would create an institution in Portugal. Now the Four Seasons brand, the best in its league, manages this fine place. Once again, the hotel manages to cleverly weave a rich tapestry between old and new.

Over 600 pieces of original Portugese art adorn the Ritz Four Seasons Hotel, a passion project of some of the founding families. Which is not to say the atmosphere is staid and old-worldly. The stunning spa and pool ooze that of a cool, contemporary space, with spa treatments rivaling those found in Manhattan or Beverly Hills. Situated on one of Lisbon’s famed hilltops, the rooms offer commanding views of the city and the park below.

A feature of the Ritz Four Seasons Hotel that can’t be missed is the food, best exemplified by the elegant buffet lunch which caters to Lisbon’s business and social elite. The food mixes contemporary Portugese cuisine with traditional favorites, once again inspired by old and new.

Favorites include the fresh fish and meats of the day, sushi rolls rivaling those found at the Tokyo fishmarket, seafood ceviche, and the famed Portugese cheeses and desserts on display.

When HTEXAS dined here, a comment was overheard that the food “tasted like a kiss.”

For another unforgettable dinner, try Café Olivier. With exquisite food and wine pairings, the idea at this culinary showstopper is to simply relax and recline while various amuse bouches are presented at a dizzying rate. The goat cheese puff pastry with honey and nuts was a major highlight until the fresh sea scallops arrived along with entrees of white veal accompanied with truffles; and fish, prawns and spinach tucked neatly inside the famous Portugese baked pastry crust.

Both the Ritz Four Seasons Hotel, Lisbon and Café Olivier offer a selection of Portugese wines from small, local producers that are not found in the United States. A rarity, these days, when it seems as though the homogenization of culture has produced an unfortunate after effect: travel without surprises.

Americans, especially Texans who enjoy following the path less traveled, should love Portugal. A place where one can explore ‘off the list’ while enjoying a true feast for the senses.

Houston Restaurants Serve up a Blank Canvas

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett


Houstonians may eat out more than residents of any other major U.S. city, but it’s not all about the food. Ambiance adds to the dining experience and many Houston restaurants offer distinct art exhibits to compliment their cuisine.

Prego, the casual, Italian Trattoria in Rice Village commissioned Gremillion &Company to do a permanent installation by John Pavlicek, the Houston artist who specializes in mixed media on canvas using collage, tissue, paint, and graphite. Pavlicek’s multi-colored piece wraps around one of the main dining room’s focal walls.

Prego specializes in custom-made pastas and fillings, and the menu changes seasonally. The restaurant’s Rice Village location attracts families and students, and the art provides a unique backdrop appealing to a wide variety of tastes.

Another Village favorite, Benjy’s, gets a fresh new look every few months thanks to a revolving art display. Gremillion &Company carefully selects the pieces to ensure the scale of the art is appropriate for the space. Benjy’s prefers to exhibit edgy art from a variety of Houston and international artists.

Fernando Casas, a top Bolivian painter who has lived and worked in Houston for many years, displays his work in the Benjy’s intimate space. Casas approaches his artwork from a philosophical perspective. Currently, a self-portrait of the painter sitting in a chair, abstracted almost to the point of cubism is on display.

Open since 1995, Benjy’s offers diners standouts like Ahi Tuna, crunchy chicken, and blood orange margaritas amidst an eclectic mix of art on the walls. They recently opened a second location on Washington Avenue.

In the Heights, Lance Fegen, Chef and co-owner of Glass Wall, takes a different approach. He exhibits his own work. The self-taught painter’s art pays homage to his other life as a surfer; bright, airy scenes of surfboards and waves.When H TEXAS visited Glass Wall, Chef Fegen was offered a lump sum by a local art enthusiast to purchase his entire art collection.

One of the paintings inside Glass Wall is an original by Ashton Howard, who is known for crushing coral and other organic sea ingredients into his paint. The surfer turned internationally renowned painter depicts a giant wave, known as a glass wall — hence the restaurant’s namesake.

The Glass Wall’s menu, inspired by the natural lifestyle of coastal regions, changes often to incorporate seasonal ingredients. Fan favorites include custom made soups, old bay crab cakes, seared tuna mignon and beef short ribs.

Mo Mong restaurant offers display space for fledgling painters. After opening his Montrose charmer eleven years ago, founder Viet Hoang wanted to share his love of art with Houstonians. Hoang took inspiration from the Menil Collection’s clean design and tranquility, neutral lighting, and pine wood flooring. His restaurant mirrors the ambience of the museum. Mo Mong features a gallery-like atmosphere, with local art hanging in the contemporary lounge area and the intimate dining room upstairs.

A well-known urban hideaway, diners can enjoy Pan-Asian flavors including Vietnamese spring rolls or mango martinis while being captivated with innovative art from local Houstonians. “Food and art are similar,” Hoang says. “Both are creative, based on a mixture of ingredients blended together for presentation.”

In January, mixed media paintings by Matt Messinger adorned the restaurant walls. This month, Mo Mong features local artist Justin Garcia. At 23, he is an ambitious mixed media artist who specializes in portraying the human condition. Garcia uses a mixture of oils, acrylics, and glazes with steel, glass and stone to convey his message. Boheme café and wine bar in Midtown has displayed Garcia’s art, where it was captured in scenes shot for the indie film, “Pretty People.”

Mo Mong’s staff selects and showcases one local artist each month. Artists with 15 tasteful and non-offensive paintings may call the restaurant or email at to make an appointment to present their work for consideration.

Houston’s artful dining scene lures both art and food lovers. After all, what better aesthetic is there than enjoying a masterpiece on the wall, while eating a masterpiece on the plate?

Houston’s Best Chefs Dish Up Romance

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

Food For Lovers

Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th in the Americas and Europe. Traditionally, lovers express their admiration by sending flowers, confectionary, or Valentine’s cards. The holiday is associated with two early Christian martyrs named Valentine, and its connection with romance developed in the High Middle Ages when practices of courtly love flourished.
Sending Valentines in the form of handwritten cards was popular in nineteenth-century Great Britain. In 1847, a woman in Massachusetts named Esther Howland started an explosive business fashioning Valentine’s cards from the British model. She is responsible for popularizing Valentine’s greeting cards in America.
Today, one billion Valentine’s cards are sent each year worldwide, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. (Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentine’s cards.) Modern Valentine’s symbols include the heart, a pair of doves, and the winged Cupid.
Valentine’s Day in America represents one of the largest dining-out celebrations in the country. We interviewed some of Houston’s most popular restaurants on the art of preparing romantic dinners.

With its soft amber lighting, cozy booth seating, and warm wood accents, Fleming’s lends itself to a romantic meal for two. The restaurant prides itself on their extensive wine list, which includes over 100 wines by the glass.
Unlike other restaurants which force Valentine’s diners into an early or late seating, usually 6:30 and 8:30, Fleming’s allows couples to choose their own time, but highly encourages advanced reservations. The menu includes hand-cut prime beef, bone-in rib eye, and tender filet, and other traditional favorites along with a sharing menu, meant for two.
“Our staff is purely hospitality driven,” says Operating Partner, Maeve Pasquera. “Most of them have been here since we opened. They think long term. It’s not about this Valentine’s Day; it’s about every Valentine’s Day for the next ten years.”
For the most traditional Valentines Day treat, Chef James Cole fashions handmade chocolate covered strawberries for guests celebrating special occasions. And, according to Pesquera, “There’s no beating our molten chocolate lava cake for the most romantic dessert ever.”

Although it may seem like an unconventional choice, Max’s is a great spot for new couples or singles looking to mix and mingle. Reasonably priced wines and upscale “down-home” food complement the restaurant’s hip atmosphere. From deftly crafted Kobe beef burgers and Cabernet, to Haut dogs and Shiraz, Max’s offers something for everyone.
Chef and Manager Michael Dei Maggi says, “We’ll open any bottle of wine from our extensive wine list for only a two glass commitment, and I don’t know any other restaurants in town who offers this.”
Instead of violin music and a staid atmosphere with white tablecloths and candlelight, Max’s provides an upbeat Valentine’s ambience. Couples who enjoy Jukebox music, Honky Tonk, and classic Texas rock will feel right at home.
Max’s offers the regular menu for Valentines Day, along with a special prix fixe meal. At press time, the chef was still working on a signature dessert using molecular gastronomy.
With local modern art adorning jet-back walls and sexy bar seating, Max’s is not a typical dive. The restaurant lacks the pretense of others in town and offers nearly 200 bottles of wine at considerably lower price points.

Houston’s most romantic restaurant needs no introduction. Located in a 1920’s renovated church, Mark’s is a temple of top-notch cuisine. The restaurant features golden vaulted ceilings, hand painted deco walls, and candlelit tables. Chef Mark Cox specializes in sourcing ingredients from around the world: “We use the best purveyors in the industry, from our big-eye tuna and Escolar brought in from Hawaii, to our Mero fish which comes straight from Japan.”
For Valentine’s Day, Chef Cox prepares a special three-course menu with different varieties of seafood, meat, or game. Advanced reservations are recommended, but Mark’s doesn’t overbook, ensuring each guest feels special. “We actually start Valentine’s a week early for couples who want to celebrate but can’t make it on February 14th,” Chef Cox explains
Sample items from the special combination menu include lobster and short ribs, or specialty Akaushi beef. Chocolate remains a popular choice for desert, but this year, Chef Cox reveals that he’s working with a sticky date pudding. “It’s a play on the word ‘date.’ And of course, bread pudding is always good in February,” he explains.
On February 14th, roses are delivered to each lady, and the restaurant sees wedding proposals each year. “The restaurant setting is a church, and it’s exciting whenever it happens,” Chef Cox says, adding, “I’m more than happy to do a special ring presentation on one of my plates.”

Imagine a log cabin built in the late 1890’s, overlooking a creek that runs into White Oak Bayou. The Rainbow Lodge features a quaint hunting and fishing atmosphere, cozy, candlelit tables, blazing fireplaces and small, intimate rooms. For Valentine’s Day, the restaurant offers open seating and wild game specialties. Expect rustic, cabin-style, cold weather food like elk and pheasant. Venison, buffalo, and seafood are also top stars at this thirty-year Houston favorite.
Rainbow Lodge Chef Randy Rucker offers special chef’s tables for Valentine’s diners who prefer not to look at a menu. Instead, Chef Rucker whirls around the dining room, and asks diners what they want that evening, for a more personalized dining experience.

Perfect for older married couples or Valentine’s Day diners who enjoy rustic Provencal cuisine, Bistro Don Camillo offers a quaint setting convenient to Tanglewood, Memorial, Piney Point, and the Galleria.
The restaurant specializes in Cote d’Azur classics like duck confit, pizza from a woodburning oven, and rabbit or beef stew. Fresh profiteroles, crème brulee, and homemade sorbet are on the menu for dessert.
Valentine’s Day is one of Bistro Don Camillo’s biggest holidays. The restaurant offers a five-course prix fixe menu, with several evening seatings, including an early-bird seating for a lesser price.

Cupcake Fever Strikes Houston

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

(No known cure for icing fixation)

What is it about peeling away the pastry wrapper on a warm chocolate cupcake, and then deftly biting into it without getting your nose covered in icing that evokes childhood memories? Nearly as poignant as holding a vanilla ice cream cone, we feel like a kid again balancing a cupcake in our hand. The appeal is nostalgic; we fondly remember the cupcakes from our youth.

A modern cupcake craze appears to have started in New York in 1996 when a quaint Southern-style bakeshop opened in Greenwich Village. According to legend, Magnolia Bakery began making vanilla cupcakes as a way to use up leftover batter. A few years later, “Sex and the City” featured Carrie and Miranda sitting outside on a small bench eating the cakes. Soon, Magnolia was a stop on the “Sex and the City” bus tour, and the queue streamed around the block. The shop installed full-time security guards with hour-long waits becoming the standard.

Magnolia’s success spawned countless imitators as entrepreneurs jumped into the business of baking. The question was: could cupcake mania spread beyond New York City? The answer is a resounding yes. From New York City to Los Angeles, and Chicago to Houston, “Cupcakeries” are springing up all over the United States.

Sprinkles Cupcakes, a sleek shop offering elegant, dainty cakes in over 20 rotating flavors, started in Los Angeles. The company’s president, Charles Nelson, claims it was hard to find someone to lease him space for the first shop. Now, the bakery boasts six outlets in three states, each selling about 1,500 cupcakes a day. Sprinkles’ expansion plans involve 18 cities, including a location in Houston’s Highland Village in April of this year.

There are already places to cop a cake in Houston. Crave Cupcakes in Uptown Park cleverly designed their building so cupcake fanatics can watch their miniature confections bake in an open kitchen. Sugar Babies Cupcake Boutique, which opened a mere eighteen months ago with claims of being Houston’s “original” cupcake shop, offers several flavors including the most popular, red velvet. They are located on South Shepherd between Richmond and Alabama. Red velvet cupcakes, you ask? Look how far this little confection has come: chocolate marshmallow, lemon coconut, peppermint crumble, and even chai latte or mocha for those in need of a coffee-kick. Cupcakes used to be limited to the same humdrum flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but no more.

In Chicago, More Cupcakes has gone a step further and introduced bold flavors, including the BLT- a bacon cupcake with ranch frosting topped with an heirloom tomato and micro-arugula. According to founder Patty Rothman: “The question is, how far can we push it? Can we make a cupcake into an appetizer or a side dish?” The shop sells up to 150 BLT cupcakes a day. Men in particular like them; women prefer other flavors. Apple and Gorgonzola cakes are on the menu, as well as curry cakes swirled with berry jam and topped with goat cheese frosting. Strange as it seems, the humble cupcake is humble no more. Even Houston is catching cupcake fever. Cupcake-emblazoned t-shirts and baseball caps are frequently worn by lovers of the treat.

“Cupcakeries” are experiencing explosive growth, but will the future be even sweeter? “Who’s not having a birthday, even in an economic downturn?” asks Sprinkles President, Charles Nelson. “Cupcakeries” in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, sell an average of 8,000 cupcakes per week. Do the math. At $2.75 to $3.50 a pop, that’s some serious sugar.

Starving in Style

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

Models strut the runway as people dine on lettuce.

There’s an old saying. Really old. And it goes like this: “What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.” — Lucretius. 95-55 B. C.

I prefer a newer saying by one of my favorite suicidal authors: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” — Virginia Woolf

It dawned on me while sitting at a fashion show. Well, actually it was a cross between a fashion show and a luncheon. Let’s call it a “Funcheon.” One of those gigs where you have the pleasure of eating lunch while watching a parade of stick-thin, waif-like, Keira Knightleys model the latest couture.

I glanced around the table of glamorous Houston women, and realized I was the only person eating. Yes, me. Solamente. (Which means “only” in Italian and Spanish in case you were wondering.) The shock registered in slow waves. Not only had I eaten my entire bread roll swabbed with butter (a sin in itself, I dare say) I’d also consumed my chicken breast salad in a dizzying haste. My plate was so clean, it looked as though a St. Bernard had licked it.

Oh. My. Goodness. Could I be any more gauche? Probably not. Unless, of course, I’d shown up at the funcheon: • Sporting a fanny pack and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt with ‘EuroDisney!’ splashed across the chest in rainbow colors. • Brought my “best friend” Tila Tequila, or, Dick Cheney as my guest; or • Ordered an Old Milwaukee on tap, instead of a white wine.

How to save face? My choice was clear. I waited for the perfect moment. As the women at my table turned their attention toward the fashion finale taking place on the stage, I hurriedly summoned the waiter.

“Bring me a new salad,” I whispered. He seemed momentarily stunned. “You want another one, Ms.?” he asked, his eyes widening in dismay.

I handed him my empty plate and slipped him a small cash bribe. “Please. I beg you. Just bring me another salad so no one knows I actually ate.”

He disappeared and was back in a flash with a fresh lunch. I looked down at the romaine lettuce, the small strips of lean white chicken breast, and the drizzle of olive oil — and I grinned. Yes, I was taking refinement to the next level. Alas, my dear Houston sisters-in-arms. I leave you with this question: Since when did eating go out of style?

DEC My Room

From Hospital Room to Hello Kitty
DEC MY ROOM helps kids with cancer smile

Some people may not see the healing force of magic markers and Scotch tape. But volunteers for Dec My Room are deeply touching the lives of Houston’s sickest children. Inside the bone marrow transplant unit of Texas Children’s Cancer Center, patient rooms are being transformed into colorful, cozy, personalized spaces. Started by Susan Plank in August 2007, Dec My Room has recently expanded into the rooms of other children faced with prolonged hospitalization.

“We wanted children with cancer to feel like they were at home, not inside a hospital,” Susan Plank explains. “Decorating a room seems like a simple project, but it helps children cope with the psychological toll that accompanies a long hospital stay.”

Dec volunteers have successfully “decked out” more than 80 rooms at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, with more rooms on the way. Each room is decorated with the child’s personal preferences in mind. Themes range from Superman, the Houston Dynamo, cars, Hollywood celebrities, and yes, Hello Kitty.

“My partner-in-crime, Shelley Barineau, was recently awarded a grant from the Children’s Fund, and we’re thrilled,” Susan Plank says. “Our organization is all volunteers, so one hundred percent of our funds go toward decorations.” With a budget of $250 per room, patients watch in astonishment as volunteers hustle to give their rooms a special makeover. The process begins by finding out what the patient is fanatical about and incorporating it into the room’s theme. Although decorating a child’s room seems simple, the results put an immediate smile on the children’s faces. In certain instances, young patients who could control their doses of pain medication with a button, pushed it less frequently after their room was transformed.

“We go through everyday life filled with trivial concerns, like being stuck in traffic, but when you walk through Texas Children’s Hospital and see these children, it helps put your life into perspective,” Susan Plank says.

A Brief Snippet about Texas Children’s Hospital

Considered one of the top pediatric organizations in the world, Texas Children’s Hospital is in the midst of a $1.5 billion investment. Aptly titled Vision 2010 – Excellence to Eminence, this is the largest short-term investment ever by a single children’s hospital anywhere in the world. Major projects scheduled for completion by 2010 include a comprehensive neurological research institute, a maternity center, expansion of existing research facilities and the development of one of the largest pediatric hospitals in a suburban setting.

For more information on how you can make a difference, contact Jamee Rivera at (832) 822-4892

I Will Now Perform A Trick Called “The Balancing Act.”

Hear ye! Hear ye! Come one, come all! It’s The Greatest Show on Earth! Watch as the Magical Splendini balances a cocktail plate in one hand and a fork in another!

Okay, Houston party people. It’s time to get down to business. Let’s talk plates.

I’ve recently become aware of a frightening trend at parties: the itty bitty cocktail plate. Now, I don’t know who’s to blame for this. The caterers? The hosts? Oprah Winfrey? Who came up with the idea of the diminutive party plate? A plate so microscopic it requires a NASA engineer to determine whether it will hold a chicken skewer.

There is no room to set your fork on these plates, much less food. You have to cup the plate in the palm of your hand while balancing your wine glass, your fork, your napkin, and your dignity.

Trust me when I tell you that I’m not good at balancing acts. I don’t work for Cirque du Soleil. I’ve been known to trip over invisible “bumps” in the floor in broad daylight. So I ask you this question, dear Houston:

What is so offensive about providing guests with regular, dinner-sized plates? Is there a fear that actual eating will take place?

Of course, there are certain scenarios where petite cocktail plates make sense. Say, at a Weight Watchers convention. Or perhaps, at a large, thousand-person event where people are meant to “nibble,” as opposed to “chow down.”

In these instances, the miniature cocktail plate sets the tone. The tone of: “Hey, folks. We’re not serving a meal, here. These are just mini-quiches.”

(And yet, isn’t there always that one guy in the crowd piling his plate as high as the Tower of Babel. Uh, pardon me, Sir. This is not Luby’s.)

However, when you serve an entire fajita dinner complete with rice, beans, chips and queso, dinner-sized plates should be de rigueur!

And now for my next trick! Come see the Magical Splendini as she attempts to eat a fajita without dripping cheese on her stilettos!

Will Someone Please Pass the Chardonnay

December 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

Will Someone Please Pass the Chardonnay?

Dear Kind H Texas Readers: I’m a red wine drinker. I tend to stray away from the hard stuff, because I morph into Faye Dunaway in Barfly. P.S. Do you remember the tagline from that phenomenal film?

“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”

Oh, it’s perfection. But I digress. Let’s get back to the red wine. I’ve recently been invited to several Houston parties. And not just your average, run-of-the-mill shindigs. I’m not talking about a barbecue in the backyard, dog jumping in the pool, kids screaming for ice cream type of bash. Nope. These are the real deal. The big enchiladas of parties. The savoir faire’s of fetes.

Imagine valets in red jackets parking your car, a golf cart sweeping you up to your host’s front door, where you are greeted by a waif-like Heidi Klum bearing a tray of champagne flutes. And that’s just the entrance.

Inside, the decorations include the likes of flower bouquets fit for a royal wedding, candles large enough to light Ecuador, and mini-quiches served from domed English platters. The guests are fashionable types. You know these people. Hey, you may even be one of these people. Flitting around in the latest high heel mini-boots. Waving to your gorgeous, mini-booted friends.

Meanwhile, I’ve shown up in a perfectly respectable outfit. And yet, I’ve missed the hot trend. The “this season must-have.” The slouchy mini-boot.

Let’s face it. I may as well be wearing parachute pants and Kaepa’s. Ah, such are the trials and tribulations of the glamorous life. I wind my way toward my only salvation — the bar. And there is the bartender, shaking fun little cocktails for everyone. Topping off champagne flutes. Smiling as if he owns the house — which he absolutely does not, by the way.

“What can I get you?” he asks, because this guy recognizes a fish out of water. It’s as if I’m wearing a nametag that reads: Hi, I’m Jo. And I’m not wearing mini-boots.

“I’m easy,” I say. “I’ll have a glass of red wine, please.”

The bartender shakes his head, grimly. I can tell he’s about to deliver the bad news, like the Captain of the Titanic.

“The host is only pouring Chardonnay this evening,” he announces.
I stare at him, but he remains poker-faced.
“No red wine?” I ask

He shrugs and looks at me with pitying eyes. I can tell he feels my pain, but he doesn’t dare say a word. This bartender is one smart cookie. He knows where his bread is buttered, if you get my drift.

“How about a Gibson?” he offers. “I make a mean martini.”
“Can’t,” I say.
“How come?”
“I’m like Faye Dunaway.”
He smiles. “Barfly, right?”

I immediately have a fleeting fantasy. The cute bartender and I are on a desert island drinking red wine out of huge goblets. We toast to the sun and the sand and to the fact that we are alone.

And no one is afraid we will stain anything.

My Cell Phone Is Magic!

November 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

Last Tuesday night, something happened. I saw a UFO. I’m kidding. It was just a plane. Southwest, I think. (I could tell because peanuts rained down on my head, and I heard singing.) But something else did happen, and it was freakier than a UFO.

My Blackberry spoke to me.

It was last Tuesday night. I was asleep in bed, having my usual hot, sweaty, athletic, um, evening rendezvous with Keanu Reeves. (Tuesday night is Neo Night.) Wednesday, I reserve for Clooney, (Ocean’s Up!) and Thursday I’m booked solid with Brad Pitt. In my dreams, I’m Angelina.

But back to my cell phone. It was on my nightstand, and suddenly it began to buzz. Madly. It was buzzing so much, I looked over at Keanu, patted him on the head, and told him to please hurry up because I was about to wake — BZZZZZ!!!

I woke up. Crestfallen, of course. Instead of Keanu, my bed partner turned out to be a goose down body pillow from Bed Bath and Beyond Me. (I mean, please. That store is uber expensive. Even with the coupon.)

I pick up my cell, turn it over in my hands, stare at it, and go, “WHAT?!?”

And, I swear—as God is my witness—my phone said, “You’re getting fat.” I sat up in bed, stared at my cruel Blackberry and said in a cool as cucumber voice: “I’m not fat. This is water weight.”

At this point, my phone flashed a photo of me. “Check out your stomach,” it said. I glanced down. And I hate to say it, but my phone was right. I felt angry. Confused. A train wreck on two fat feet.

How could it have known? Had my Blackberry looked at me one day and thought, “I can’t believe she’s eating another cookie?” Was my phone becoming invaluable? Like a little personal trainer?

Now, I know some of you probably don’t believe this story. But I’ve got proof. I still have the photo. Yes, it’s the photo my Blackberry took of me in the middle of the night while at the same time telling me I was becoming a real porker.

A question soon began to haunt me. Should I upgrade?

I mean, my phone was snapping photos and telling me I was getting fat. But was that really enough? I mean, was it possible for another phone to exist out there that could do even more than my Blackberry? I stayed awake the entire next night (Clooney night, shame) researching the features of the new iPhone. Here’s what I came up with: 1) The iPhone costs a million dollars.

2) However! The iPhone brews Starbucks coffee and delivers it to your desk with a smile.

3) The iPhone drowns out Paris Hilton’s voice on Larry King. (This is why it costs a million dollars.)

4) The iPhone will fix a flat tire on any car except a Hummer—out of principle.

5) For every dollar spent on the iPhone (red!), $100 goes to Bono, $1 million goes to Oprah, and a penny goes to the African health care crisis. Whoa! Wait a sec. That was out of line. But please don’t point the finger at me.

My phone totally typed that! It wasn’t me.

In fact, my Blackberry is taking over this column as we speak …

Ahhh, stop it, phone!

I can’t—

It’s … just … too … powerful!

(P.S. If you happen to work for Apple, and want to send me hate mail, please direct it to I don’t answer emails on Friday nights. Friday is DeNiro Night. Think: “Raging Bull.”)

Have Fear. The World is Ending

September 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett

Have Fear. The World Is Ending.

Have you turned on the news lately? Neither have I. Actually, this isn’t true. I’ve become shamelessly addicted to CNN. And to the doom and gloom the actors (oops! I mean newscasters) are hurling our way.

The other evening I tuned in to Anderson Pooper on CNN. Now, I realize his real name is Anderson Cooper. I realize his mother is Gloria Vanderbilt and that many women find him attractive despite his awkward leprechaun ears and premature grey hair.

I also realize he is one of the few news anchors who look good in Prada. But I digress.

Within 30 seconds of flipping on the show, I was barraged with floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, political scandals and missing child reports. And the look on his face after the report? It’s almost as if he were enjoying it. To peddle fear is great power, isn’t it?

To add insult to injury, the next report focused on—and I bet you can guess—the OIL CRISIS!

That’s right, people. Apparently, we are embroiled in a full-on, balls to the wall OIL CRISIS!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed when filling up your tank, gas costs more these days. But this is not where it ends. The OIL CRISIS affects every industry in our lives.

According to Anderson, the OIL CRISIS is responsible for all of the following:

Airlines on the breach of bankruptcy;
Soaring food prices at your local grocery store;
The economy in shambles;
The real estate melt down;
and Angelina Jolie’s decision to send Pax to public school.

It’s gotten so bad that Anderson said—and I quote: “Americans are now being forced to choose whether to fill up their gas tank OR PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE.”

Wait. Stop the press, Anderson. Are you telling me Americans are choosing whether to drive their cars or eat? I don’t buy it. I mean, c’mon. I just saw a four-year-old talking on a cell phone.

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Jo Barrett
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I love your dress! And could you please pass the Bazooka?

Dear Ladies Who Lunch,

I love gum. Gum is playful, and I feel like a kid when I’m chewing it. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m plowing through a pack of Dentyne Ice, Arctic Chill.

I started chewing gum a few years ago when I noticed hordes of thin, gorgeous Texas women chewing lots of it. That’s when it hit me. Gum is actually a meal replacement. That’s right. You heard it here first, folks. Gum is the best dieting tool around.

I mean, why else would all these fabulous Texas women be chewing gum all the time? Like, literally, all day long? It’s because gum is better than Atkins, and Weight Watchers, and those awful protein smoothie shakes that taste like cement.

Gum, I realized, is the key to being thin. Let me give you an example. Say you’ve just worked out for two hours. You’ve done the treadmill, the stair stepper and a round of weights. You are sweaty, fatigued and feeling pretty good about burning all those calories.

At this point, you can either go for a cheeseburger, fries and a “Diet” Coke (remember you’re trying to lose weight here) or opt for a nice, refreshing slice of gum. Ahhh, the joys of sliding a thin little wafer-sized slice of gum into your mouth. And then chewing on it for the next six to eight hours until the hunger pangs subside.

I typically opt for the cheeseburger. But these thin, gorgeous Texas broads—I have a sneaking suspicion they’re reaching into their purses for that dainty, sugar-free pack of Orbit.

And yet, despite the obvious merits of bubble gum (blowing big fat bubbles that get stuck on your face), there is one place you should never, ever, not in a million years, pop a slice of Big Red. Or Wrigley’s Spearmint. Or Freshen Up. It’s the Black Tie Affair.

Gowns and gum don’t mix, ladies. In fact, watching a Texas woman with her $10,000 custom-ordered Naeem Khan clinging to her perfectly sculpted figure while smacking on a piece of gum is enough for me to send the dogs after her. And that’s putting it mildly.

So why do I find myself at these black tie affairs with gorgeous, perfectly sculpted women popping their gum? I mean, can’t someone tell these ladies that everyone else ordered the burger?

I Own a Ranch, Don’t You?

I’m a Texan. You may not think it at first glance. Sometimes I wear scarves tied tightly about the neck. Or flat, sensible shoes during the day. Even worse — I don’t wear makeup at the gym. Yes, I have the East Coast thing down to a tee. And I should. After all, I’ve spent the past 12 years hopping around New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. Let’s put it this way. When I order a bagel and schmear at Central Market, they still look at me kind of funny. But even after all my East-Coasting, I LOVE Texas. And Texans.

I love that Texans drink Red Bull before going to see Joel Osteen. (Helps the hangover.)

I love that Texans say neat phrases like, “Grandma may look old, but she’s gonna keep on keepin’ on.”

And I LOVE that Texans have ranches. Ah, the smell of a patent leather Manolo Blahnik setting foot on a ranch. But I have a beef, so to speak, with my fellow Lone Star state residents. OK, here goes …

Texans are using the word ranch much too liberally. Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend a certain “ranch” party.

“Wow, a ranch party,” I thought. “This should be a blast!” I quickly pulled out my black leather weekender bag and packed all the Western wear at my disposal:

My cowboy boots — hand-stitched Lucchese — hey, this ain’t my first rodeo, folks.

Jeans — the tight, slutty ones — perfect for a ranch party! I mean, what if Mr. Right is a cowboy?

A hat purchased from the Beretta gun store in Maryland — it’s an old hat, back from my staffer days when I worked on Capitol Hill. (P.S. Please don’t ask why I happened to be in the Beretta gun store in Maryland. It had to do with a member of Congress who needed some shells for skeet shooting, and I was sent to buy them. Because I’m that important.)

Mosquito repellant.

A digital camera — me as Georgia O’Keefe — taking landscape and flower shots of the “ranch.”

The invitation suggested an evening around the fire pit, a real barbecue and horseback riding.

A ranch party! Now, correct me if I’m wrong. In my mind, the word ranch evokes a certain image — an image of a large, to very large, to sickeningly large number of acres. Roaming on this tract of land should be cattle, deer, rattlesnakes, doves and wild hogs. And maybe a buffalo. There should be game fencing, hunting vehicles and a lovely limestone house done up in that chic Texas Hill Country style, complete with antlers hanging over the fireplace.

Pulling up to the “ranch,” I was greeted instead by a cottage — a cottage with a barbecue pit in the back, a quaint little swimming pool and a pony for children.

“Is this … the ranch?” I sputtered, hoping that I’d gotten the wrong house, the wrong town, the wrong invitation. “Yes, we just bought it last year! Tammy is thrilled because she gets to grow her own tomatoes!”

I remember swallowing hard. In the kitchen, there was a bag of Doritos. A blessing from God, I assume.

Everyone else at the ranch party was wearing regular clothes. Meanwhile, with my skintight jeans, boots and hat, I was doing my best Dolly Parton in “The Best Little Whorehouse” impression.

People stared. I tipped my hat, said “Howdy, folks!” and ate Doritos like it was my last meal.

“Some ranch,” I thought. “This is more like a ranch-ette. Or ranch-ini. But it’s no ranch, ranch.” So please. I beg of you. The next time you leave for your quaint little country house on 15 cute acres, please do not say: “Tammy and I are takin’ the kids out to the ranch this weekend. We’re throwing a party on Saturday. Wanna come?” Instead, call a spade a spade. “Tammy and I are takin’ the kids out to our other house this weekend. It sits on 15 acres in the country, and we love it because we can barbecue.”

The word ranch does not mean HOUSE WITH EXTRA BIG BACKYARD. Granted, there are some large backyards in Texas. But, I ask you …

When did Texans become the type of people who drive Toyota Tercels but carry key rings that read, “Hey, my other car is a Porsche!”?