Surprising Health Risks

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


We all know the usual culprits behind diseases such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. But some of the biggest hazards may surprise you.

by Stacy Baker Masand

You’ve got this healthy-living stuff nailed, right? You don’t smoke, you eat nutritiously (give or take a few indulgences), you’ve done tens of thousands of planks and rolled over in Pilates class more than a Mafia informer. You try to lead a well-balanced, stress-free lifestyle—just like the doctor ordered. Problem is, you may be sabotaging your health without even knowing it.

There are a host of unexpected risks for five of the most prevalent diseases. Read on to find out the surprising ways that even seemingly innocuous lifestyle factors may be putting your health at risk.


Most of us associate diabetes with inactivity, a bad diet and being overweight, but that’s only part of the story. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 35 percent of us over the age of 20 fall into the category of pre-diabetes. That means your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but aren’t high enough to qualify you as having type 2 diabetes.

And once you’ve got diabetes, you’re twice as likely to develop heart disease. “Because of the growing trend of increased body weight, lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle, we’ve noticed an increase in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a surprising jump in the incidence of diabetes and other heart problems,” says Ravi Dave, MD, director of cardiology at UCLA Santa Monica Cardiology. “A lot of these issues start at a surprisingly young age.” Which makes it all the more imperative to avoid these other unexpected risks:

Sleepless-NightBad sleep habits. Studies show that if you sleep less than six hours a day or more than nine, your risk of heart disease and stroke goes up. “Lack of sleep doesn’t directly increase diabetes, but indirectly, it creates situations that put you at risk,” Dr. Dave says. “It prevents exercise and increases your intake of sugars and starches, because you’re more likely to reach for a doughnut when you’re falling asleep midday.”

Reduce your risk: “You need to fall into that sweet spot of sleep—between six and eight hours a night,” Dr. Dave advises.

Abdominal fat. Metabolic syndrome, a condition Dr. Dave describes as having excess fat in your abdominal area and a pear-shaped body, will increase your risk significantly. For women, this is a belt size over 34 inches and, for men, over 38 inches. “This puts you at risk for both diabetes and heart disease,” he says. Metabolic syndrome also includes a host of other symptoms, like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels, which contribute to diabetes and other health issues.

Reduce your risk: “If this is your natural body type, be extra vigilant in getting exercise and watching your diet,” says Dr. Dave. “Control sugar, soda and sodium intake, and avoid rice, pasta and bread, which increase fat in the abdomen.”

Business-Man-ChairSitting. By now you’ve heard the mantra that “sitting
is the new smoking.” It’s true. Studies show that sitting for prolonged periods of time not only contributes to poor posture, but also impedes blood flow to the legs, creates swelling of the ankles and causes overall fatigue because your body gets used to being sedentary, according to Dr. Dave.

Reduce your risk: Get an adjustable desk, so you can stand for part of the day, or find other opportunities to stand, such as when you’re on the phone. Another option is to walk around periodically. Researchers at Indiana University found that taking a five-minute stroll once an hour can counter the effects of sitting.


Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, and nearly 130,000 die from one, according to the CDC. It is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and can cause partial paralysis, impaired thinking, and awareness and speech problems. You probably know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are major risk factors, but check out these other, surprising risks:

Depression. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with depression were 45 percent more likely to have a stroke and 55 percent more likely to die from it. Another study showed that people with heart disease had more severe and frequent depression symptoms and a greater risk of stroke.

Reduce your risk: If you’re overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, have lost interest in everyday activities, feel tired and unenergetic, or have feelings of anxiety and irritability, see your doctor or a mental-health professional.

OTC pain killers. If you think nothing of regularly popping an ibuprofen for everyday pain relief, think again. Doing so ups your stroke risk three times higher than someone taking a placebo pill, a 2013 study in The Lancet found.

Reduce your risk: Switch to all-natural pain relievers, suggests Dr. Gabrielle Francis, ND, DC, LAc, and author of The Rockstar Remedy (HarperWave, 2014). “Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatories that you can take in the form of fish oil or organic flax oil,” she explains. Take about a tablespoon per day, she says. A sweet alternative: One ounce of pure dark chocolate, which, Dr. Francis explains, is high in phenylalanine, which helps alleviate pain and increases endorphins.

A nightly Epsom salt bath can also help relieve pain. “Add two cups to a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes to reduce pain and relax muscles.”

Bad gums. Many studies have shown that people who have periodontal disease have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Columbia University researchers found that people who have higher levels of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, a strong predictor of stroke and heart attack.

Reduce your risk: Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. Also make sure to visit your dentist every six months or when you notice an issue such as bleeding gums.


More people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer; it takes more lives than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined.

Though it’s associated mainly with cigarette smoking, 30 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked a single cigarette. But there are a number of unexpected threats, including:

Radon. Radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to Lonny Brett Yarmus, DO, clinical chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He says what’s scary about radon—a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in buildings—is that it cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. While that sounds like something you wouldn’t find in modern homes or environments, the truth is that radon gas can be found anywhere. And high levels of exposure, which usually occur in well-insulated homes or those built on radium-, uranium- or thorium-rich soils, is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Reduce your risk: The Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General recommend that all homes below the third floor be tested for the presence of radon. Consumer Reports gave highest marks to the AccuStar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100 Radon test kit ($25;

Secondhand smoke. Having a partner who’s a smoker increases your chances of developing lung cancer by 20 percent. “Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, of which many are known to cause cancer in people or animals,” says Dr. Yarmus. “About 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke every year.”

Reduce your risk: Keep your home and other indoor spaces, like your car, completely smoke-free, he suggests. No exceptions.

Diesel exhaust. Think a little exposure to urban exhaust fumes won’t be too harmful? Diesel pollution from cars and busses doesn’t just smell bad, but high levels can up your risk of lung cancer by 30 percent, according to a study in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene.

Reduce your risk: Help rid your body of toxins by increasing your intake of detoxifying foods. A recent study in Cancer Prevention Research found that vegetables, like broccoli and kale, help rid the body of cancer-causing pollutants like benzene and acrolein.


Someone in the U.S. dies from cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds, making it the number-one cause of death in America, according to the CDC. A recent study showed that if women control specific risk factors, they can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke by 90 percent, says Dr. Dave. The big five: maintaining a BMI of less than 25; exercising two-and-a-half hours a week (half an hour five times a week); eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that also limits saturated fats and cholesterol; watching less than seven hours of TV a week; and reducing alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day. Also make sure to avoid these other surprising causes of heart disease:

Being skinny fat. Just because you look thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy. If your metabolism rocks, you may get by despite drinking soda, downing processed foods and avoiding exercise without gaining an ounce. But a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that 25 percent of people with normal weight have issues with blood pressure, cholesterol or heart disease. That’s because all those sugars and processed chemicals cause visceral fat storage, and up your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: Even though you don’t need to eat better and exercise for weight control, you’ll want to incorporate healthier habits to improve your overall well-being.

Calcium supplements. A 2013 University of Aukland study found that women who took one gram of calcium citrate for five years had twice the risk for heart attack. (Though the reasons aren’t clear, researchers suspect that the supplements may cause blood calcium levels to quickly spike, which could contribute to artery disease. Calcium from foods causes levels to rise much more slowly.)

Reduce your risk: Boost your daily intake of calcium-rich foods, like milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, broccoli, sardines and edamame.

Relationship problems. When tensions run high at home between you and your partner, your risk of having a heart attack increases by 34 percent, according to a study conducted at University College London. That’s because the stress associated with these problems may increase high blood pressure, as well as your risk of diabetes and stroke.

Reduce your risk: When you hit a rough patch, seek support from friends, get space, and be sure to sleep six-to-eight hours a night.


While skin cancer is highly preventable, it accounts for more than half of all diagnosed cancers combined. Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006, and one person every hour dies from melanoma, the most aggressive and serious type, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

While there’s not much you can do to mitigate some of the risks (being fair-skinned, living in a sunny climate), staying vigilant and notifying your doctor about changes in your skin can help you prevent serious issues. And you should try to avoid these other unforeseen risks:

Vitamin A creams. “Topical vitamin A creams, also called retinoids, are used to treat acne and fine lines and wrinkling,” explains Dr. Shannon Trotter, a professor of dermatology with the James Cancer Hospital and Ohio State University. “They may help correct photo-damaged skin as well.” Another form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in some sunscreens.  But now, two independent studies have shown that retinoids and other vitamin A–packed lotions may actually be increasing the production of skin lesions and tumors.

Reduce your risk: “We recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and reapplying it every two hours,” Dr. Trotter says. But pass up sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate, and only apply lotions containing retinols or vitamin A at night. “We also recommend avoiding the sun during peak hours of 10 and 4 p.m. and using sun-protective clothing, like hats, sunglasses and clothes that have a UPF rating. A diet rich in antioxidants may be protective against several types of cancer, including skin cancer.”

Viagra. A new Harvard study found that men who took the little blue pill were 84 percent more likely to develop melanoma than non-users.

Reduce your risk: A study from the University of the West in the United Kingdom found that pelvic exercises helped 40 percent of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) regain normal erectile function. Hit up a Pilates or yoga class for exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic floor. Other studies have found that aerobic exercise can also help remedy ED.

HPV. HPV may play a role in the development of a certain type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, according to a new study from the Mayo Clinic.

Reduce your risk: If you’ve ever been diagnosed with HPV, make sure to inform your dermatologist. H

New Heads on the Block

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Features


What every pilgrim should know

by Lynn Ashby

So you’re new to Houston. Big deal. So was everyone here, at one time or another. Just as we put a historical plaque on any building that gets a second coat of paint, anyone who has been in town since the last smog alert is considered an old-timer. But you want to blend in, so here are a few things to know, to avoid and to take on. This way, others won’t think you just fell off the oil tanker.

That road in west Houston is pronounced “san full-LEAP-eh,” not “san FILL-a-pee” or “san fill-uh-PAY.” We have a ROW-dee-oh, not a row-DAY-oh like that fancy-schmancy street in Beverly Hills. When entering a cantina, do not say, “Draw!” Also avoid using such terms as Cougar High, Dallas Cowboys (unless in a pejorative way) and Bud Adams. As a bit of background on this last item, the late Bud Adams owned the Houston Oilers and pulled off the impossible: He made football unpopular in Texas. Adams had a long-running row with Houston Post sports writer Jack Gallagher. They once got into a fistfight at the Shamrock bar. Later one colleague told Gallagher, “Bud Adams is his own worst enemy.” Gallagher replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.” Just trying to bring you up to speed on what happened here before you arrived. 

Houston has several nicknames and some really dumb slogans which never caught on. The Bayou City is the most often used. Space City was a good handle until NASA gave away several spacecraft. Los Angeles got one. So did that hub of space flight, New York City. Houston didn’t. Later we got a cheap mockup made by Mattel or Lego. Another slogan, in an effort to go with our weaknesses, we coined Houston’s Hot. We got burned. Way back in our history, we used Where 23 Railroads Meet The Sea. That event must have made a huge splash, so to speak. We’ve tried Expect the Unexpected (which everyone expected). If you can think of a good city slogan for us, you can stay. 

You may be wondering who are all these people with funny accents. Well, if you came from, say Boston, you would talk funny, too. Texans break any one-syllable word into two, the second beginning with y: Come over HEAR-yer, CA-yut, MAY-yun. One out every four of us is foreign born. Not just from one of the other 49 states. Foreign born. Houston has been called the most ethnically diverse city in America, if not in the world. Any place that has a lesbian mayor and a black police chief, where both Sheila Jackson Lee and Ted Cruz call home, has got to be diverse. Fortunately, we all get along, if you don’t count Aggies and Longhorns. And still newcomers arrive. From July 1, 2013, to one year later, Houston increased its population—due to both immigrants and sex—by 334,202. For Harris County, the new arrivals totaled 82,890. That’s 227 newcomers a day every single day.

Houston-Katy-Freeway-Fwy-traff-76289126A Bumper Crop

Now a word about Houston traffic. There is not much of it except during rush hour, which lasts from 6 a.m. to noon and noon to 8 p.m. If you are the average motorist, you drive 28.81 miles a day, which can, indeed, take a day. At last count there were 4,746,244 vehicles on our roads in this county, all trying to get a parking place at CityCentre. Most Houston drivers are armed and that includes those driving vehicles with training wheels. The term “riding shotgun” is not just a term. But do not be intimidated. Remember, warning shots are for wimps. Do not challenge those vehicles with notches on their front bumper, have the word “police” on the side, whose hood ornament is crosshairs or any vehicle with a tail-gunner. The city briefly had video cameras at major intersections to take photos of drivers running red lights and slamming into other vehicles, wounding or killing their fellow Houstonians. Fortunately, we voted to take the cameras down (and spend millions of tax dollars getting out of the contract). “T-boning” is not just on the menu. As for our mass-transit system, it hasn’t worked well since the mule died.

Austin has its under-the-bridge bats. Dallas has its Big Tex, and Houston has its buffalo. Gather along—where else?—Buffalo Bayou each dusk, and watch the running of the bison. On Sunday afternoons, you can place your bets on them at Buffalo Speedway. That’s where A.J. Foyt got his start. We have the world’s largest medical center. For a town dubbed the nation’s fattest city and smog capital of America, we need it. Houstonians love sports, but since most fans are from somewhere else, at any college or pro sporting event, it is often hard to determine which is the home team. We like to say: “At Minute Maid Park you are never more than half an inning away from Major League Baseball.”

We have 81 radio stations in the Houston area, some of which are in English. We have a public radio station that is so exclusive no one can hear it. Then there is KTRH, whose listeners have trouble dialing in since they tend to drag their knuckles. We have three daily newspapers in Houston; two of them are in Chinese. The other is the Houston Chronicle, which is based in New York City and cares not a very profitable fig about putting out a quality newspaper in some town down in Texas. It’s the same with TV. Our network stations are owned by out-of-state corporations which won’t spend any money. So all the local TV news programs show only murders, apartment fires, muggings and more murders. If you just arrived here, please unpack. We also have house fires.


Here are a few items of knowledge for you newcomers:       

Telephone Road is not an unlisted number. River Oaks has no river. Chimney Rock is not a dance. Houston Heights is really not very high. Indeed, it’s hard to get a drink there.

• Fracking is good. Zoning is bad. So backyard fracking is acceptable, if not desirable.

• Matching mud flaps on your pickup truck is considered de rigueur. Saying “de rigueur” in most ice houses on Dowling Street can be harmful to your health.

• Students attend Rice for athletics and UH for academics.

• Yes, you can drive northeast on the Southwest Freeway.

• No, Miss Ima Hogg did not have a sister named Ura.

Visitors to Houston often comment about our weather, especially the humidity. Dermatologists say humidity is good for our skin, so we have nine giant humidifiers around town to keep our air moist. It rains here, but only on alternating days. Our summers can be hot, but not if you turn your AC down to 60 and never leave your house. We have roaches, but their size is often exaggerated by city boosters. I, personally, have never seen a cockroach larger than a shoebox. Okay, a boot box. Geographically, within the city limits of Houston’s 655 square miles, you could put New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. Might as well. Their inhabitants are already here.

Coming from elsewhere, as thousands of you have done, we welcome your arrival. We understand your bit of nostalgia at leaving Newark and Detroit, and we are patient, up to a point, with your NYU bumper stickers and the USC flags on your lawn poles, but by your own choice, you are in Texas now. Here, we name schools and counties after Lee and Jackson, Crockett, Zavala and Navarro. Your school children recite both the U.S. and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance every day. Deal with it or there is a U-Haul near you.

Despite what your job recruiter told you, Houston did not begin with your arrival. This is a city which can actually chart the very day it was born: August 30, 1836, when the Allen brothers ran an advertisement in the Telegraph and Texas Register for the “Town of Houston.” “There is no place in Texas more healthy, having an abundance of excellent spring water, and enjoying the sea breeze in all its freshness,” thus setting a Houston tradition we hold on to this day: Our developers lie. We have on our doorstep the San Jacinto Battlefield, where the Texians won their independence from Mexico but not from bandits, angry Indians who claim they got here first, drought, floods and the rare hurricane. It is easy to see why our side won at San Jacinto. The Texians had lookouts in that tall monument in the middle of the fight and a huge battleship just off shore.


Be careful when buying a house here. If the realtor says, “It’s a split-level,” check the foundation. A “fixer-upper” is a down-and-outer. A “teardown” means bring a match. Avoid buying any house that has a line drawn in the den at six feet labeled, “high-water mark,” or has the chalk outline of a body in the kitchen. We have some beautiful neighborhoods here, so avoid any that have a moat, guard towers or such names as Toxic Tundra, Cotton Mouth Meadows or Hurricane Alley. Incidentally, the only zoning we have here is the ozone.

Politically, voters in the City of Houston tend to vote Democrat. The county goes Republican. Either way, we send our least talented to Austin and Washington, basically just to get them out of town. A word of caution: Don’t bring up politics around members of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, a cocktail party and especially around the Tea Party who are easy to spot: They all wear flak jackets. 

You won’t be here long until you hear about the fate of our Official City Eyesore, the Astrodome. It’s been empty and deteriorating since the Astros and the Oilers had winning seasons. Suggestions on what to do with the structure have included using it for an indoor drive-in movie lot, a shopping mall and hotel, a space museum (we already have one but two are better), or that monstrous structure should be used to hold Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ego. One of the silliest ideas was to turn the Astrodome into a baseball stadium, easily converted for football. We had a vote to decide its fate and the demolish-the-Dome side won handily, but, this being a democracy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ruled that we keep it. So, the taxpayers just spent a small fortune to give the outside a clean-and-paint job.

Before the Dome was built, the Astros played in Colt Stadium. What happened to it? The facility became an open-air warehouse for junk from AstroWorld. In 1973, it was broken down and sold to a Minor League team in Torreon, Mexico, for $100,000. The stadium was later moved to Tampico, where it still stands, as part of a public playground. Some Houstonians say the Astros should have followed the field of beams.

So welcome to Houston, newcomer. For all our faults, you could be back in Detroit.

Ashby loves Houston at

Get to the Country!

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

spaTravaasa Austin is more than your typical luxury resort, with trendy eats, a world-class spa and activities to keep you busy in the quiet. Oh, and did we mention the infinity pool just 2.5 hours away?

by Nicholas Nguyen

As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I love heading to the capital for quick weekend trips throughout the year. Once I visit familiar haunts that hold fond memories, I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. Usually, that means food, outdoor activities and simply hanging out, enjoying the sights with good company.

So when Jen and Angela, a couple of old college friends, recommended I check out Travaasa Austin, an acclaimed resort set in the backdrop of the gorgeous Balcones Canyonlands of Texas Hill Country, I was a little bit hesitant. I wasn’t exactly the type to go to resorts—they certainly seemed relaxing, but what about food and adventure? Despite my misgivings, my friends convinced me that the Travaasa experience was more than it seemed.

After the easy drive on I-10 to TX 71, a scenic route around the bends and hills of Lake Travis put me in the mood to arrive at the luxurious resort in the late afternoon, nestled among trees, hills and trails. The helpful and friendly staff expanded on what my friends had told me, exceeding my expectations with a meticulous schedule of events and activities offered both onsite and nearby.

The rooms are designed in an upscale cabin-style, grouped across seven lodges that wind around the property and its amenities. I highly recommend snagging a Canyon Room to get a balcony with an unforgettable view of the lush hill country. Settling in was a breeze, with snacks, local coffee and tea waiting in the room. The bathroom was earthy in tone and quite large, a welcome change from city hotels. With a dinner reservation at The Preserve (formally Jean’s Kitchen), I relaxed on the balcony with the reading material from check-in.

404_Dining_Culinary_Demo_300dpiFIT FOR A FOODIE

The Preserve is open to the public, so, even if you aren’t staying at the resort, make a reservation for a great dining experience. I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the chef’s table and watch the charismatic executive chef, Benjamin Baker, and his sous chefs work. The ingredients are locally produced and organic, and the menu changes seasonally, fusing Spanish, Asian and American flavors. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.

For dinner the first night, I savored an heirloom tomato tart as an appetizer along with a shot of tomato gazpacho (compliments of the chef) that was incredibly refreshing. My partner started with soft-shelled crab that was cooked to perfection. Beginning at such a high note, the meal progressed into a crescendo of flavors and kudos to the chef. I had seared tuna with roasted veggies and a beet puree, the latter being one of my favorite things of the night. I also had a bite of my partner’s flavorful chicken in an achiote-orange reduction that was served with polenta and grilled green beans.

Dinner’s not complete without cocktails and dessert, though! I ordered a cucumber gimlet that was light and citrusy with a burst of lime. For spicy food lovers, try the Texas Heat, made of rum and lime juice infused with jalapeños. Somehow we still had room for dessert—an apple tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and a classic molten chocolate cake.

While the breakfast menu is generally smaller than the dinner menu, the options pack a punch and are a great way to kick-start your morning before you embark on the activities at Travaasa. The kale smoothie with notes of ginger woke me up, and I enjoyed the steel-cut oats served with fresh berries. The polenta French toast was a surprising twist on a classic brunch item.

If available, the Tex-Mex options rule the lunch menu. My friend Angela suggested the fish tacos as a light meal, but I was unable to resist the tamales with braised pork shoulder. 

305_Activities_Zip_Line_300dpiADVENTURE AWAITS

When booking your stay, you can opt for packages, which include special programs and activities for that month.

Morning Pilates or yoga by the infinity pool seemed to be a popular choice, and even if you’re not a devoted student, the view is just so incredible. Stay fit on the trails—one for beginners and one for more advanced hikers—which loop around the resort grounds and take you past the Prickly Pear Challenge Course. The obstacle course is grueling, but it’s worth it when you sail over treetops at the end. If I had the time, I would have loved trying the mechanical bull workout, which puts your core to the test!

Along with horseback riding, visitors can mountain bike, go on trail rides and go geocaching, which is real-world treasure hunting using GPS devices. Travaasa also offers tango, salsa and more. For calmer practices, try a guided meditation course or a drawing class out on the grounds. Along the paths, the zen garden and stone labyrinth make for a nice, mellow stop.

For the ultimate foodie adventure, don’t miss The Farm at Travaasa. The farm produces vegetables, fruits and herbs that are used at The Preserve and in treatments at The Spa. Courses on growing and planting your own garden as well as culinary demonstrations and wine tastings are available.


The Spa at Travaasa focuses on the wellness of the mind, body and spirit. From scalp massages and facials to exfoliating treatments and massages to manicures and pedicures, the services offered cover you from head to toe.

The massages are top-notch—Jen raved about her deep-tissue massage while Angela had the Swedish massage. My partner and I walked away with an invigorating peppermint footbath and neat manicures that really left my nails looking shiny and buffed for weeks (and I cook and wash dishes all of the time at home)!

Travaasa also features a variety of spa packages, ranging from a half-day of treatments to a full day, along with singles and couples treatments. Travaasa’s spa is also open to off-property guests—it’s worth it to make even just a day trip. The treatments utilize natural and organic products, which are for sale at the boutique.

The crown jewel of Travaasa is probably the magnificent infinity pool (which once graced a cover of Texas Monthly) that offers a spectacular view at sunset with a drink in hand. The view of the Balcones Canyonlands is unsurpassable. The pool area also includes a bar that sometimes hosts a happy hour event for guests, dozens of chairs and a handful of cabanas.

Travaasa Austin expanded my view of what a resort could offer—the food was excellent, the activities were varied and fun, and the spa service went above and beyond. Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to treat yourself, Travaasa Austin is proof that you don’t have to go far to get an unforgettable experience. H

10 Must Try Health Trends for 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features



Chair-ExerciseTake a stand.

When it comes to bad habits, sitting is the new smoking. In the last year alone, numerous studies have linked too much sedentary behavior with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death—even for those who exercise regularly. The remedy: Get out of your chair and off the sofa. In a recent study in the British Journal of Sport Medicine, researchers found that sitting less protects DNA even as it ages, which may extend your lifespan.

Why it works: Researchers speculate movement lengthens the telomeres, the “caps” found at the end of chromosomes in every cell. Longer telomeres prevent the genetic codes in chromosomes from being scrambled (which is what causes disease).

Try it: Those who log long days in front of a computer might want to consider investing in a standing work station or treadmill desk. But if that’s not in the budget, at least make an effort to sit less. “Get up once an hour even if it’s just to stand for a few minutes,” says Sara L. Warber, MD, co-director of the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Program. Talk to coworkers face-to-face rather than emailing them, and drink water from a small cup rather than a bottle so you’ll need to fill up more frequently. For more of a reminder, set an alarm on your phone to go off at regular intervals throughout the day or download the Take a Yoga Break app ($1.99 on iTunes). It has an alert you can program to remind you to get up every hour or so; you can take a walk, or the app will suggest a simple standing yoga pose that will get the blood circulating. To curb couch potato behavior at home, stop fast-forwarding through commercials, and use them as your cue to get up and move around.


Visit the sunshine state.

If you’re looking to slim down, load up on morning light. People who get sun exposure before noon have lower body mass indexes than those who catch rays later in the day, according to new research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The findings were true for everyone in the study, regardless of their levels of physical activity, diet, sleep timing and duration or age.

Why it works: Sunlight can help synchronize circadian rhythms (your internal body clock), which influence energy levels, hormone release and other bodily functions.

Try it: “About 20 to 30 minutes of natural light could be enough to affect weight,” says senior study author Phyllis C. Zee, MD. If you’re not a morning person, get your daily dose by parking farther away from the office, running out for a mid-morning break or even just working or sitting next to a window.


Embrace the new sharing economy.

Spanish tapas, Chinese dim sum, Greek meze. Though far from new, “small plates” meant for grazing and sharing are still trending, according to the National Restaurant Association’s latest What’s Hot culinary forecast—and they’re ideal for people watching their weight. “For those who tend to be in the clean-plate club, ordering shareable dishes or two appetizers is a fantastic strategy,” says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD.

Why it works: “In addition to providing instant portion control, these dishes tend to be more interesting than entrées,” she points out.

Try it: “Even though you’re ordering small plates, you still need to be mindful of your choices,” says Middleberg, who advises making one of the appetizers a high-volume (read: satiating) salad or a side of vegetables. Her other small-plate picks include shellfish, summer rolls, grilled chicken skewers and steamed dumplings.


Eat the real breakfast of champions.

For a smart start to a pressure-packed day, poach, fry or scramble up some eggs. They’re rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that allows you to think more deeply and creatively, according to a recent study in Psychological Research. Researchers at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam found that test subjects who drank orange juice spiked with tyrosine were better at solving puzzles than those who were given a placebo. In an earlier study from Leiden University, the same fortified juice was shown to improve reaction time.

Why it works: “The amino acid tyrosine increases production of dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory and focus,” explains Cynthia Sass, RD, author of SASS! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches (2011, Harper Collins).

Try it: Not just for breakfast, tyrosine is plentiful in salmon, almonds, bananas, peaches, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocado, chicken and turkey, says Sass. “To up your intake, have a small banana mid-morning, snack on almonds or pumpkin seeds throughout the day, and add sliced avocado or tahini to an entrée salad topped with salmon, chicken or turkey.” 



Laughing is known to bring people together, fostering feelings of closeness and happiness. Now research from George Mason University finds the emotional payoff is far from fleeting. After having an LOL-worthy moment with someone, subjects reported experiencing “greater intimacy, positive emotions and enjoyment,” not only during that brief exchange, but also on subsequent interactions throughout the day.

Why it works: Shared laughter “may cause a rise in levels of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which promote bonding,” says study co-author Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, professor of clinical psychology at George Mason University and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side (Hudson Street Press, 2014). “Think of it as social glue.”

Try it: Humor is very individual, of course. But if you learn to appreciate the absurdity of life and see things from other perspectives, the grins and giggles will come more easily, says Dr. Kashdan. “Be silly—make weird sounds or funny faces when something doesn’t make sense to you, and learn to tell stories with compelling characters and a great punch line.”


Have a fitness flashback.

Will you ever forget the rush you got when you finally held plank for a full minute? Or the excitement you felt after finishing your first 5K? Use those recollections as motivation. A recent study in the journal Memory showed that people who drew upon a positive experience were much more likely to be active than those who didn’t tap into one.

Why it works: “These memories may temporarily boost self-confidence, while helping to shift your mind-set from ‘exercise is a chore’ to ‘exercise is a fulfilling activity,’” says study coauthor David B. Pillemer, EdD, the Samuel E. Paul professor of developmental psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

Try it: Next time your drive takes a nosedive, conjure a concrete mental image of a workout that made you feel agile or accomplished. And if a less successful experience comes to mind (say, getting cut from your college soccer team or your first, painfully awkward Pilates Reformer class), don’t sweat it, says Dr. Pillemer. “While positive memories had the best effects, negative ones can also be helpful because they inspire you to take actions to avoid those feelings.”


Get smart(phone).

Don’t feel guilty about scrolling through your Instagram feed or playing Candy Crush during office hours—the occasional digital distraction may actually be good for business. In a recent Kansas State University study, people who took smartphone breaks reported being happier at the end of their workday. After installing an app that monitored usage, researchers found employees spent an average of 22 minutes with their phones during an eight-hour shift.

Why it works: “Similar to other breaks—for example, chatting with coworkers or walking the halls—smartphone micro-breaks can refresh you and help you cope with the demands of the workplace,” says Sooyeol Kim, a doctoral student who led the study.

Try it: These findings aren’t a green light to tap, talk and text the day away. To keep your cell phone from screwing up your schedule—or your career—aim for multiple, mini tech breaks, each limited to one or two minutes at a time.


Recover proactively.

Considering the popularity of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts like CrossFit and Tabata, it’s no surprise that injuries are also on the rise. Enter the wave of “Regenerative” or “Recovery” programs in gyms and studios around the country. “Once viewed as ‘soft,’ recovery has finally become mainstream,” according to Carol Espel, senior global director of group fitness and Pilates for Equinox Fitness Clubs. “People are realizing that excessive training is unsustainable.” (Though not billed as such, Pilates fans know that the method is the original regenerative form of exercise.)

Why it works: Taking a more holistic approach to exercise, she says, is the best way to maximize strength gains, improve performance and stay active throughout life. This means supplementing your regimen with low-impact workouts that promote flexibility and muscle endurance, whether it’s Pilates or a class such as restorative yoga, which marries super-slow, prop-supported poses with meditation.

Try it: The right recovery-to-exertion ratio depends on your goals and limitations, so talk with a doctor or fitness professional if you are rehabbing an injury or unsure how to find the right balance for you. “But in general, regenerative workouts can—and should—be done on a daily basis, even on rest days,” says Espel. If you’re pressed for time, squeeze in 10 minutes of Pilates mat moves before work, or follow a tough cardio session with a 15-minute session of foam rolling. SMR (self-myofascial release), a technique that uses massage balls and foam rollers to ease tightness in the soft tissues and restore your range of motion, is another effective option.


Speed up your slim-down.

Add weight loss to coffee’s much-publicized perks. A new Spanish study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism revealed that consuming a cup of joe (or another source of caffeine) before your workout can help you torch about 15 percent more calories for three hours post-exercise than you would sans caffeine.

Why it works: “It’s probably a combination of things,” says Sass. “The stimulant speeds metabolism and boosts both mental and physical performance, which means you can work out harder, longer or both.”

Try it: In the study, the after-burn effect was triggered by 4.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. (For a 150-pound woman, that’s about 300 mg of caffeine, the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee.) “Stick with one cup of coffee about 30 minutes before the start of your workout,” says Sass.


Hit the trail with your buds.

To beat the blues, gather some friends for a walk through Memorial and Buffalo Bayou Park. A recent study published in Ecopsychology found that walking outdoors with others can lower stress levels and even reduce the risk of depression.

Why it works: “We’ve long known that walking is good for you,” says Dr. Warber, senior study author and an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Combined with social support and spending time in nature—both which have been shown to have mental health benefits—it can be a very powerful stress-buster.”

Try it: “The current exercise recommendation is 30 minutes five times a week, so add some variety to workouts by making one of those sessions a group walk,” suggests Dr. Warber. Look online to find a walking group in your area or start one of your own by reaching out to friends, family members and neighbors. You might be surprised to find like-minded people who are ready to get a breath of fresh air and hold each other accountable for regular exercise. H

A.J. Hanley, a freelance writer, has resolved to take more standing, walking and Candy Crush breaks in the New Year.

Best of 2015

February 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features



Best Local Children’s Book Author: Chris Field

With his recent release Under The Mango Tree: A Story of Friendship and Freedom (Mercy Project Publishing, $15), Field shares with readers, young and old, the story behind the organization he founded, Mercy Project a sustainable non-profit in West Africa that teaches slave masters a better way of working, so they voluntarily let the slave children they own return to their families. The book explores what they do, who they help, and how anyone, anywhere, at any time can contribute to changing the world. “One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to help them see and believe that they are world changers,” says Field.

Best Indoor Play Area: Memorial City’s Frolic’s Castle
Calling all children who love to dream of medieval times where sweet dragons, sleeping giants, magical wizards and pretty-in-pink princesses ruled the land. Memorial City opened Frolic’s Castle, the world’s largest indoor soft play area in a shopping center! Located in the Sears wing of Memorial City Mall, the expansive play area features the castle home of Frolic the friendly green dragon, his purple wife Felicity and their young son Puffy.

Best School to Learn Mandarin: The Woodlands Preparatory School
The school, which emphasizes leadership, intercultural understanding and service, recently expanded the language curriculum to include Mandarin. Mandarin is the official spoken language of China, the world’s second-largest economy. The school’s diverse student population represents more than 42 countries.

Best Stroller Accessory: Choopie
CityGrips from Choopie, favored by celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jason Bateman, Elton John, Tori Spelling and Bethenny Frankel, is the stylish stroller must-have. The durable stroller handlebar covers slip onto any stroller in seconds. The plush material is machine washable, plus the wide selection of colors and styles is sure to set your stroller apart from the pack!

Best Way to Spend an Afternoon With the Kids: the Houston Zoo
See the elephants, snakes, lions and more! For just $5, you can feed the giraffes. Your children will love the petting zoo, and the play area is one of the best in the city. Moms in the know visit here weekly.

Best Children’s Party Location: Jump N Jungle
Hosting a party at Jump N Jungle means no cleanup—what’s not to like? The perfect party idea, the facility features private rooms with bouncy houses for all ages and skill levels. After the kiddies are tired from jumping, cut the cake in the attached event room.

Best Place For Girls to Play Dress-Up: Sweet and Sassy
Your girly-girl will adore one of the nine themed parties to chose from, including the new “Ice Princess.” Perfect for ages four through 13, enjoy glittery makeovers, themed activities, special gifts and more.

Best Children’s Hair & Body Wash: Dubble Trubble
Going green is easy with Dubble Trubble, a two-in-one organic hair and body wash, created for children ages three to 12. Choose from five kid-friendly scents: Cherry Bomb, Bananaberry, Watermelon, Strawberry and Cool Cucumber.

Best Edible Wild Plant Class: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Foraging is one of those terms trending in the restaurant world, but it’s also a great activity to get the entire family’s heart rate pumping, thanks to lots of walking and bending. The Texas landscape is filled with an abundance of wild edibles, and Dr. Mark Vorderbruggen, a research chemist and avid explorer, teaches you where to find and how to identify wild edibles growing all around you. Grab your walking shoes, water and bug spray, and learn to survive in the woods or add to a great meal. 

Miller-Outdoor-TheaterBest Budget-Friendly Outing: Miller Outdoor Theatre

Located in Herman Park, this theater is the largest one in the U.S. to offer free professional entertainment for a full eight months. On this year’s family-oriented lineup: classical music, jazz, ethnic music and dance, ballet, musical theater, classic films and more. Pack the picnic basket, and eat in a covered seating area before the festivities.

Best Children’s Fitness Class: Kids Yoga and Creative Movement for Children

The Good Space Pilates & Yoga Studio recently launched this kiddie class, suitable for ages four to seven, to help provide respite from a hectic school schedule. The 45-minute session promotes the development of fine and gross motor skills while teaching balance, breathing and group cooperation—all through imaginative play and story telling through movement. And of course, it gets your child moving, something that’s extra-important in this day and age.

Best Park: Discovery Green
Discovery Green continues to impress us with it’s wide range of activities throughout the year. This social hub is the home of must-see public art installations, flea markets, festivals, performances and so much more.



Best Beauty Debut: Charlotte Tilbury Beauty at Nordstrom Houston Galleria
Tilbury is recognized as one of the biggest makeup artists in the world. She counts Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Gisele, Rihanna and more as clients, and is beloved by industry insiders from models to photographers and designers who all consider Charlotte their go-to. Charlotte has built her brand upon an empowering message for women stemming from her own personal mantra: “Give a woman the right makeup and she can conquer the world.”

Best Lashes: Amazing Lash
Amazing Lash Studio’s eyelash extensions are semi-permanent, and made from synthetic fibers designed to replicate the curve and size of natural lashes. Each lash is applied one by one, with a patent-pending application process to protect the clients’ own natural lashes. The long-lasting results of Amazing Lash extensions are compared against the most popular and best-selling mascara on the market. Our take: Skipping mascara in your personal beauty routine is one of the most convenient benefits of having eyelash extensions; it eliminates all the time spent buying, applying and removing messy mascara. The lashes are also safe and completely waterproof for bathing, swimming and exercising.

Best Juicer: Omega Mega Mouth Juicer

Want your juicing fix night or day? Then, you must own your own equipment. The Omega features an extra-large feed chute to accommodate larger portions and even whole fruits! This results in less cutting and a greatly reduced preparation time, allowing you to concentrate more on the juicing itself. Simply flip the switch and watch as the Mega Mouth makes quick work of fruits and vegetables, extracting the maximum amount of juice in minimal time.

Best Ride in Town: RIDE Indoor Cycling
Get on your bike and pedal! Enjoy high-intensity, music-driven indoor-cycling classes in the Heights. The classes are held on Schwinn AC performance bikes, and feature state-of-the-art sound systems, energizing and colorful LED lighting. An expert team of instructors motivates, inspires and challenges guests to break fitness barriers during the 45-minute sweat sessions.

Best Juice: DEFINE foods Juice

DEFINE foods Juice, a raw, organic, cold-pressed product, can be found at the hot workout spot DEFINE. The 16-ounce bottles that sell for $9.50 are available in six vibrant flavors: Nurture with sweet potato, cashew, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and honey; Restore (fuji apple, granny smith apple, lemon, ginger, cinnamon); Nourish (kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, pear, parsley, lemon, ginger); Revive (spinach, cucumber, pineapple, apple, lime, cilantro); Glow (carrot, orange, apple, ginger, turmeric); and Fuel (beet, carrot, apple, ginger, lemon). Each juice contains less than 300 calories and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and chlorophyll.

 Best Diverse Fitness Plan: ClassPass

Enjoy unlimited workout classes at boutique fitness studios for a fixed monthly fee. Users can visit any studio in their network up to three times per studio per month. Offering a variety of class types, from yoga to indoor cycling to high-intensity interval training, this unique program allows you to pick and chose your fitness plan. Work out local at the following locations: The Bar Method, Pure Barre, Joy Yoga Center, Hardcore Pilates, Bodyrock Pilates, HIP Fitness, Yoga West, Studio Fitness Heights.

Best Online Organic Grocery Store: Greenling

Eating local and organic has never been easier, thanks to online service and shopping experience, Greenling. With produce and products sourced from hundreds of local farms and food artisans, you don’t need to leave the house to reap the benefits of a farmers’ market. The kicker: Delivery is free!

Best Beauty App: beGlammed

In the market for a glam squad? The beGlammed app, free to download, lets you channel Tinseltown by bringing cutting-edge and personally vetted hair stylists and makeup artists to your mirror—wherever that may be. You can thank business and beauty industry veterans Jocelyn Loo and Maile Pacheco, the creators of the app, for making getting Real Housewife ready a reality.


Best Book About the Dallas/Houston Rivalry: Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry by Carlyn Kneese and John Demers; introduction by Lynn Ashby (Bright Sky Press, 2014)

The age-old I-45 rivalry has reemerged as a hot topic. What is it about each place that makes its citizens so proud? Kneese teamed up with Lynn Ashby and John DeMers, respected journalists who have worked both towns, and surveyed the people who make each town great. What emerges is Bragging Rights: The Dallas-Houston Rivalry, a celebration of the similarities and differences between Dallas and Houston.

Best Pet Fund-Raising Event: Best Friends Brunch
Celebrate aniMeals on Wheels, a program of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, bringing donated dog and cat food to pets of Meals on Wheels seniors, so they don’t have to share with their four-legged friends. At this event, honorees walk the runway with their pets as the festive crowd eggs them on.

Best Way to Watch the Galveston Mardi Gras Parade: A&M Mardi Gras Parade Viewing Party

Have fun and benefit and great cause: the George P. Mitchell Society of Texas A&M University at Galveston. Admission includes a Cajun-themed buffet, an open bar, live music by The Line Up and a premier view of the Momus Grand Night Parade as it passes in front of the hotel. Guests will have the option to watch the parade from the ballroom balcony or at street level in a gated viewing area.

Best Meet-Up spot in Kemah: Jackie B’s

Jackie’s Brickhouse is a full-service restaurant, sports bar and entertainment facility. Enjoy live music nightly, pub games and a family-friendly environment. The vast menu offers something for everyone, from seafood and pastas to steaks and burgers.

Best Local Designer: Amir Taghi
Taghi is an 18-year-old designer based in Houston, but causing a national uproar across the country. A Houston Episcopal High School student, he started his senior year with a New York Fashion Week debut. He was also featured on the runway at Fashion Houston. He finds inspiration from southern women and his Persian culture.

Best Boot Scootn’ Fashion: Lucchese

Lucchese opened its fourth store in Highland Village; the 5,000-square-foot space, complete with a dedicated custom design room where customers can create their perfect pair of boots, promises a shopping experience unlike any other. “With Houston being an epicenter of the boot-wearing population worldwide, the city is a perfect fit for Lucchese,” says Jay Hamby, director of retail sales for Lucchese. The store features the brand’s fashion footwear collection for men and women, which originally debuted in spring 2014, along with its line of Equestrian-inspired handbags, clutches, totes and cross-body bags.

Best Night of Art, Fashion and Music: Houston Press Artopia
This annual party celebrates Houston’s artists throughout all mediums and forms. Enjoy an evening of food, cocktails, galleries, shows and live music, and celebrate the recipients of the MasterMind Awards, given to those who have greatly impacted the local arts community.

Best Interactive Art Installation: Arts BrookField

This February 12 through May 9, indulge your fantastical side—think unicorns, the circus, black holes, fun houses and carnivals—at the Art Guys’ “Tunnel of Love,” to be exhibited at One Allen Center Gallery. This fun, interactive installation will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The-Suffers---Press-Photo---Credit-Daniel-JacksonBest Local Artist to Watch: The Suffers

Houston lays claim to The Suffers, the award-winning 10-piece band you’ve undoubtedly heard of. This January, the group launched a new single, “Make Some Room,” to jumpstart their West Coast Tour beginning in February and extending to 11 cities in the area. Make some noise—The Suffers are here to stay.



Best Grilled Octopus: Caracol

It’s the octopus salad, and it comes perfectly chard on a bed of grilled root vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, purple potatoes, with a spicy mole-like sauce and a green verde milder sauce. Perfection.

Best Cocktails: Boheme
Located in Montrose, Boheme’s atmosphere is simply magical, the decor having been influenced by Houstonian and owner Morgan Holleman’s worldly travels. They have some of the best house cocktails in the city, and we recommend the Gunpowder, a blend of rums with a hint of cinnamon spice.

Best Sandwich: Juan Mon’s

At this international sandwich shop, each sandwich is named for the city that provided the inspiration. The owner did his research, visiting each city individually to learn the personalities and best sandwichs. Our favorite is the Buenos Aires—breaded chicken Milanesa, Oaxaca cheese, tomato, lettuce, avocado, mayo and chipotle salsa.

Best Grilled Cheese: Tout Suite

Local favorite Houston Dairy Maids’ seasonal cheeses are featured on the monster grilled sensation. Sourdough makes it divine.

Best Cooking Lessons: Art of the Meal

Want to learn to make homemade pasta, or cook healthy chicken? The chefs at Art of the Meal are here to help. Simply sign up for a class and show up; all of the ingredients are ready for assembly. Great as a team-building event, baby shower or date, this new concept is sure to make cooking a breeze.

Best Authentic Pizza: dmarcos pizzeria

Chicago native and Texas transplant Demarco Jenkins opened the pizzeria in Sugar Land last year. Jenkins’ signature recipes, exclusive to d’marcos, were graciously gifted to him by the owners of his favorite Chicago pizzeria, Mama Rigetta’s. Enjoy dishes containing buttery-flavored flaky crusts; marinara and pizza sauces made from scratch with real Italian fresh-ground peeled tomatoes; Italian spice blends in handmade Italian pork sausage; and Italian chicken sausage made with fennel.

Best Deviled Egg and Fried Oysters: Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette

Located on San Felipe and serving new American cuisine, the Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette takes great pride in knowing the origins of its resources. They partner with local, family-owned ranchers that dutifully care for the beef, and utilize local Galveston fishing boats that provide fresh and seasonal seafood. A can’t-miss on their menu is the deviled eggs with maple bacon jam and smoked paprika. Be warned, though: It’s on the sharing menu, but you might not feel like splitting the dish after your first bite.

Best Veal Osso Buco: Le Mistral

The eatery made last year’s list for the “best salad,” but we couldn’t pass on giving them another nod this year. Le Mistral has carved out a niche on the west side of Houston, serving elegant French cuisine. Of the many notable items on the dinner menu, the slow-braised veal osso buco with Madeira sauce and Parmesan and mushroom risotto is simply delectable.

Miso-Butter-RamenBest Ramen: Cafe Kubo’s Sushi
As the ramen trend continues to flourish in Houston, Cafe Kubo in Chinatown continues to serve the best and most affordable bowls of noodles to slurp down. We recommend the shoyu and miso butter ramen.

9889 Bellaire Blvd.

Best Sashimi: Aka Sushi House

The happy hour here is amazing, and you just can’t beat the fact that the deals last all day on Saturdays and Sundays. We love the thick slices of salmon sashimi—the taste and texture is lightly buttery and almost melts in your mouth.

Best Chips and Dip: Gloria’s Latin Cuisine

Okay, so there’s salsa dancing on the weekend at Gloria’s, along with amazing and authentic Tex-Mex food and delicious margaritas, but what really makes our mouths water is the black bean dip and chips!

Best Cronut: The Grove

In Richmond, the city (not the street) on the southwest side of Houston, there is a treasure trove of gourmet donuts that will satisfy your sweet tooth. While we love the made-to-order donuts that come in a variety of flavors like Chocoberry, Strawberry Lemonade and Oreo Cheesecake, we can’t get enough of the shop’s version of the trendy cronut (a croissant and donut hybrid). Our advice? Call ahead to order these delicious treats that come in flavors like S’mores, Strawberry Cheesecake and Crème Brûlée!

Best Happy Hour: MKT BAR
Phoenicia Market Downtown includes one of the most entertaining happy hours of the city. Get deals on drinks and appetizers on weekdays between 2–7pm and enjoy nightly events such as game night on Mondays, steak night on Tuesdays and Thursdays and stand-up comedy on Fridays. On Saturdays, happy hour is reversed and run from 9pm–12am. 

For Your Arts & Entertainment

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features



(Renaissance) Fair Game

Looking for something different to do this season? The Texas Renaissance Festival ( is like none other, and because this October/November marks the fest’s 40-year anniversary, it will be a party to remember.

Every weekend, as well as on Thanksgiving Friday, from October 11–November 30, the 55-acre theme park in Todd Mission, Texas, will showcase hundreds of costumed performers, dressed in sixteenth-century British garb, in more than 200 shows. You can visit every week and see something different, thanks to the themed weekends, like Oktoberfest, Pirate Adventure and Celtic Christmas. Cobblestone “streets” pave the way for nearly 400 shops, showcasing everything from arts and crafts to food and drink. Closing each day are the Royal Fireworks above the lake.

In honor of four decades of celebration, Renaissance style, the Festival will introduce the King Midas Masquerade Ball, held Saturdays from October 11–November 29 at the newly completed 15,0000-square-foot permanent pavilion. Face paint or masks are a must to get in—as is an ID proving you’re at least 21—and costumes or black-tie attire are welcomed. You’ll celebrate with hors d’oeuvres, domestic beer, house wine and live entertainment.

The Festival will also be bringing in internationally renowned guest artist Real Musgrave, the creator of Pocket Dragons and former Official Artist to the grounds, to design souvenirs that will serve as collectables for the anniversary; all the proceeds will go to the Humane Society of Flower Mound “Flower’s Fund.” For a chance to meet Real Musgrave and get posters and memorabilia autographed, make sure to visit opening weekend, October 11–12, 2014.

Don’t know about you, but we’re already craving a good drumstick.

—Amanda Altman

Winter Fun

Get in the holiday mood by getting to Galveston. But make sure to bundle up—the “Winter Wonder Island” is playing host to more than 1,000 festivities, including the city’s first-ever ice sculpture exhibit, packed with a whopping 2 million pounds of ice. Your little ones will feel like the set of Frozen came to life while they check out displays of SpongeBob SquarePants, holiday sculptures and more (November 15–January 4 at Moody Gardens).

While you’re there, make sure to catch the Gulf Coast’s largest holiday light show, the 13th Annual Festival of Lights ( on November 15–January 3. The show will feature 100-plus sound-enhanced animated displays, plus more winter activities for the entire family, like ice skating and snow tubing on the Arctic Ice Slide. Come on opening day to see Santa parachute down! Also at the Gardens, on December 18–27, is A Magical Christmas Dinner and Show with master illusionist Curt Miller and Friends (


Leave the kids with the grandparents at Moody Gardens while you check out the island’s Victorian Christmas attractions, including the 1895 Moody Mansion (, which will be decked out in holiday glory (Thanksgiving weekend till January 1). Visit on December 5, and you can tour the private homes in the East End Historical District. Also a must the first week of December in the district: Dickens on The Strand (, where characters from Dickens novels and costumed vendors meander about the streets, plus Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry and music and more.

Can’t take the cold? Go surfing with Santa at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark (November 28–December 23). Also hit up Santa at Santa on the Strand (November 29–December 20) in downtown, where you can snap a photo on his lap. And on December 21, 4,000 Santas will race to the finish in the Santa Hustle Half Marathon and 5K. Don’t miss it!


Kids Get Cultured


Who says New Orleans has all the fun? Performing and visual arts take centerstage at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s 19th Annual Children’s Festival this November 8–9. Kids of all ages—but especially those in PK through fifth grade—will get schooled in creativity, culture and more, thanks to shows given by award-winning children’s performers and activities galore.

Get your science on at The ExxonMobil (the company is the presenting sponsor) STEM Zone, by exploring the Big Canyon Balloon and a fossil record and oil deposit, or check out activities from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and The Houston Children’s Museum.

Artists-in-training should head to Arts Alley for fun arts and crafts, and get their tactile fix at the Anadarko Adventure Zone, where they can make their own silly putty and get their face painted and more.

Get moving at the Healthy KidZone, with active games like Bubble Runners and Bumper Boats, and stick around for a chance to meet pro sports team members. Kids will also learn healthy habits and even some gymnastics and martial arts moves to boot.

Got time left? Visit the Activity Tent, where you can go for a train ride, and take part in a coloring contest and an instrument petting zoo.

Tickets are $8 if purchased in advance via Ticketmaster ( or $10 at the door—children under two get in free—and include every show and activity. For more information, visit


A Part of Your Community

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features


Lone Star Chuck Wagon
and The Great Food Truck Race

A competitor from The Woodlands shows how it’s done—Texas style.

by Laura Jackson

Competing against seven other national teams in the fifth season of Food Network’s successful series, The Great Food Truck Race, Lone Star Chuck Wagon, the Texas-based team, gave viewers from around the country an excellent taste of true Tex-Mex at its best.

On a high-stakes culinary road trip traveling from Southern California to the beaches of Key West, FL, each team was provided with a vehicle for the race—and a chance at walking away with their own food truck and $50,000 to start their business. Gaining valuable experience with each new challenge and city, the rookie teams soon learned that running a food truck is harder than it looks.

Lone Star Chuck Wagon’s fearless leader, Lance Kramer, grew up in The Woodlands, competed in barbecue competitions for years, where he won against trained chefs, and has even developed his own line of sauces and rubs. With the support of his wife, Rachel Young, and their best friend, Andrea Chesley, he came to the race trained and ready to bring Texas-style home cooking to hungry people across the nation. Lance’s favorite aspect of The Great Food Truck Race was the spontaneity of it all: “It was also my least favorite part! We never knew where we were going next, or what curveball the host Tyler Florence was going to throw at us. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Traveling the country, doing what we love was amazing!”

Naturally, growing up in Houston influenced Kramer’s cooking style. “When I was young in The Woodlands, there was only one restaurant, so my family would always drive to Houston for good eats,” he recalls. “With Houston’s melting pot of cultures, we were exposed to a wide variety of foods. This opened up my palate and made me very adventurous.”

His fondest memories of learning to cook are with his grandparents. “My grandma had a step stool, and I would climb up it and help her in the kitchen. She always let me help, and if I close my eyes, I can still smell her amazing cooking. And in my grandpa’s arms, he would let me flip burgers on the grill before I was even tall enough to see them!” All that true Texas training definitely paid off.

For fun photo galleries, blogs and video clips of the show, visit

Worth the Wait Bride Channing says to hold out for love.

By Laurette M. Veres • Photography by Pixel Studio Productions

Channing Smith was spending the day at the Kemah Boardwalk with her cherished nieces and boyfriend. The young girls were having caricatures drawn, so Brian and Channing decided to get one as well. The artist revealed his work; he had drawn a large ring on Channing’s finger. “As I turned to ask Brian if he liked the picture, I saw him down on one knee,” she says. As soon as she accepted his proposal, family members appeared, nieces cheered and strangers high-fived.

Brian Morvant pulled off the perfect engagement. The whole day by the water was a setup; the nieces were bait. Her family was in on the gig, watching from behind the bushes, and her sister was there with the trusty video camera to capture the entire proposal.

The icing on the cake: The Bridal Extravaganza Show selected Channing to be the Billboard Bride. Like a few lucky brides before her, she too will appear on giant billboards all over the greater Houston area. Hundreds of thousands of motorists will see her beautiful smile during their daily commutes.

Channing’s message to future brides: “Resist pressures created by mainstream and social media. Forget about crazy, unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves based on Facebook, Pinterest, reality TV and Instagram. Work on being healthy, happy and being you.”

There is no perfect life, yet we race to meet “norms” we see on social media. Married right out of college, buy a house, have kids; that’s someone’s life, it may even be a good life, but don’t feel it has to be your life. It’s okay to feel something better is out there and search to find it.

Channing threw away a chance at the “normal life” and waited to find the right man. “I felt like I had nothing worthwhile to post on social media; no picture-perfect engagement photos, no romantic weddings shots and definitely no cute, cuddly pictures of my non-existent kids! I started feeling bad about myself despite having a wonderful life. Looking back, I realize how foolish this was, however, it was a real struggle.”

Many brides can have unrealistic expectations, wanting gowns, décor and more based on what they see on Facebook, Pinterest and reality TV.  “I’ve been to a ton of weddings, and none of them look like those I see on Pinterest. Why not? Because that isn’t the norm,” says Channing. “I’ve joked many times, my Pinterest wedding costs $90,000; my real wedding will cost a third of that!”

Channing feels everyone’s fairy tale comes true, some just take an alternate path; some have a different vision of what their fairy tale may be. She encourages people to follow their hearts and souls, not

Brian, the LSU Tiger, and Channing, the Texas A&M Aggie, are planning a fall wedding at Crystal Springs in Magnolia, TX. The one hitch to setting the hitching date: “Checking LSU’s football schedule,” she says. “Seriously!” It’s no Aggie joke; these two SEC rivals will have to find a way to get along during the annual LSU/A&M matchup. 

Yes, You are Turning into a Lightweight

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

lightweight_scrollby Stacy Baker Masand

Andrea Gates, 42, an advertising executive, used to enjoy a glass of wine or two, but found herself gaining weight, losing energy and having breakouts when she turned 40—even though her diet, stress level and exercise routine stayed the same. It was only after a friend suggested she cut out alcohol that her symptoms subsided and she started to feel more energetic.

Andrea’s experience isn’t unusual. “It takes far less alcohol to impact our bodies at 40 and up than it did in our 20s,” says Barbara Krantz, DO, medical director and director of research at the Hanley Center, a rehab facility in West Palm Beach, FL. “Since alcohol takes longer to metabolize in an aging body, the amount a person drinks in their 20s may affect them more intensely and more quickly if they continue to drink that same amount in their 40s.”

Starting in our 30s, our bodies’ levels of body fat naturally increase while the amount of lean muscle mass decreases. Those two physiological changes have an impact on the effects of alcohol in your body, explains Gary Murray, PhD, program director for the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Blood alcohol level rises higher in individuals with more body fat,” he says.


Another reason you may be starting to feel a bigger buzz with fewer cocktails is because of changes in your liver. When you drink, alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestine and then metabolized by liver enzymes, explains Dr. Krantz. But your liver becomes less efficient as you get older: Its size increases, while its hepatocytes (the functioning cells) and blood flow decrease, causing it to metabolize alcohol more slowly.

Age isn’t the only factor affecting your body’s response to booze; your gender is, too. Before the age of 50, men have higher levels of the stomach enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. This means a man will metabolize a martini faster than a woman, explains Dr. Murray. “Once you turn 50, that difference between men and women disappears,” he says. “Men’s enzyme levels are downgraded to that of a woman. Men who used to drink more than their wives often find that when they hit 50, both the effects of alcohol and the hangover hit them a little harder.”

That’s what happened to John, a 50-year-old marketing executive, who used to enjoy a drink or two after work to relax. Soon after he hit his milestone birthday, he found that drinking the same number of his signature cocktail began to lead to headaches, insomnia and hangover symptoms the morning after. When he limited his intake to a single glass of white wine a night, however, the issues disappeared.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean women can belly up to the bar without negative consequences; they also experience physiological changes as they age that affect their tolerance. “Alcohol can have a direct effect on women’s hormones that control their energy, blood pressure, bone mass, growth and development,” Dr. Krantz explains. “When it interferes with hormone actions, alcohol can exacerbate or cause diabetes and increase the risk of osteoporosis.”


Too many happy hours can also contribute to unwanted weight gain. “Alcohol stimulates appetite, makes us want to eat more unhealthy foods and lowers our inhibitions, all of which can lead to us making unhealthy choices,” says Jacquie Lavin, MMedSci, PhD, head of nutrition and research at Slimming World, a UK-based weight-loss organization. In a survey, the company found that many people who drank past a personal tipping point—equivalent to about three glasses of wine—consumed a whopping 6,300 extra calories over the following 24 hours.

To make matters worse, getting older also makes it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it—whether you’re drinking or not, points out Gabrielle Francis, DC, ND, a New York City–based naturopath and author of RxStar Remedy (HarperCollins, 2014). “Most people’s metabolisms slow as they age due to declining hormone levels, especially of the sex hormones and thyroid hormone,” she says. Add alcohol to the mix and it gets even harder to maintain a healthy weight. “In addition to being highly caloric, alcohol raises cortisol; cortisol raises insulin and insulin causes fat to deposit in the belly,” she says.

Beyond limiting the number of drinks you consume, avoid adding sugary mixers to spirits, which increase calories, cortisol and belly fat, she adds.


The older you get, the more likely you are to be treating other health conditions with prescription medications, which may be affected if you’re taking them while drinking. Dr. Francis recommends avoiding alcohol when taking the following medications, as alcohol can increase the severity of the drugs’ side effects, lessen their benefits, worsen an existing issue or trigger other harmful conditions: antihistamines; benzodiazepines (for anxiety); cimetidine and other stomach-acid-blocking drugs; ketoconazole (used to treat fungal skin infections); Coumadin and other blood thinners; steroids; and nicotine.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be problematic. While aspirin can cause gastric bleeding, it’s a better option than acetaminophen (Tylenol), says Dr. Murray, which, like alcohol, can increase the generation of a toxic metabolite called CYP2E1 that causes cell and tissue damage to the liver.


Obviously, the best way to mitigate the effects of alcohol is to not drink it in the first place, but for most people, that’s not an attractive option.

“After that, the next most effective cure is limiting the amount you consume and staying hydrated when you drink,” says Dr. Murray. Depending on your weight, you metabolize about one drink per hour. Because alcohol distributes to the water in our bodies, it’s also important to stay hydrated, especially as you clock the years. Dr. Murray’s cocktail party trick is to alternate drinks with a non-alcoholic beverage, like club soda with lime, juice or water.

And don’t try and “save” calories by not eating before cocktail hour. “Drinking on an empty stomach is just asking for a hangover because the alcohol gets into your body faster,” says Dr. Murray.


Gym-goers will be happy to know that your fitness level at any age is directly related to how you metabolize alcohol, explains Dr. Francis. When you’re in shape, you increase the circulation of blood, nutrients and toxins through the liver and kidneys. The more aerobic the exercise, the more blood that’s pumped through your system and the more your body is able to counter the effects of drinking and rebound the next day.

Meanwhile, maintaining lean muscle mass, through Pilates or other strength-training regimens, helps “soak up” alcohol and prevents it from hitting your bloodstream too quickly. Fit people can definitely deal with the side effects of alcohol better as they age, adds Dr. Murray.


A healthy diet is equally important. “Someone who is nutritionally starved or eats an un-enriched diet with few vitamins would feel the effects of alcohol more greatly,” Dr. Murray points out.

“As we age, we are also exposed to a greater amount of toxins, which leads to fewer enzymes being available for detoxification and affects the way our body detoxes alcohol,” adds Dr. Francis. However, healthy eating can help your body handle the toxins that come from moderate drinking. She recommends a balanced (and preferably organic) diet that includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein and eight to 10 glasses of water or herbal tea a day. Powerhouse foods such as broccoli, cabbage, artichokes, dark leafy greens, carrots, garlic and onions, along with spices like turmeric, rosemary, basil and cilantro will give the liver and kidneys the optimal nutrition.

Other treatments and supplements can mitigate the impact of alcohol, says Dr. Francis. She recommends acupuncture focused on liver and kidney balance, massage to support detoxification through the lymphatic system and taking steam or sauna sessions to help detox other chemicals, leaving more liver enzymes for alcohol detox. Supplements and herbs that support a healthy liver include: B-complex; milk thistle; dandelion; artichoke; burdock; turmeric (curcumin); omega-3-rich oils (flaxseed, for example); glutathione; and CoQ10.


Jennifer, a 52-year-old writer, took a month off from her nightly wine-with-dinner ritual after she began to experience fogginess, problems concentrating and fatigue. Soon afterward, she noticed a radical change in her productivity, memory and energy levels. “I sleep better, wake up early and refreshed, and stay productive and creative all day,” she says. “I don’t miss the wine, but I love how I feel. I have a natural buzz all day long!” 

Houston: The Rankest City

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

rank_scrollby Lynn Ashby

Our Number 1 is up

We all know that Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center by any measure—doctors, patients, square footage. Indeed, people come from the world over to die in Houston. We are first in having a domed stadium and “Houston” was the first word from the moon. (That’s up to dispute, but it’s our story and we’re sticking with it.) Yet, how do we measure up in seizures of illegal ivory? When you’re trying to recruit a Nobel Prize laureate to work the overnight shift at Wendy’s, you need to know how we rank among the snobbiest cities. When your prospective spouse’s father asks, “So you want to get married and move to Houston? How does that city rank in foreign consulates?” Smile that sneaky smile of yours and reply: “There are 92 countries’ consular offices in Houston; third highest in the nation.”

So let’s see where the Bayou City ranks in everything from receiving refugees to obesity.

More people moved to Houston last year than to any other American city except for New York. This year, local employers are on the path to add up to 90,000 new jobs. Houston alone authorized more building permits than the entire state of California in the first three months of 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that the George Bush Intercontinental Airport & Muffler Repair Shop, based on average cost per mile traveled, is the tenth-most-expensive airport to fly from in the U.S. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranks Houston as the seventh-most dangerous city in the nation. But CQ Press, whatever that is, ranks Houston as the tenth-most crime-ridden city with a population of more than 500,000. Least crime? El Paso. (Texas is the tenth-most dangerous state.) Oh, here it is: “CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications, publishes books, directories, periodicals, and electronic products on American government and politics.” Maybe we should steal its crime stats.

The city really crowed when Forbes ranked Houston as Number 1—the coolest city in America in 2012. At the time, the magazine said that Houston “boasts a variety of skills and occupations. From medical professionals and engineers to production managers and accountants, Houston’s labor force fills 2.7 million jobs and counting. In fact, Houston has more jobs than Maryland, Arizona, or Colorado.” Alas for 2014, Forbes ranked Washington DC as the coolest city in America. We slipped to Number 4. Odd. We must need more accountants. A Manhattan Institute study, by demographer Robert Scardamalia and author Tom Gray, compared the performance of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas from 2009 to 2012, based on gross domestic product, personal income and job creation. Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land ranked fourth.

In the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rankings of the best colleges, Rice ranked 18, UT-Austin, 52, Texas A&M, 69, Baylor, 75, and UH tied with 11 other schools at 190. Meanwhile, according to the 2014 edition of Princeton Review’s “The Best 378 Colleges,” Rice University is Number 1 in “Best Quality of Student Life,” Number 2 in “Happiest Students” and Number 5 in “Great Financial Aid.” However, in the really important category of “Best Football Team,” the Owls beat out only UT-Austin and a barber’s college in Buffalo.


Ranking Number 1 among America’s CEOs in income for 2013: Our own Anthony Petrello of Nabors Industries, a drilling contracting company. Petrello had an income of $68.2 million, an increase of 246 percent from the previous year. Nabors is a Houston company but is officially based in Bermuda—something about taxes. The rest of us get to make up the difference. Travel + Leisure listed its “20 Snobbiest Cities in America,” and Dallas is nowhere to be found. Austin and Houston, however, both made the count. Austin came in at Number 19 for possessing a “brainy, offbeat vibe” that echoes through the whole town. Houston came in at Number 17, thanks to “a combination of a rich arts tradition and luxury shopping.” To no one’s surprise, especially snobs, San Francisco, New York City and Boston took the top three slots. Among the nation’s “20 Most Congested Cities in the U.S.,” Houston ranks ninth, according to a study by the makers of Breathe Right Nasal Strips and Sperling’s BestPlaces.

Galveston Bay is the second-most-productive estuary in the U.S. for seafood. Pass it on.

Brand Keys, a marketing company, polled fans to see: how exciting a team is during competition; how well they play as a team; how well respected and admired the players are; and the extent to which the game and the team are part of a fans’ and community’s rituals, institutions and beliefs. Which baseball teams have the most loyal fans? The St. Louis Cardinals’ fans finished first. At the very bottom, at Number 30, were the Houston Lastros, same as last year. For the third time, the Nielsen ratings registered a 0.0 for an Astros game. Any city having the worst team in major league baseball the same year it also has the worst NFL team may, in itself, make us Number 1 in misery.

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. Texas is also Numero Uno in receiving refugees for the past two years. Numero Tres: The city has the third-largest Hispanic and third-largest Mexican population in the U.S.

Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston “America’s Fattest City.” It wrote that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 34 percent of our town’s residents are overweight. In previous surveys, the magazine claimed Houston was on the upswing in the weight-loss department, but there’s evidently been a bit of a regression since it last checked in. “It could be the heat. Houston typically suffers through a hundred or more days each year with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, combined with relative humidity that rivals Manila’s. The city’s average commute—27.5 minutes, primarily by car since Houston lacks a comprehensive mass-transit system—also plays a major role in keeping Houstonians seated and sedentary.”

Houston ranked Number 15 on a list of the country’s top 30 metro areas based on the amount of office and retail space jointly developed in “Walkable Urban Places,” or “WalkUPs,” according to a national study on walkability and urbanism. The report also examined development patterns and other factors to predict how walkable these metros are likely to become. Houston ranked Number 13 among the 30 metros on that list. After seven straight years as U.S. News & World Report’s Number 1–ranked hospital for cancer care, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has fallen to Number 2. It dropped behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, its New York City rival, in the magazine’s annual “Best Hospitals” survey. The two have fought for the top spot since the survey’s inception in 1990.

But enough of these minor points, how does Houston rank overall as a city? That depends upon whom you ask. Bloomberg’s Best Cities ranks Houston Number 30. San Antonio comes in at 22, Dallas at 11. The Milkin Institute’s list of “Best Performing Cities” ranks Houston 4, Austin 1. Just remember, Milkin was a convicted felon. Houston was named the “Top U.S. Destination City,” the “Top U.S. Metro” by Site Selection magazine, also the “Top U.S. Manufacturing
City” and the
“Best City for Your Career.” Forbes’ annual survey of America’s fastest-growing cities put three of the Texas cities ranking in the top 10: Austin (Number 1), Dallas (Number 4) and Houston (Number 10). Forbes still loves us. Last September, the magazine said Houston was “America’s next great global city.”


Here are a few stats to drop at your next destruction derby:

Number 4: Houston is the fourth-most-populous city in the nation (trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) and is the largest in the southern U.S. and Texas.

Number 30: If Houston were an independent nation, it would rank as the world’s thirtieth-largest economy.

Number 1 (again): Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city. We have more than 11,000 restaurants. Maybe that explains our “Fattest City” crown. Where is Marvin Zindler when we need him?

Number 2: Houston has a theater district second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area. The 17-block Theater District is home to eight performing arts organizations with more than 12,000 seats. This is one of five U.S. cities that offer year-round resident companies in all major performing arts, and the city has 69 topless bars, which puts it at or near the top.

Number 1: Houston is home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The world’s largest livestock show and rodeo attracts more than 2.2 million visitors each year.

Number a Few Billion: The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Gross Area Product (GAP) in 2006 was $325.5 billion, slightly larger than Austria’s, Poland’s or Saudi Arabia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While we’re at it, when comparing Houston’s economy to a national economy, only 21 countries other than the U.S. have a gross domestic product exceeding Houston’s regional gross area product.

Number 23: The number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Houston. Only New York City is home to more. The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled. It is the tenth-largest port in the world. The Port handled 220 million short tons of domestic and foreign cargo in 2010. The Port also ranks Number 1 in the nation in seizures of illegal ivory. However, former Rocket Yao Ming was the star of a film in China warning against buying ivory and poaching elephants. According to the Children At Risk organization and the Education Resource Group, in 2014, the DeBakey High School for Health Professions is the top public high school in the greater Houston area. T.H. Rogers Elementary and T.H. Rogers Middle School topped the list for both elementary and middle schools.

Okay, my fellow swamp rats, there we have it. By virtually every yardstick, we are living in a place at a time when everything is booming, good and bad. I didn’t go into how we rank in dirty air, West Loop traffic and August afternoons. So let’s look on the bright side of life, as they sing in “The Life of Bryan.” Everyone is making money, living longer, getting happier. And remember, at Minute Maid Park you are never more than a half-inning from major league baseball. H

Sources: The U.S. Census, Houston Chronicle (which ranks Number 1 as the largest circulation newspaper in the nation never to have won a Pulitzer, but they hired one), Houston Facts, Google and statistics that magically appeared on my computer screen.

A Tale of Two Cities

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Features


The Houston-New Orleans Connection

by Lynn Ashby

111 DECATUR STREET—On Saturday afternoon, February 25, 1843, Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, commander of the Texas Navy, came here to the Texas consulate to see William Bryan, a local merchant who represented Texas’ interests. As the two men were leaving, a messenger came to this building—it’s still here—and handed Moore a sealed letter from President Sam Houston. The letter ordered Moore back to Galveston. The Texas Navy was being sold. The Lone Star Republic couldn’t afford a navy. Today, this four-story brick building has an overhang and a sign: “Mr. Jack’s barber and beauty salon.” Inside, are bare brick walls and a barber shop. A resident, Mr. Jack, I assume, tells me that he has heard about the Texas connection and a woman over on Chartres Street gave him some papers about it, then his overt enthusiasm fades.

Not far away was 56 Common Street. That address is no longer evident. As close as I can come is 560. Whatever the address then and now, no doubt that the Lone Star Flag flew from the front. Somewhere in this town are Sam Houston’s bones. Not all of them, just the shattered ones. To this day, everywhere you look, you see Texas license plates. It’s easy for Texans and particularly Houstonians to feel easy in the Big Easy. They have a Brennan’s. We have a Brennan’s. They have a dome. We have a dome. Theirs is still being used by the Saints and is where both Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell finished their careers. Indeed, the Saints were originally owned by a Houstonian, John Mecom, Jr.

The oil business has much to do with the linkage of the two cities. How many bumper stickers and front-yard flags around Houston sport the yellow and purple (an awful color combination) of LSU? Although I do love the slogan “Geaux Tigers.” Southwest Airlines has 20 weekday flights between the two cities. United has 27. We must assume most passengers are lawyers because BP’s national headquarters are in Houston, but the legal fighting is in New Orleans. I’m going too fast, so let’s take a look at the close connection between Houston and New Orleans, between Cajuns and cowboys, étouffée and enchiladas, Bourbon Street and bayous, how we owed them and how we paid back the debt with interest.

Decatur-StA Friend in Need
A quick setting of the stage—and no, this isn’t a history lesson, we’re talking fun stuff: When Texas was fighting for its independence and for years afterward, New Orleans was the only city within a thousand miles. Supplies for the Texian (as they called themselves then) Army came though here. But the U.S. was neutral, so support came surreptitiously, a word Billy Bob, Comanche Jack and Deaf Smith probably didn’t use a lot. Fourteen days after Texas declared its independence (March 2, 1836, pilgrim), the Twin Sisters arrived here on their way to the Texas Army. The Twins were our cannons at San Jacinto, shipped as “hollow ware” because of the U.S. neutrality.

The only Texian flag recovered at the Alamo was that of the New Orleans Greys. They were all killed. One month after San Jacinto, a wounded Sam Houston came here. It was on May 22, 1836, that a cheering crowd and a band greeted his boat. On the other hand, a New Orleans newspaper, the Tropic, wrote about Houston, “If the next arrival from Texas does not inform us that the miserable fool who presides over the fate of Texas at the present time has been lynched, we shall be disappointed.” Later, doctors would remove 20 pieces of bone from Sam’s leg. They are probably still around here.

The Crescent City was where ships and crews of the Texas Navy came for supplies and a little R & R. What isn’t generally known is that the Republic of Texas had a Marine Corps. More than 350 men and 18 officers served in the Texas Marine Corps, and some were responsible for the Big Mutiny. It took place in the Mississippi River off New Orleans aboard the schooner TN (for Texas Navy) San Antonio. Ah, New Orleans, every heart beats faster at the prospect of a night on Bourbon Street. The ship pulled in and began loading supplies: beef (a dime a pound), bread (a nickel a loaf) and potatoes (a dollar a bushel). That’s all. The diet on Texas ships was inexpensive to the taxpayers, but not too varied for the crew.

On the night of February 11, 1842, the ranking officers set off for the bright lights of the big city, leaving the crew aboard for the very good reason that, once ashore, most would never come back. A man can stomach only so much beef, bread and potatoes. Some passing boatmen slip aboard a few bottles of booze, and the sailors and Marines imbibe. Topside, Marine Sgt. Seymour Oswald accosts Lt. M.B. Dearborn and demands shore leave for himself and some friends. No soap, Sergeant. They get into an argument and Lt. Charles Fuller, the ranking officer still on board, pops up on deck to see what’s happening. A scuffle breaks out and Lt. Fuller is killed.

U.S. sailors and the New Orleans police quickly round up the Texas mutineers and toss them in jail. Later, they are put on board a Texas Navy ship, taken to sea, hanged from the yardarm and then buried at sea—all but the ringleader, Sgt. Oswald, who disappears into New Orleans never to be found. And to think that New Orleans was the previous home of—guess who?—Lee Harvey Oswald. As for Lt. Fuller, his body stayed in New Orleans at Girod Street Cemetery until 1936, when he was taken to the Texas State Cemetery in east Austin. New Orleans had to widen Girod Street.

The Loan Star Republic
New Orleans was the first and most important consulate the Republic of Texas established. We had a series of Texans sent here and hired locals, mostly to purchase supplies and handle diplomatic duties. They ran up huge debts on their own bank accounts and generally got stiffed. One debt was not repaid to his heirs, until 1881. For a spell, Our Man In New Orleans was the aforementioned William Bryan, who wrote Texas, “We have $80,000 Government paper due and not one dollar to pay it.” He eventually went $93,740.07 in the red paying our bills. In gratitude, he was fired.

From 1838 until 1843, Bryan worked in an office at 56 Common Street. Then he moved here to 7 Old Levee Street. The 1843 New Orleans city directory listed this location as “Texas Agency Office. Bryan, William, consul of the Republic of Texas.” Later that street’s name and numbers were changed. Today, 7 Old Levee Street would be 111 Decatur. At one point, the floors above the consulate were used by furriers to hang the hides trappers brought in from the nearby swamps. That must have smelled a bit gamy on summer days. Today, those rooms are time-share condos.
Now we are on the corner of Common and St. Charles Street, where Texas currency was printed by J.R. Clark, a note engraver. The firm of Endicott & Clark printed all our bonds. And this is the city where Stephen F. Austin and two friends designed a Texas flag: a square Union Jack, three stripes—red, white and green—and a single star. His two buddies changed the green to blue, changed the star to the sun with the head of George Washington in the center. They argued over whether to put “Lux Libertas” or “In His Example There is Safety” under Washington’s face. Sounds absolutely dreadful. Wonder if they had been partying?

Diplomacy was a two-way muddy path. Alcee Louis LaBranche, born near New Orleans in 1806 and educated in France, was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. In 1833, he became the speaker of the Louisiana House. He was President Andrew Jackson’s appointment as the first U.S. chargé d’affaires to the brand-new Republic of Texas. Our capital city at the time was Houston, and when a rumor swept the land that the Mexican Army was again on the way—it had captured San Antonio twice more—LaBranche offered diplomatic safety to several frightened Houstonians. The Mexican troops never arrived, but in thanks, Houston named a major street for him. After serving in Texas, LaBranche returned to Louisiana and became a U.S. congressman in a campaign capped by a duel. In the fourth round, La Branche killed his opponent, a journalist, and good riddance, I say.

Ships going between New Orleans and Galveston kept the young republic supplied with everything, from beans to bullets to more immigrants. Telegraph for communication in Texas preceded the railroads—my grandfather started out as a conductor on the T&NO (Texas and New Orleans). The telegraph service began with the chartering of the Texas and Red River Telegraph Company on January 5, 1854. The first telegraph office was opened in Marshall on February 14, 1854. Patrons were offered connections with New Orleans via Shreveport and Alexandria. New Orleans gave Texas a lot more than trains and telegraphs. Yellow fever arrived in Galveston aboard The S.S. City of Mexico from New Orleans in August 1853. By September, deaths were averaging a dozen a day. Thanks, Cajuns. For a while, the Astros’ minor league AAA ball team was the New Orleans Zyphers, which is closer than the Oklahoma City RedWings.

It’s Payback Time
Right now you may be wondering just how to pronounce the name of this place, and no, it’s not Day-ree Queeeen. Is it Noo OR-lins? I heard a native say N’awins. Maybe Noo or-LEANS? If you watch TV’s talking heads like Cokie Roberts and Donna Brazile, both from here, they say noo AH-wens. That’s not a speech impediment.

As we can see, Texans depended on the kindness of strangers quite a bit in the early days. Then came our chance to repay the debts, when an unwelcomed visitor known as Katrina arrived. The Galveston storm of 1900 was worse (everything’s bigger in Texas), but Katrina laid waste to the city and surrounding areas. (I suspect afterward, insurance adjusters were using glass-bottom boats.) An estimated 250,000 Louisianans fled the storm toward a safer, drier and better place: Texas. Mostly Houston. We greeted them with open doors and the presidential suite: the Astrodome. Okay, it wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was better than the Superdome or most of the city. Houstonians brought food, clothes, toys and hope. “You’re doing a heckuva job, Houston.”
Still, many Katrinians thought about their homeland, its style, schools, police and weather—and stayed in Houston. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them,” said Barbara Bush. However, we got a lot of good chefs and high school football players.

The Census Bureau reported that 343,829 people were living in New Orleans on April 1, 2010, four years and seven months after Katrina. That was 29 percent smaller than a decade before. Actually, New Orleans’ population had been steadily shrinking. In 1990, it was the 24th-largest city in the country, in 2000, the 31st, and now it has dropped from the top 50. Partially because of this surge of Louisianans, after the 2010 census, the Pelican State lost a seat in the U.S. House and Texas gained four.

Back here on Decatur Street at what was once the Texas diplomatic outpost, some Houstonian should buy this place and turn it into a bar and grill called the Texas Embassy. Serve T-bones, Tex-Mex and chicken fried steaks washed down with Lone Star, Shiner Bock and Saint Arnold. Decorate it in Texas tacky. Homesick Texans—here for the weekend—would flock to the place. Just don’t drink with anyone named Oswald.

Ashby is eating boudin at

The 9 Biggest Diet Mistakes (And How Not to Make Them)

February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

These weight-loss strategies can actually prevent you from dropping pounds. 

by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, aka “The Rogue Nutritionist”™

Let me start by saying what this article isn’t: It’s not about rating diets. Instead, it’s an attempt to help you stay away from dieting pitfalls that can sabotage any diet plan, from raw foods to Atkins.

When asked to pick a list of the nine biggest diet boo-boos, I decided to go “non-partisan.” So you won’t find me saying that it’s a mistake to eat too much protein or too many carbs or give any other advice about what specifically to eat. Instead, I’ll try to steer you away from the general mistakes that people make on all kinds of diets and give you advice on what you can do to make any diet you choose work even better for you.

Let’s get started.

1_bookTrying to find the perfect diet

There’s a saying that goes like this: The enemy of a good plan is the search for a perfect plan. Nowhere is that more true than in dieting. Yes, there’s a wide array of choices, ranging all over the map from vegan to ketogenic (high fat). Yes, you should do a little research before choosing a plan. But don’t drive yourself nuts. You’re not choosing a religion, you’re choosing a template—a starting point from which to customize. Diets can be a good beginning, but they’re rarely an end point. Read enough to know how to make an educated guess as to whether you’re a “high protein” or a “high carb” type (or anything in between, from paleo to vegetarian), then pick a plan and give it a whirl.

Remember, different strokes for different folks. Some people actually like the clarity and simplicity of restrictive diets that tell you exactly what you can and can’t eat. Others are much more attracted to diets that give you some flexibility. The point is to be the pilot of your own dietary ship—if the plane drifts a bit and doesn’t seem to be going in the direction you want it to, make a course correction.

Counting Calories (or Just Counting Calories)

For almost four decades, the prevailing prescription for losing weight has been this: Cut your calories. And while I’m not going to tell you that calories don’t count—they do—it’s turning out that calories are very far from the whole story.

We now know that weight gain is almost always driven by hormones, and that there’s a whole symphony of hormones—like insulin, leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin and cortisol—that work together to control appetite, fat storage and fat burning. (Here’s proof that it’s not all about calories: Prior to the development of injectable insulin, people whose bodies couldn’t make insulin, i.e., type 1 diabetics, were completely unable to gain weight, even if they ate the entire buffet at the Las Vegas Venetian!)

The main trigger for insulin is sugar and starch, so while calories matter, so does your intake of processed carbs, which send the fat-storage hormone (insulin) through the roof, so that more calories get stored as fat. So pay attention to how much sugar and starch you’re consuming, no matter what diet plan you’re on! Too many can sabotage almost any diet program, even a lower-calorie one.

3_scaleNot Weighing Yourself

Many diet plans tell you to weigh yourself at particular times (once a week, for example). Many tell you weight doesn’t matter. All—correctly—tell you not to give the scale too much power, with some going so far as to recommend avoiding the scale at all costs.

But the scale can be a valuable tool—if you learn how to use it right and if you don’t give it too much clout. Let me explain.

Losing weight is not the same thing as losing body fat. Body fat is what you want to target, and sometimes changes in body fat can lag behind the numbers on the scale. For example, I’ve known people who have lost a good inch or two from their waist—or wherever else they were storing fat—without the scale moving at all. Eventually, sure, the scale catches up and begins to reflect the change. But not always, and not always quickly.

But that’s no reason to avoid the scale. (In fact, a new study from Brown University and the University of Tennessee found that people who got on the scale every day lost more weight than those who didn’t!) I personally weigh myself every single day just to keep track of what’s going on. I don’t give it too much power—if my weight stays elevated for a few days or a week, I might make a dietary modification or two, but having done this for a couple of decades, I’m very used to the scale going up or down kind of randomly within a given range. So by all means, weigh yourself if you like—or don’t if you don’t want to. But if you do weigh yourself, take the results as just one more piece of information about what’s going on. But also take note of your energy level, the inches you’ve lost, your hip-to-waist ratio and how you’re feeling in general! Those are just as important—if not more important—than what the scale says.

All Aboard for a Spectacular Rail Experience

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features, Travel Blog

Rocky-Mountaineer-past-Cisco-CrossingFor more than 20 years, The Rocky Mountaineer has been leading historically significant tours through the majestic Canadian Rockies. 

By Laurette M. Veres

Trains hold a special place in Canadian history. In fact, it was the completion of the transcontinental rail that attracted British Columbia to join the Canadian Provinces instead of the United States of America. Today, you can retrace the steps of early explorers—in the lap of luxury.

The mountain experience begins in Vancouver, a city nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountains. The new Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel is home base as you await pickup for your unique rail experience.

Bagpipes wail amid the hustle and bustle of the Rocky Mountaineer rail station as guests board and climb to the second level of the train, the glass-domed luxury coach.

On day one, the train chugs from Vancouver, through the fertile Fraser Valley and scenic Fraser Canyon to Kamloops in British Columbia’s semiarid interior. The skylit coach is the perfect perch to view the rivers, forests, small towns and, if you are traveling in fall, the salmon run and changing foliage. One of the Canyon’s true highlights is Hell’s Gate, where water torrents through it at its narrowest point.

As the train follows the South Thompson River out of Fraser Canyon, the first of many bald eagle sightings occurs. Throughout the trip, guides recant Canadian history as it relates to the rail and point out wildlife along the tracks. It’s enjoyable, spectacularly scenic and educational.

Bring your appetite! After a welcome toast from the crew, the downstairs, white-linen dining area is open for breakfast. Go for the poached egg served over Montreal stuffed meat or traditional buttermilk pancakes. Pace yourself, because before you know it, lunch is served. Enjoy wild British Columbia salmon and Alberta pork tenderloin as the train approaches the sleepy rail town of Kamloops, where you spend the evening and prepare for the second leg of the journey.

The second day is exceedingly more beautiful as the train ascends into the heart of the Canadian Rockies. This journey gets you up close and personal with the mountain wilderness where cars can’t go. Departing Kamloops through vast ranchlands and past Craigellachie, where the “last spike” was driven to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, the train goes through Rogers Pass with tunnels, glistening glaciers and snowcapped mountains. You’ll travel through numerous tunnels as the train spirals its way up the mountains and over the Continental Divide, before heading down the eastward side of the Canadian Rockies toward the city of Banff, Alberta.

Banff, one of North America’s most scenic towns, is postcard-picturesque. Our train adventure ended in Banff National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, where visitors enjoy the rugged raw beauty of an unspoiled landscape, pristine mountains and lush wilderness.

For more than a century, “The Castle in the Rockies” has provided luxurious comfort, individualized service and timeless beauty for the most discerning traveler. Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs is located in the heart of Banff National Park. Take a quick and pleasant walk (or shuttle ride) to one of the quaintest downtowns in North America and enjoy the slow pace of mountain life. Learn about Banff’s earliest settlers at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Get back to the Fairmont’s Waldhaus Restaurant for dinner; you’ll feel like you’re dining in the Swiss Alps.

So You Think You Know Houston?

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

hostAs Anna Nicole Smith may have told Boris Yeltsin

By Lynn Ashby

Everyone in Houston is from somewhere else, or so it seems. A lot of you came here for a job, aka money, and planned to leave when things got better back in Detroit (or wherever). It’s been, what? Twenty years? Over that time, you have accumulated a bit of knowledge about your permanent temporary home. You know some of the freeway systems, how to pronounce “San Felipe” and “rodeo” and where to take your visiting relatives for a good collection of funeral stuff. You don’t? I can see your education of things Houston still needs some work.

For starters, everyone elsewhere knows about Houston weather. Our average rainfall is 49.77 inches a year. In 2012, the average high was 82.1 degrees and the average low was 62.1. The average humidity was 120 percent. Houston is the only city in America where you can tie a knot in a Frito. On the other hand, be sure to call your cousin in Detroit in January and give him your golf score. Incidentally, when you moved here from Detroit you probably received an 18 percent pay raise because the cost of living in H Town is that much less than the average for major metropolitan areas.

Many of these stats deal with the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, which is used a lot by statisticians, because it’s almost impossible to separate the city from the surrounding towns, farms and chemical dumps. Our MSA is this nine-county region covering 9,444 square miles—which is smaller than Maryland but larger than Massachusetts.

Perhaps that’s because public safety takes up more than half (55.97 percent) of the city’s budget. Unlike such cities as New York, New Orleans, London and Hong Kong, Houston’s mighty port is out of sight and out of discussion, but in 2012, Houston ranked numero uno in foreign tonnage among U.S. ports for the 17th straight year, and first in import tonnage for 22 consecutive years. Maybe you know that the port is 52 miles from the sea—wide beach—but did you know digging that channel was mostly a federal government project?


This MSA has more jobs than Wisconsin or Tennessee.

The highest point in Harris County is 310 feet above sea level. Ski Mount Houston!

Houston is 239 miles from Dallas, 348 miles to New Orleans, 197 miles to San Antonio and only a few feet from the nearest topless bar.

The median age in Harris County is 32.6 years, tied with Waller County but younger than any other in our MSA.

The largest ethnic group in the county is Hispanic: 41.4 percent. Anglo is 32.7 percent.

Three-thousand, five-hundred and fifty-nine of us list our occupations as fishing, farming and/or forestry.

In the last presidential election, President Barack Obama beat Governor Mitt Romney in Harris County by 585 votes: 585,451 to 584,866.

Our total crimes per 100,000 population in the Houston MSA is 4,127.7—as long as you don’t count the Astros’ bullpen.

Somebody get your parking spot in the Galleria? No wonder. There were 3,190,880 vehicles registered in Harris County in 2012, an increase of 100,823 from the previous year. (If you count the region, there were 4,988,236 vehicles registered during 2012.) That means every single morning last year, including weekends and Christmas, when you backed out of the driveway on the way to your job at the pig-rendering plant, there were 276.2 more vehicles on Harris County roads than were there on the previous morning. How far do you drive each day? The Texas Department of Transportation says in 2012, in the Houston region, we drove 137,941,698 vehicle miles per day. That’s an average of 27.65 daily for this region, up from 27.1 miles in 2011.

Houston has more HOV lane miles than any other U.S. city, mostly filled by cars carrying a driver and a dummy. We have 7.5 miles of light rail with more tracks on the way (2131?). According to the Houston Business Journal, which checked U.S. Census figures, only 20.1 percent of Houston-area residents enjoy a commute time of 14 minutes or less. The average travel to work is 28.1 minutes. Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown is the second-worst major metro area in the South for commuting. Just .4 percent of Houston workers commute by bike—that’s 3,793 of us. We rank 52nd among the 70 largest cities in terms of bike commuting by percentage of total workers.

On the afternoon of 9/11, exactly four planes were allowed to fly over the U.S. The biggest was Air Force One, which was returning President George W. Bush to Washington. The three others were F-16s scrambled out of Houston’s Ellington Field to escort the plane. Oddly enough, these planes were from W’s old outfit in the Texas Air National Guard.


Finally, this story is worth repeating for everyone who hasn’t heard it before.

Boris Yeltsin, came to Houston on September 17, 1989. He was in political limbo, having been fired as Communist Party boss of Moscow, and was in a newly organized group jockeying for power. Being sidelined on the outs, he came to America and visited the Johnson Space Center. As was his style, Yeltsin unexpectedly altered his schedule and dropped into a Randall’s near JSC, where he was astounded. “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this kind of choice,” he exclaimed. Yeltsin roamed the aisles and was particularly taken by the variety of meats and fish and quipped that the bounty tempted him to defect. “We don’t have this much meat in the Soviet Union.”

The visit changed Yeltsin. He returned to the Soviet Union a disillusioned commie. In his autobiography, Against the Grain, Yeltsin describes the experience as “shattering.”

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

Within two years of his visit here, Yeltsin left the Communist Party and later, as president, banned the party and confiscated its property. He then ordered reforms in the Russian economy, the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Berlin Wall came down, and the rest is history, but it all started in Houston.


Ashby knows Houston at 

Food & Wine Restaurant Reveiw

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features


CRISP in The Heights, with its homey entrées and foodie-friendly pizza, garners rave reviews.

by Tom Flynn


Tucked away in a Shady Acres neighborhood, CRISP has brought new life to an old grocery store.

The renovation to the abandoned supermarket is extensive: the dining room has tremendous ambiance, with brick walls, large murals, dark woods, old stone and wine barrels. Outside is a 5,000-square-foot patio nestled among the townhomes towering over it. Plenty of seating and a central location make CRISP popular at lunch and happy hour; it’s a great gathering place.

Come prepared to relax—the friendly staff is in no hurry to serve. I’ve had several business meetings here and usually find lunch is over before it’s served. Plan on a 45-minute wait for your entrée, but an impressive selection of wines and craft brews will keep you entertained until food arrives.

At first glance, the food appears expensive: beer can chicken, $18; braised short ribs, $24; beef tenderloin, $30. But the portions are massive and can easily be split into two meals. Pizzas are the signature dish. The stone deck–fired, hand-tossed pies come in an array of designer combinations, including Cluck you BBQ, featuring beer can chicken, smoked Gouda, pickled jalapeños, grilled red onions and a Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. Pies feed two and run from $14–$17.

Sunday brunch is a hit at CRISP. Short rib hash is the star of the menu and mimosas flow freely. Brunch entrées are $10–$12.


2220 Bevis

Houston, TX 77008



October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features


S is for Snow

A Chilling Adventure in Canada

by Andrea Stroh

He shouted, “Gee” and “Haw,” to the dogs as he guided them through the Canadian Rockies; riding the sledlike, century-old, prospectors trekking through mountains searching for gold. The Canadian Rockies seem bigger, better and less traveled than Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Range, a must see for sportsmen and nature lovers. In the Banff/Lake Louise area, you’ll find an unexpected confluence of frontier and modern activities.

The Canadian alpine adventure begins at Bush Intercontinental Airport with a direct flight to Calgary, followed by an hour-long drive to the heart of Banff National Park. Our first “camp” is Deer Lodge, a historic, hand-hewn log lodge built in the 1920s as a teahouse. Its rambling layout and scattering of parlors and antique furniture mirror the character of the national park surrounding it.

Wayward travelers used to stop by Deer Lodge for a good meal in the 1920s; they still serve some of the best food in the area. Charcuterie trays with smoked and air-dried buffalo, peppered duck breast, game paté and elk salami, served with exquisite homemade mustard-melon pickles. Entrées include grilled buffalo rib eye, maple seared pork belly with roasted pepper spaetzle and slow-braised bison short ribs with blueberry port reduction and couscous. The culinary experience alone makes the trip worthwhile.


We are in rough, beautiful country; you can die seeing the sights, and many have. In the early twentieth century, the Chateau Lake Louise hired Swiss guides to help their guests safely enjoy the Canadian Rockies. The hotel closed during winters, but the guides stayed and soon introduced locals to skiing and ice climbing. By 1917, the Banff Ski Club was formed and the Banff/Lake Louise area became a year-round destination. The Chateau has continued the tradition and resident-guides take guests cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, ice-skating on the lake and stargazing.

Our resident Mountain Heritage Activities guide is Bruce. He is leading our small group on a snowshoeing expedition. It starts with an interesting and enjoyable tutorial on the origins of the snowshoe and how First Nations tribes shaped and sized them. We practice walking and turning. The biggest beginner mistakes are trying to walk bow-legged, or alter your gait. As long as you focus on keeping your center of gravity over the center of the shoes and keep the tips out of the snow, you will quickly become a snowshoe maven.

We venture through the trees, and along the lake’s edge. Under our snowshoes is 12 feet of snow, and yet there is never a feeling of falling through or losing your footing. Extraordinary views of the glacier, the Chateau and surrounding mountains greet us at every turn. Sounds of an avalanche reverberate through the valley, and we turn just in time to see the snow careening off the glacier’s face. Snowshoeing is excellent exercise and a magical way to experience pristine snowfall in the forest.

After our expedition, we enjoy a proper English tea in The Lakeview Lounge of the Chateau. Over sparkling wine and fruit salads drizzled with Cointreau, we choose from a dizzying array of teas and enjoy the extraordinary views of the frozen lake and glacier out of the mile-high windows.

Another form of frontier transportation is the dog sled. We hook up with the only dog sledding operator allowed within the Banff National Park, Kingmik Mushers. We opt for the Great Divide tour along a 16-kilometer trail through some of the park’s most stunning scenery to the Continental Divide and back.

These are not the fluffy dog teams of Disney movies; these are the real, working, Alaskan huskies of Iditarod and Yukon Quest fame. When we arrive, the dogs are having lunch, resting and rehydrating from their morning trek. We’re encouraged to interact with
them and the crew; we learn about the sport and the fascinating animals that are bred to pull sleds. When it’s time to go, our musher, Cody, buckles us in the sled and harnesses the team. The dogs bark, howl and downright squeal with delight. They hop straight into the air and strain against their tethers in anticipation of their turn to be harnessed. The dogs are so excited, it would be cruel to make them miss the trek.

When Cody releases the brake, the dogs spring forward at a full run. The barking ceases as they concentrate on keeping up and doing their part. The trip is eerily quiet except for the swishing of the sled rails and Cody’s succinct commands. We glide through the snow-covered forest amid mountain peaks, taking in the scenery all the way to the Great Divide. On the way back, we take turns riding on the back of the sled and controlling the dogs. It is the thrill of a lifetime.

For our next adventure, guides
from Discover Banff Tours hand out
ice spikes for our Johnston Canyon ice
walk. The path through the forest and along the rivers leads us past six Johnston Canyon waterfalls, which have frozen into magical formations. The trek is not for the faint of heart. Walking on sheer ice would be near impossible without the ice spikes, but the reward is 100-feet-tall, frozen waterfalls and a good dose of local lore from the guides. For a similar experience at an easier pace, the Columbia Icefield tour uses a specially designed bus they drive on the ice.


Lake Louise is a world-class ski resort. With snow from November to May, it has 8,650-foot peaks, 4,200 acres of skiing area over four mountain faces, 139 marked trails and countless bowls. The longest run is five staggering miles long. My Ski Friend is Rob. (Ski Friends is the first volunteer, host program in North America; it provides free, guided, ski tours for skiers of all abilities.) Rob has been skiing these trails for years, which means I never had to dig out my trail map. He’s able to gauge my ability and guide me through trails matching my skill level. There are so many lifts and trails, there’s rarely a wait at the lift, ever. Our last stop is après ski in The Lodge of Ten Peaks, an imposing log cabin full of stuffed bears, cold beer and charming Ski Friends.

Sunshine Village was the area’s first downhill ski resort. You don’t see ski trails until you take the scenic gondola ride to a valley formed by three mountains. Here, trails run in every direction. It’s higher than Lake Louise at 9,300 feet and 12 lifts lead to more than 3,358 acres of skiable terrain. You can ski all day and not see the same run twice. In fact, you can go half a day and not run into another skier.

Sunshine Village has unique accommodations at the top of the gondola. If you are staying at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge ($150 per night also buys you two complimentary lift tickets), you check in at the parking lot, drop your luggage with the concierge, grab your ski gear and spend the day on the slopes. At the end of the day, you’ll find your luggage in your room and après ski by the stone-covered fireplace in the lodge. You’ll find reasonably priced, exceptionally good food and beverages in the saloon, sports bar and their fine-dining option. You can also stay at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, world-class ski lodge, set atop piles of snow from November to May—it has nine acres on Tunnel Mountain at the edge of Banff. Our room has a modern bathroom with a fabulous clawfoot tub and slate shower, a well-stocked fireplace and a breathtaking view of the mountains.

Mount Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff and one of the oldest, established in 1926. The Cliff House at the peak of the mountain was built in the ‘50s; the beams had to be hoisted up one at a time on the chairlift. Along with the ski trails, Mount Norquay has a snow tubing park. Sliding down the mountain at shockingly quick speeds will get you in touch with your inner child!

I’ve never experienced one place that had so much to offer; the winter entertainment options are endless. Sleigh rides, skiing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, helicopter tours and the new sport of snowkiting are just some of the activities. Pack warmly, plan for adventure and don’t forget “gee” means right and “haw” means left.

A Part of Your Community

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Loves Conquers All

An Ly and her fiancé Hiep Nguyen find love.

by Laurette M. Veres


An Ly never gave up on love. She met Hiep Nguyen at the gym and it took him a while to get the courage to speak to her. She knew he was the one on their very first date.

On their second date things turned sad. Hiep found out both of his kidneys had been damaged by disease and he needed a transplant. The 26 year old luckily had a sister ready and willing to donate a kidney. Even luckier, the organ was a 100 percent match for Hiep.

An was impressed with his positive attitude and how he grew as an individual as he dealt with the fate he was given. “I fell in love with him during this time,” she says. “After five strong years of learning, growing, maturing and loving, we knew we were ready to take our life and relationship to the next level.”

An is a fan of the creative graffiti walls in Austin. Hiep used the public art she loved as a canvas for his proposal. Her cousin helped him set the stage. As she walked toward the wall, she saw pictures of she and Hiep; he got down on one knee, and the rest is history.

QSCZPV_LZCc7ZLUTqtXCbpvA1Mg3AZjRwHVJWv_QznoAmid tones of ivory, green and coral, she will walk down the aisle at the Heaven on Earth event facility in her Mori Lee gown from Ventura’s Bridal this April 12. Following the service, An will host a traditional tea ceremony in her home. Symbolically and culturally, this is where the couple’s union becomes official—they will then be able to call each other’s parents “mom” and “dad.” She will wear traditional Chinese red and gold at this event, then change back into her wedding gown for the reception at Ocean Palace. One final change will bring back the red and the couple will visit each table, personally thanking their 400 guests for attending.

The bride-to-be is a graduate of Cypress Ridge High School and the University of Houston. She works as a project coordinator at Weatherford. Hiep is in new home sales at Cinco Ranch.

An is the latest real bride-to-be selected by the Bridal Extravaganza Show to appear on billboards citywide. “I would love to showcase to the world what true love and happiness are all about,” she says. “Being the Billboard Bride proves true love does exist and anyone can turn their dreams and fantasies into reality through hard work and commitment.”



To Africa with LOVE

Houstonian Ida Franklin re-visits an African orphanage with a local church.

by Laurette M. Veres


How would you spend a million of your hard-earned frequent flyer miles? Houstonian Ida Franklin spent her company’s to transport friends to Africa to lend a hand at a local orphanage.

Franklin, the owner of Venus Construction, spends her days roofing houses, finishing granite island kitchens and any other number of construction projects. However, this summer, she visited Bulembu, Swaziland, with Katy’s Creekside Community Church to help more than 300 orphaned children living with AIDS.

This is the group’s second trip to this area; on a previous trip, they built a playground. “We finished our first playground just as the children came home from school,” says Franklin. “They ran to the swings and started playing. After a few minutes, they all stopped, turned to face us, and sang to us as a thank you,” she recalls fondly. Franklin and her friends’ efforts this summer were to enhance the playgrounds they built in 2009.

Tim Douglas, pastor at Creekside Community Church, says Franklin’s heart is pure gold when it comes to helping others. “She’s a very giving and loving person. She’s been a great driving force for us by donating her time and money. She always goes above and beyond. Ida’s amazing,” he shared.


To help with Franklin’s efforts, donations can be made at


For Your Arts & Entertainment

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Features


At MSR Houston, you can hop into a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche and reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Now that’s something to get revved up over!

by Tom Flynn

group_shot_track_lzEver gone from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds? How about tested your driving skills in a $300,000, 562-horsepower Italian muscle car, on a La Mans styled track? Sound fun? Your opportunity is near at MSR Houston.

MSR Houston is a motor complex near Angleton, Texas, about 35 miles south of Houston on Highway 288. You can ride go-karts, or if you have your own racecar, become a MSR member and race around the real track. Then again, you can wait until Exotic Driving Experience comes to town, crawl behind the wheel of one of their sexy imports and put it through its paces on the MSR track.

The rides are impressive: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Audi RS and the classic Porsche 997 S. You pick your machine from the lineup, almost like you choose your racecar in a video game. It cost a few quarters more to pilot the Ferrari 458 Italia than it does the Porsche ($419 versus $169) so choose wisely. You get six laps (7.8 miles) with a personal instructor in the passenger seat giving advice and holding the kill switch in case you lose control.

The total experience for our group of six drivers was less than two hours. After waivers are signed and witnessed, there is a short class on how to drive performance machines and the layout of the track. Then it’s out to pit row to meet your instructor and get a first look at your dream car. They shoot pictures of you next to and in the car and insert a USB in a video recorder in the console. A camera is trained on you the entire time while you are driving with another camera on the track. And, of course, you can buy the pictures and video at the end.

Lap one is the “learn the car lap.” Paddle shifters on the steering wheel take some getting used to, as well as the responsive handling of a racecar on a tight track. By lap three you are anticipating turns, positioning the car to glide through them and hitting speeds near 100 miles per hour on straightaways. You won’t believe you completed lap six and the ride is over—it all happens so fast!

Following your spin on the track, you have an after action review with your instructor and get pointers on how to improve your performance, along with the opportunity to practice improvement. You will start feeling stiffness in your shoulders about the time you cross over the 610 Loop coming back to Houston; throwing that sleek machine around the track is more work than you know—but worth the ride!

Find out more about the fast lane at


Take a little bit of Houston with you wherever you travel this summer with these great reads by local authors.

by Torre Puckett


here-and-nowby Bobbye Marrs
(Tate Publishing & Enterprises;
Paperback, $12.01; Kindle Edition, $8.99)

When Katherine wakes up in a hospital bed, she finds her world has changed forever. She has no memory of where she’s been, what she’s done, or who the man sitting at her bedside could be. All that anyone knows about the accident that caused her to fall into a coma is that it was no accident. Someone tried to kill her. He’s still on the loose and he hasn’t given up—he’s still coming for her, stalking her from the shadows.

Meanwhile, Grant Barton is forced to face a situation he can’t imagine how to handle. His training as a pastor has given him no way to prepare for helping Katherine recover from her trauma and amnesia, much less escape the murderer hunting her down. And worst of all, he’s never been trained for the revelation that the woman he loves may harbor dark and terrible secrets he could never have imagined and that could put them both in a race against a madman with their very lives at stake.

Here and Now is a story of a past forgotten, a future unknown, and a present haunted by uncertainty, loss and brokenness. Bobbye Marrs of Brenham, Texas, emerges with a debut novel thick with intrigue, danger and romance that will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you breathlessly anticipating more.


Houston100FoodTrucksby Paul Galvani
(Paul Galvani Publishers; Paperback, $20;

In a city as vibrant as Houston, it is possible to find its people’s diversity reflected most in its cuisine—and one of the most unique new restaurant revolutions to hit its streets is the food truck.

Originating on the West Coast, these mobile food trucks come complete with a fully equipped kitchen and represent every ethnic background found in Houston. These mobile eateries offers delicious gourmet food without the formality of a fine dining experience. But with so many of these roving restaurants to be found, how is a hungry foodie to distinguish the good from the bad and the ugly?

With Paul Galvani’s Houston’s Top 100 Food Trucks, finding the best of this new culinary sensation is a snap. Not only does Galvani professionally review every food truck mentioned in the book, but he also explores the history of the Houston food truck, the unique stories behind each individual truck and the current trend that this restaurant revolution is following.


A new state-of-the-art movie theater, the Santikos Palladium AVX, offers visitors more than just a typical movie night experience. With 22 movie screens, an arcade, a gift shop, restaurants and more, the Palladium is an all day adventure.

by Shayli Lones

santikoJust in time for summer, Santikos Theatres has opened its largest venture yet, the Palladium AVX. Located in Fort Bend County, just off of Highway 99/Grand Parkway, the new Greek-themed, luxury entertainment destination is the only facility in the greater Houston area to feature the newly released Dolby Atmos sound system, 80-foot movie screens and the latest in projection technology. And, while movies have always been able to “move” us emotionally be it through tears, laughter or new ideas, the Palladium’s AVX, D-BOX seats literally move visitors, giving them a chance to feel the action of the movies while sitting in motion seats.

What’s a movie without edible treats? Here, movie goers can munch on more than just popcorn and soda with multiple dining and beverage options available. There is something for everyone at the Palladium including sushi, pizza, burgers, sandwiches and frozen yogurt. There’s even a Starbucks coffee shop as well as two bars for cocktails and Texas wines.
If you have some time to kill before your movie begins, then, check out the bowling center, arcade room, or specialty candy and movie-themed retail store. For those with more discerning tastes, local Texas artists have pieces on display in the featured art section.

And no more long lines for tickets. The Palladium has simplified the movie going experience by offering 27 interactive, self-service ticketing kiosks as well as a mobile app. Appealing to the movie lover in all of us, the Palladium features a “theatre-within-a-theatre,” where four screens are dedicated to art, independent films and mainstream biopics. Those looking for a more luxurious movie going experience can visit one of the eight auditoriums that offer a VIP section with separate box seating areas. VIPs may also order food and drinks before and during the movie that will be delivered right to their seats via waitstaff.

Going to the movies will never be the same again! For movie times, special promotions, or to book an event, visit


Kourtney, Khloe and Kim launch their fashion line at Sears.
by Marisa Byers

The three Kardashian sisters were at Houston’s Willowbrook Mall to promote their new KardashianKollection, sold exclusively at Sears. Fans waited for hours to get a glimpse of the fashionistas.

H Texas had the opportunity to sit down with the superstar trio and ask about their new brand.

HTX: Why Sears?
Kim: Our flagship DASH store in California carried mostly pricey, high-end brands. As our fan-base grew, we realized average fans couldn’t afford those luxury pieces and wanted to create a line that would be fashionably chic and affordable. All of us felt partnering with Sears would accomplish these goals without compromising quality.

kardashiansHTX: What inspired the designs?
Kourtney: Inspiration comes from everything we see. We keep our eyes open as we travel because inspiration can strike at any moment, even when looking at wallpaper.

Khloe: We use these inspirations to create classic silhouettes that work with trendier, modern pieces for a well-rounded wardrobe.

HTX: Who are your fashion icons?
Kourtney: I obsess over iconic Audrey Hepburn, and her classic, effortless chic style.

HTX: What’s next for the KardashianKollection?
Kim: We currently have sunglass, lingerie, and denim lines and are interested in maternity wear, fitness apparel and menswear. But, a children’s line is next on the horizon.
Khloe: Each collection is a labor of love. Our prints are handmade, in-house and the fabrics are of the highest quality.

All three were decked out in their trendy animal prints and breezy fabrics, boasting very classic silhouettes for under $100. Their personalities were as fresh as their clothing line. And, by the end of our visit, the well-stocked racks were empty behind us. It looks like these successful sisters launched another winner! Happy shopping!

A Part of Your Community

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Full Circle

Houston’s Zina Garrison, a former tennis star, celebrates the 20th anniversary of free tennis programming for children at her academy.

by Sue-Ella Mueller

Zina11What comes around, goes around.

Growing up in Houston as the youngest of seven children, Zina Garrison spent a good deal of time trailing after her older siblings. On one such occasion, having been banished by her brother from his baseball practice, Zina wandered over to watch a tennis match on a nearby court at McGregor Park. That’s where she met John Wilkerson, a man who would change her life forever.
“Do you want to try hitting the ball? What else are you doing but just using God’s air?” Wilkerson asked her. Up for the challenge, Zina choked up on the racket and hit the first of many balls under Wilkerson’s tutelage.

“I got pretty good,” recalls Garrison. “And then [actor] Bill Cosby came out to the courts to speak to us. There were about 100 kids and out of all of them, I got picked to hit with him. It was so cool. From then on, I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Garrison went on to turn pro at the age of 18, giving African-Americans as well as Houstonians a tennis superstar to idolize. Still working with Wilkerson, over the next 10 years, Garrison earned 14 major singles titles and some 20 doubles titles, including an Olympic bronze medal in singles (1988), a gold medal for doubles (1988) and the Australian Open and Wimbledon in mixed doubles (1987, 1988).

Just as Wilkerson was willing to give Garrison her start, she in turn has been launching young players from Houston through the Zina Garrison Academy (ZGA) since 1993. To date, more than 30,000 children have been reached through the program.
“John had given me so many years to play the game for free, I wanted to do the same,” says Garrison. Together, with her coach, Garrison set up ZGA, offering local children free tennis lessons, with some life lessons sprinkled in for good measure. In July 2012, Garrison’s childhood friend and longtime doubles partner, Lori McNeil, who also made a name for herself in tennis—she was once ranked as high as number eight in the world—came on board as ZGA’s new pro. “We’ve come full circle; we are all back together again,” says Garrison.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of ZGA and Garrison plans to celebrate in a big way. “We’ve had incredible people here supporting me and the kids in this venture. I have been blessed with a phenomenal board [of directors] and Linda Elliott, our executive vice president, has done a great job keeping the program going,” credits Garrison. “We all have a passion for the game and we all want to share that with the kids. We want to help them do well not only on the court, but also in the classroom.”
Garrison and the people behind ZGA are ready to take the program a step further and are hoping that they can raise enough funds to build a bigger site in conjunction with the KIPP Academy. In November, Garrison’s 50th birthday will coincide with the 20th anniversary celebration. A huge gala is being planned for November 16 at the Houstonian. “It would be a great birthday gift if we could generate the funds we need for our new site,” says Garrison.

For more information on ZGA free programs or to contribute to ZGA, visit



Turkish Airlines announces non-stop flights to Istanbul.

by Laurette Veres

airplaneHoustonians can now fly direct to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines.

“The direct flights to Istanbul will strengthen trade, investment and tourism ties for Houston in Turkey,” says Houston Mayor Annise Parker. She recently led a trade mission to increase economic relationships between the two markets.

In an interview with H Texas, Turkish Airlines’ Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Executive Committee Hamdi Topçu talked growth. “Our airline has grown more than 20 percent each year and now serves 98 countries. Turkish tourism is increasing as people discover our best hotels, the Aegean Sea and plenty of history,” he said.

Topçu says the future looks even brighter, “When people come to Turkey for commerce, they come back with family. We are the gateway to Africa, the Middle East and all of Europe.” He believes the high quality of service will keep people flying Turkish Airlines.

Houston was a natural expansion choice for Turkish Airlines. Houston is the fourth largest U.S. city in terms of population and home to thousands of Turkish residents, creating an immediate passenger base.

The new service flies from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Ataturk International Airport (IST). Loyal United travelers should note Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance (frequent flyer program).

Summer Travel Guide

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

It’s our annual travel issue and H Texas is hitting the road, air, water, rail and saddle to enjoy a few of America’s best destinations. Why hassle with passports, endless flights and the long lines at customs, when the Land of the Free has it all from beautiful, spacious skies, to amber waves of grain, to purple mountain majesties? Come with us as we explore Arizona, California, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado and our own beloved Texas!

A Needle in a Haystack:

story and photos by Rick McMillen

“Dad, would you like to take Mom on a romantic weekend and write a travel story?” asked the publisher of this great magazine, who also happens to be my daughter.
“Absolutely! Where are we going?”

Yep, that was the beginning of this fantastic adventure where the ole cliché clearly applies: Blink and you’ll miss it!
Where are we going? I must admit I was anxious—San Francisco, New York, Vegas? Does the budget cover the Caribbean? Where are we heading?

“Dad, the town is called Granbury.” “Grandberry,” I exclaimed! That sounds like a southern sweet herbal rum drink, right? “No, Dad, Granbury. There is no “d” and it’s not a berry; it’s south of the Dallas, Fort Worth area. Here are your tickets. Have a great time!” I rarely question assignments, however, I must admit, this one seemed like a stretch. So, time to Google and get ready!

To begin, realize the great state of Texas has a population of 25 million; Granbury’s population—8,000. Texas is huge at 261,000 square miles; Granbury is just 224 square miles. Truly, a needle in a haystack.
Granbury-CourthouseBut what’s surprising is this sleepy, tiny, quaint retreat, featuring a one block town square is filled with more historical significance and charm than one can imagine and has so many bed and breakfast inns and folks that are so accommodating, you’ll be calling them Aunt Bee and Barney your entire stay.

Admittedly, at first, I felt like we were transported into the Twilight Zone; recall those frequent and constant recurring circumstances where the same people always appear and reappear? Well, that’s Granbury. The town folks and proprietors all love this town so much that their free and professional time is totally submerged in this town’s heart, history and culture. You will find the owner of Pomegranate B&B selling popcorn at the local theater while the director of the multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Granbury Opera House, which originally opened in 1890, is selling tickets at the same theatre for the current production of Fiddler on the Roof. He also performs in many of the plays.

Lake Granbury, created by damming the Brazos in 1969, is encompassed by 103 miles of shoreline dissecting the picturesque village which is a constant visual beckoning you to it’s shores. So, as we arrived midday on a Thursday at the bed and breakfast, Inn on Lake Granbury, we were escorted to spacious accommodations extraordinarily well appointed in every detail imaginable.

These folks made a serious investment when developing this slice of paradise. The architecture and overall feel is one of small town charm, however, the wooden floors, tiled walls and endless original paintings along with opulent baths with steam showers and oversized jet infused tubs felt like the Waldorf in NYC. And, please, let me not forget the homemade breads, stuffed French toast and fresh fruit with an abundance of flowers endlessly awakens your senses. Plus, I was openly welcomed into the kitchen by the owners, Jim and Kathy, along with their “ma” who was frequently providing me with added delicacies to consume.

Soon, we were off to a VIP wine tasting event, launching the town’s most popular annual event, The Granbury Wine Walk. I must add that I am also editor and chef of a food magazine, Chile Pepper, so I know a thing or two about fine wine and food. Upon arriving at this festive occasion, hosted on a private and opulent estate on Lake Granbury, we were welcomed by an endless variety of fine wines and culinary delights. All the offerings were skillfully created and served by nameless local chefs who could easily command a fine dinning location in Manhattan! My fave? Easy—the roasted pork belly confit with cole slaw. Mind you, this was just the beginning!Granbury-B&B-8

The following two days were spent wandering about the heart of the town which is a one-full block square surrounding the historical and iconic courthouse. Local historians claim it holds more Texas tales than all the longhorns on the open ranges of West Texas! A memorable Saturday evening was spent enjoying a walking tour of the square choreographed by a local who could easily pass as a history professor at any Texas college, entertaining us with the past lore ranging from the evening romps of Jessie James throughout the bars and brothels, the hotel that became a refuge for John Wilkes Booth including the hiding location of the weapon that shot Lincoln, to tracing the spirits of many past cowboys whose last days were spent on the same streets we were walking. By the way, the guide instructed us to download an app so we could monitor the spirits at the locations where their demise ultimately occurred.

This great romantic venture was so fine that my wife and I are already planning our return. That’s a promise. Our goal: to stay at each of the numerous bed and breakfasts that we visited. Each is unique in their fashion, décor and ambiance and each boasts the finest breakfast foods launching your memorable day in this quiet, hidden slice of Texas paradise.
However, a sad note to the end of this story. Within days following our visit, a massive EF-4 tornado packing winds of nearly 200 miles per hour dropped from the skies killing six and causing catastrophic damage to areas right outside of Granbury. But you can’t keep good Texans down. Despite the tragedy, Granbury is fully functional and all tourism activities continue.
Our hearts and prayers go to all the fine folks of Granbury (! God bless you all and we’ll see y’all soon!

Have an adventure in gateway, COLORADO

by Matthew Abernathy

With fly fishing, horseback riding, mountain rappelling, hiking, biking and more, this Colorado resort is the perfect outdoorsman’s vacation.

Surrounded by the beautiful red rock of the Colorado Palisade, sits a haven for travelers seeking history and adventure. Gateway Canyons, developed by John Hendricks, founder and chairman of the board for the Discovery Channel and Discover Communications, is located in Unaweep Canyon. Unaweep Canyon, a Native American term for “canyon with two mouths,” is said to be the only canyon in the world that is drained by two creeks; East Creek and West Creek. The uniqueness is that the two creeks drain off in opposite directions. The area has special recognition in Colorado geology due to the ancient rivers eroding the rock away and exposing millions of years of geological record. With much of the area still untouched by human development, visitors are transported back to a by-gone era of pioneers, gold miners and cattle rustlers. But within the compound of Gateway Canyons,
the resort is anything but primitive.

ColoradoPalisadeEventCenterThere are many options for lodging at Gateway Canyons to accommodate a wide range of travelers. The Kiva Lodge, which is built around the pool and clubhouse courtyard has accommodations ranging from 485 square feet to the signature rooms that are 600 square feet, including lower level rooms with a private, outdoor patio, in-ground hot tub and fire pit as well as all of the amenities guests should expect in this high-end resort.

The Kayenta Lodge is built around the beautiful courtyard of the resort. These rooms offer the same amenities as the Kiva Lodge with an additional living area in each room that includes a sleeper sofa.

The newly completed Casitas offer a ‘home away from home’ with over 2,000 square feet of lodging in each of the Hacienda Casitas including an array of special features such as two living rooms with fireside sitting areas, work desks, dining room table, wet bars, a mini fridge and multiple bathrooms. The Stargazer Casitas offer one bedroom accommodations that include two levels with an upstairs den and gazing deck to view the beautiful Colorado sky and surrounding landscape. The casitas come with private decks, fire pits and some units also include an outdoor spa. With vaulted open beam ceilings and large, oversized windows you will be able to maximize your view of the Palisade.

Now, let the adventures begin! There are several opportunities to ‘discover’ the surrounding areas and tour the facilities. From fly fishing, rafting and kayaking adventures on the Dolores River, to horseback riding through the Unaweep Canyon or repelling from the Palisade, to the numerous hiking, climbing, mountain biking and ATV trails that encompass the resort, there is something new to do every day of your vacation.

On our own adventure to Gateway Canyons, my wife and I were able to view the entire Western Colorado area via a mountain top ATV tour. A very knowledgeable and skillful guide was kind enough to take the time to educate us on all of the geological treasures that were right before our eyes and filled us in on the uranium mining that took place here sometime ago that supplied the majority of the metal for the Manhattan Project. By far, the most intriguing option for the ‘adventurous at heart’ is to view the area via a helicopter tour. This chopper experience allowed us to witness millions of years of geological transformations of the surrounding area! The latest addition to an already overwhelming array of adventures is the Pro Baja Truck Experience that allows guest to try their hand at off-road excursions throughout the canyon on tracks designed to thrill off-road enthusiasts.ColoradoHorseback

If it is curiosity or discovery that drives your inner explorer, then Gateway Canyons has something for you, as well. There is nothing ordinary at all about a Discovery Retreat at Gateway Canyons. Whether you have a passion for the cosmos, dinosaurs, the American West or, even food and wine, there is a Discovery Retreat for you. Come learn and experience these treasures from experts; these people have dedicated their lives to their fields and are willing to share and teach those of us that have a shared passion about these various curiosities. Discovery Retreats gathers these experts to unravel the mysteries that intrigue us through hands-on experiences and workshops.

The all-new Curiosity Adventures, taps into your curious side and offers a series of hands-on workshops and presentations. One can retrace the steps of the pioneers, prospectors and all of the colorful characters who created Gateway’s history. They also offer an experience with an astronomer that will help you navigate through the Colorado night sky and all that it has to explore. My favorite exploration came from the walk through of the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum. The museum houses the privately owned collection of John Hendricks featuring more than 60 spectacular automobiles spanning every era of the industry. The automobiles, models and surrounding displays offer a rare glimpse into the beauty and history of the business. The museum also houses a one-of-a-kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88, which was a real treat for the car enthusiast in me, for sure.

After spending an entire day engaging in awesome adventures and new experiences, my wife and I knew we had to try the Spa at Gateway Canyons. The Spa offers several variations of massages, body treatments, facials, manicures and pedicures. They were also able to accommodate a couples’ massage that allowed us to share the experience together.

Relaxed and rejuvenated from our massage, it was time to go and try one of three dining experiences offered at the resort. For dinner, we chose the Entrada Restaurant. This restaurant is named after the entrada sandstone formation that you find throughout the region. The restaurant offers an intimate indoor, or outdoor dining experience that was very memorable not only because of the ambience, but also because of the excellent food we were served. From baked Colorado striped bass, to roasted Colorado lamb rack, or even the steamed Lobster Tail, we could find no entrée throughout our stay that we would not recommend to our readers. The Entrada is a must for a dining experience you will remember for quite some time.
The resort also has two other dining experiences to choose from. The Paradox Grille specializes in casual Colorado cuisine, while the Kiva Café is a welcoming place to host your next corporate party, family get-together, or any other special event with seating for up to 60 people.

Whether it’s a family vacation, a destination wedding or a corporate retreat, consider Gateway Canyons. The resort has the venues, staff and opportunities to make this a once-in-a-lifetime getaway!

For your next adventure, wedding or corporate getaway, call…

Gateway Canyons Resort
43200 Hwy 141
Gateway, CO 81522

Want to read more, check out H Texas Magazine Summer 2013 Issue!

Playing Catch Up

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Food_truck_openWhile the food truck phenomenon is old news in most larger, U.S. cities, it’s just beginning to catch on in Houston as the city opens its first food truck park!

by Sir McMillen

Houston Food Park
1504 St. Emmanual Street

I recently went to the grand opening of Houston’s first food truck park on St. Emmanual Street and you know what I saw?
Food trucks as far as the eye could see; well, not quite. After all, this is Houston and despite Houston being a leader in the world of energy, medicine and space exploration, we seem to be lagging behind in this area, but not for long. After years of watching this trend grow in popularity, and Austin becoming one of the food truck capitals of the world, some Houstonians are angling to get Houston’s food trucks “on the map.” The opening of this food truck park is just the beginning. Aside from the heat, I couldn’t find a single complaint from the patrons. Houstonians have a genuine hunger for these meals on wheels.

Currently, we have a few hundred food trucks in Houston and they work all the usual hot spots. If you look, you will find them in the Galleria, Heights, Midtown, Downtown, the Museum District, etc. Going to a new trendy night club, odds are when you leave you’ll find a food truck ready to serve you before you hit the road. But the fact is, it’s been difficult for these entrepreneurs. Houston, for the most part, just doesn’t allow a food truck to roll into a parking space, pay the meter and open their doors for business. There are a myriad of regulations that they must contend with wherever they seem to go.

I understand completely. Like any restaurant business there are the concerns of health and safety. These are matters that should be taken seriously and we citizens do expect our city government to do their duty. But food trucks also create other “problems.” They sometimes create larger traffic issues in already congested areas, park in front of other restaurants, operate in residential areas and the list seems to go on and on.

So, why do these food trucks exists? They fill a need. If they didn’t, like any other business they wouldn’t last long. Food trucks operate in the areas they do because that is where the people are. It is convenient to be able to walk out of your office building and within a minute, or two order a meal. And, in another minute or two, be on your way. Traditional sit down restaurants are great, but not everyone has that kind of time. Also, it is more than just convenience. I’ve eaten from food trucks from LA to NYC, and simply stated, zthe food is good and the price is right. Houston food trucks are no different. I had at least a little something from every food truck during my visit to the park; not all the cuisines were my favorite, but I enjoyed them all and everything was priced equal to or better than traditional restaurants.

Another need food trucks and especially food truck parks take care of is variety. I absolutely love my food hot and spicy. If I could swallow fire, I would! Guess what? In my family, I’m out voted every time. If I’m out with my wife and two daughters, my restaurant of choice never gets picked.  With a food truck park, I put a few dollars in everyone’s hands and send them on their merry way. Everyone gets what they want and the first to get their food is required to find a table for four and we enjoy our meal together.

It’s taken a few years, but it would appear that Houston is finally getting on board with the food truck phenomenon. We still have a way to go, but Houston is starting to recognize that food trucks are here to stay. The food truck operators aren’t asking for special privileges and we customers like the options that food trucks provide. With everyone starting to work together, I have high hopes for Houston’s food truck industry. The St. Emmanual park is just the start. With continued support and patronage, this food truck park will grow and in time spur other locals to do the same. In a few years, I hope we can look back on the enterprising efforts of this park and its food trucks and say this was the start; this helped make Houston a food truck capital to rival Austin.

The Food Patty Wagon

Cuisine: Comfort food with a Southern flare
Most famous for: Owner Mrs. Patty claims, “Everything!” However, there is something special about her catfish.
On the menu: Chicken wings and waffles, catfish and grits, po’boys and burgers
About the owner: Mrs. Patty loves to cook, so about a year ago, she opened her food truck business. Between the lunch and dinner hours, she is also an interior decorator and a registered nurse who consults with attorneys on medical cases. But her first passion is cooking. Her food is, “always fresh, fast and delicious!”
On the web:

Cuisine: French gourmet
Most famous for: Escargot
On the Menu: Burger on Baguette, Crab Cakes on Baguette and the Fries Royale (fries with bacon, tomato, green onion and bleu cheese sauce and crumbles)
About the owner: Mr. Pascal took over approximately six months ago. He has a long history in the food industry as a chef both here and in Europe.
On the web:

The Pink Box
Cuisine: Mexican
Most famous for: The tortillas and sour cream are pink!
On the Menu: Sirloin beef fajitas, marinated chicken breast and signature Mexican cheesesteak
About the owners: Owned by Greg Hernandez, John Hindman and Zack Swamp. The trio saw how much their wives where enjoying their cupcake food truck and decided to give it a try themselves. The truck is a very popular choice outside of clubs and after hours.
On the web:

Cuisine: Vietnamese, Asian fusion
Most famous for: Pork belly and tenderloin
On the menu: Imperial eggrolls, vermicelli noodle bowl, Vietnamese sandwiches and musubi (meat on top of a block of rice wrapped in dried seaweed)
About the owners: Owned by Cat Huynh and Angie Dang. MuSuBi’s routes include the Galleria, the Heights and downtown. They describe their food as “delicious mischief” and pride themselves in being the number one Vietnamese food truck, an assertion that has been backed up by several reviews.
On the web:

Betton’s Comfort Food
Cuisine: Comfort food, Cajun/Creole
Most famous for: Catfish and Dragon Wings (fried wings in homemade sweet and sour Thai sauce)
On the menu: Po’boys, boudin balls, fried catfish and shrimp
About the owner: Michaela Betton is a former paralegal. Two years ago, when she realized she was no longer happy with her profession, she decided to take a leap of faith and do what she loves—cook. Betton’s is usually found in Montrose and Midtown.
On the web:

Tamalito’s Café
Cuisine: Mexican
Most famous for: The Mexican hotdog
On the Menu: Burritos, tostadas, tacos, quesadillas and tamales
About the owners: Juan and Melleson each have 18 years of chef/kitchen experience. Tamalito’s Café has been written up in several Houston publications. They are normally found in the River Oaks area, but they love the idea of the Houston Food Park and plan on making it a part of their regular rotation.
On the web:

Pocket to Me
Cuisine: Specialty pita pockets
Most famous for: Fish Pocket and Brazier Grilled Chicken Pocket
On the menu: Aside from many other pita pockets, they have spring rolls, jalapeño poppers, fried mushrooms and hummus
About the owners: Keith Griffin is an aspiring chef and is joined by his wife, Joy. Despite having been in the business less than a year, their family recipes are a big hit with customers.
On the web:

Zeapod Cakery
Cuisine: Cake, cake and more cake!
Most famous for: Cupcakes on a Stick
On the menu: Custom cakes, cupcakes and cookies
About the owners: Liz and Jerry Hale have several years experience in the food industry and bought a food truck two years ago. They saw a niche for portable desserts. It was an instant hit. Their two children have even gotten into the act. You can normally find them in the Museum District.
On the web:

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