Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Girl in the City's Guide to Becoming a Foodie

Today in a break from my regular posting plan......

FoodNetwork posted an article this week about the top 10 places a new Houstonian should try......mostly places that aren't TOO out there for people who haven't learned yet that Houston is the BEST place to learn to be adventurous about food. I've read that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and man, did I figure that out when I lived in Montrose. I think it's the only place that you can get legit French crepes fresh off the cart on the street corner one block from some of the best Mediterranean food you'll ever eat.

But, the only one I agree with on this list is Pondicheri. not because they are bad, but because I love SO MANY other places that were left off. I know ten is a hard number for a foodie to limit themselves to, so, in girl-in-the-city style, here's my revised list (which really just means, let me remember what my first 10 places were in Houston....especially way back when I was less adventurous and long before I was a Houstonian!) these places are relatively can more or less get "a sandwich" with nothing fancy if that's what you are comfortable with. but it'll be a really really good sandwich. probably on artisan bread with cheese straight from the cow in the backyard (ha. kidding. sort of.) but I digress.

so without further tangents:

1. Phoenicia - get the chicken or beef gyro. go to the downtown location, it's an easy walk to Discovery Green and it tastes soo much better outside. This is also a good place for cheap specialty groceries.
2. Babayega's - I learned about this place from my aunt and uncle who lived in Montrose in the 1970s. delicious. well established (: this place has great vegetarian options, but also just plain burgers and salads.
3. Te House of Tea - I worked there, so I know EVERYTHING on the menu. I've also eaten everything on the menu approximately 12 thousand times. My favorite recommendation is the rosemary goat cheese crepe with an Immunitea. (fruit juice and matcha, shaken well, served cold.) also have some Snow White Tea. (fair trade white tea with mint and rose.) Just trust me.
4. Little Big's - if you are unsure if you will like it, get it in miniature size! Everything here is a slider of varying tastes. the concept is genius. also they have sriracha mayo sauce and I'm not sure if this is a thing other places but it's so good?! And you can get beer/wine with your burger!
5. Pondicheri (as I agree with this list on this one.) brunch is awesome. Indian food, but pretty simple still.
6. Simply Pho - the nicest people, too. get avocado on your  # B12 (Vietnamese barbeque bahn mis) because it is GREAT. Vietnam was formerly controlled by France, so they have some French influence on their food (ie, baguettes for sandwiches, etc.) their dumplings and Cafe Sua Da are excellent as well.
7. Cafe Brasil - a Houston standard. back porch is charming as well. there is also this hilarious man who plays jazz and yet has no sense of rhythm. so. I like the chicken salad because it is interesting but they have pretty much everything from pizza to soup here.
8. Black Hole (okay okay, technically a coffeeshop. but the experience is pretty spot on if you're looking to feel like you're really in the city.....always crowded, always cozy. it's sort of a retro place too with a slight nod to a space theme. they make the sandwiches you can find at Antidote as well.)  Get the Mate Latte with a side of oh-dang-now-I'm-awake! (it's made with yerba matte which has an equal level of caffeine as a shot of espresso.)

on a side tangent, I could do an entirely different list of coffeeshops.....but i'll save that for another post. (:

9. Good Dog - good for everyone, because everyone likes a hot dog! the lavender lemonade is amazing!!
10. Roost - okay, not a starting place for beginners exactly......this is your next step if you have tried all the "normal stuff" - they are known to have quail eggs and watermelon salad and stuff like that. but if I've learned anything from living in the city, it's that you should really just TRY things (like the Tuna sandwich at Paulies!) you might be surprised. The menu here changes every six weeks, so don't get attached to anything. (but they always have Slow Dough bread service. wink wink.) They have an amazing wine selection and the ambiance here reminds me of a English farmhouse.

Here's my takeaway (HAHA pun totally intended here. sorry.) on food: I love trying something I didn't think I would like, and finding out that I actually love it. I love going to dinner with a new friend and ordering "what I always get" or something totally different. I love the array of atmospheres of places in this city - twinkling lights in the tree growing through the middle of the porch in one, punk rock and skate culture in another. I love that Houston is a place where makers thrive - it's a good place for creativity and risk. and food seems to be a pretty easy starting place. But it also brings people together - when I think about my favorite moments of the last year and a half in Houston, tons of them were over food - a good cup of tea, the best sandwich I've ever had (so far), a gyro with former Houstonians who are delighted to find that 30 years later, nothing has changed a bit. in each, there is laughter, there are stories, and there is food.

p.s. disclaimers! (: this Girl in the City is clearly influenced by Montrose. there are other places that are good that are outside of this neighborhood, but......I guess I haven't been to them as much. each neighborhood has it's classic places and it's adventurous places, but I learned about food in Montrose because I lived there and dove right into the Montrose cultural experience. (write what you know. eat what you don't know! right?) this is also not a comprehensive list (30 would be closer, I think (; )

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On being brave.

tonight, in the quiet of the living room with only the Christmas tree lights on (one of my favorite christmas habits), comes my writing. it always does.

 Matisse once wrote, "creativity takes courage." I think following dreams does too. And facing fears. Sometimes being creative and following my dreams is downright scary. Sometimes I wonder if it hadn't been easier if I had just been a business major or a chemical engineer (I meet a lot of people in Houston who easily found a job at some oil company because that is the Houston 'thing')

But if I had been a business girl, I wouldn't be myself. I sometimes joke that I am the most colorful person in my office. In a sea of khaki, I am a strange vintage skirt wearing bird. I'm okay with this.  I am happy with my skirts and my dreams of magazine writing and my cubicle is a bit more bearable given that it's not so....grey....anymore.

But it does remind me, often, that being yourself isn't exactly an easy feat. it takes courage to pursue dreams and to be who you really are. it takes bravery to say this is me. it takes bravery to say this isn't me. heck, it takes bravery for me to even write this.

every January for the past few years I've come upon a sort of starting place for my year. it's the thing that my entire year is built on, something I write about over and over again, until it becomes branded on my heart, the thing by which (I feel like, although it's probably somewhat of an exaggeration.) all other things are filtered through. it's by this starting place that I see my entire year, and what I look back on at the end of it. (January 2013-December 2013 was very specifically Proverbs 31:25.)

So it was January 2014. I was in a current work schedule of furious freelance writing from 8 am - 4 pm followed by closing every single night from Tuesday to Saturday. A couple of people had quit or flaked on their schedules, and I was one of three consistent workers, which meant the shifts got longer and harder. I remember driving home at 1 am on quietly dark streets, my pulled rib muscle aching, every part of me exhausted and tired. no jobs had materialized after 6 months, which I had (I thought) asked for faithfully, desperately, as my savings dwindled and nothing I tried worked on my extremely painful injury. (it sounds kinda wimpy, but I'm telling this part of the story because it was a literal and figurative thorn in my side. it was so strange but felt very real.)

One day I read something written by a poet and writer, Ciona Rouse, who I think might be a kindred spirit if we ever met - but anyways, she wrote this little monologue called "Do the Crazy Thing" and it reshaped my attitude about the difficult season I was in and set me straight onto an entirely different path for the coming year - it was then that I decided "Be Brave" would be my starting point for 2014. Brave enough to shed the heavy cloak of distrust and anxiety about my decision to move here and lay it at the cross. Brave enough to just keep going, to keep going to work every day, brave enough to keep expecting, to keep asking, to keep waiting for Jesus to show up.

It happened in small ways. Freelance editors started to call me so much I had to turn some stories down because I didn't have enough time to write them all. I opened a bottle of Sweet Leaf tea one day and the cap stared back at me with these words "Keep your chin up" - I became the weird girl crying in the grocery store because I was just so thankful Someone seemed to be listening to me. I wrote some articles for Style and Pepper that afforded me only bylines and sweet emails exchanged between me and women who were loving and accepting and kind in return - things of far more value than a paycheck. those stories also taught me so much about Fair Trade and socially-conscious businesses, about women across the world who felt exactly like I did - at a dead end with their dreams, but still moving forward - and taught me how to pray beyond myself. If I felt like this, then surely they did too! My prayer life exploded as I asked for the same things for them as they navigated strange and difficult waters of stormy seasons and desired bravery and dreams to be ignited - what an incredible salve for my heart. to know you are not alone in something is a bit like finding a compass when you are lost in the desert.

be brave.

every day those two words took on a different meaning.

be brave. be brave. be brave.

Ciona writes,

"do the crazy thing. the-hard-to-imagine-but-somehow-you-did-thing. the brings you to your knees thing. the "no one would ever do it that way" thing. the safety net would not even matter thing. the it could kill you but not trying is another kind of death thing.

the thing on your heart? DO IT.

and let them gasp

right before they call it

a thing of wonder."

{from here.}

Thursday, November 27, 2014

an essay. and a plan.

a new thing: essays-not-written-by-me thursdays. first installment. 

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” 

― Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

Monday, November 24, 2014

there's no place like home...

Good morning!

With three days to Thanksgiving, I am sharing something I worked on my second to last semester of college, in an upper level art class for my minor. this was one of two of my major projects for my minor, which I think really helped shape the whole reason I decided to do an art minor with my writing degree. I've written a bit about this before  - more on inspiration and where it comes from, and the idea behind collecting and how we "collect" things that have no significance to us and assign meaning to them based on the way we interpret and experience the world. I could talk a long time about this, BUT I wanted to share this part as this Thanksgiving week many people (myself included!) are going home. to childhood houses, to houses that are labeled as home but aren't really any more, to siblings, to dinner tables and laughter that lingers around them.

Home is such a fluid concept, isn't it? to be cute, "home is wherever I am with you" - but isn't that profoundly literal in light of the strange experience of adulthood? (with some exceptions.) I can only write what I actually know, so there it is: I grew up and moved away. the experience of "growing up" is that I am always part of where and who I came from - I am more my past than I've ever been but I'm also more independently myself than I have ever been. Where I live isn't really home. but my house in the country, the one with the antebellum charm and the windchimes on the porch, my own bedroom tucked away with a soft lamp always on waiting for me in the window seat - it isn't really home either. I don't live there any more. But when I return, it is home because of the way my dad pops his head in to ask if I am too sleepy for a chapter of James Herriot (never) and then always, always, leaves his coffee cup behind. It is home because of the familiar chime of the grandfather clock downstairs and the dripping of the coffeemaker I learned to make coffee with close to 20 years ago. It is home because of the welcoming arms and wagging tail that greet me when I gently push open the door "just like I live there." I don't live there, but then, you don't have to knock when you come home, right?

Next week we are going to Beaumont, to the house my dad grew up in. I have never lived there, and yet, it is so familiar. It is full of the memories of waking up in the quiet and still dark hours of the morning to the sound of the clink of coffee cups and the murmur of voices behind the kitchen door that swings back and forth. the hum of the gas heater in the bathroom and the creak of that one floorboard in the hallway.

(when I get homesick, it isn't for a place or for the absence of space between places. it is for these things. for faces and tails and laughter. for the familiar grooves of life and love I still fit perfectly in. Rilke says “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.”

so anyways, part of my final thesis for my art project:

“the past itself, as historical change continues to accelerate, has become the most surreal of subjects– making it possible as Walter Benjamin said, to see a new beauty in what is vanishing. From the start, photographers not only set themselves the task of recording a disappearing world, but were so employed by those hastening it’s disappearance. “To renew the old world,” Benjamin wrote, “that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things.” (Susan Sontag, from the chapter "Melancholy Objects" from On Photography) 

I am captivated by this – that by adopting images I am preserving a part of their original character while making them my own at the same time. By delving into the history recorded by those before me, especially in a place that has significance to me, it becomes part of the meaning of the place, and I consequently see more beauty in the place than I did before. Part of the reason (in large part, a primary reason) I chose to attend Sam Houston State University is because of my family – I love that when I call home, my parents can close their eyes and imagine exactly where I am sitting on campus or what professor I might have because they were in my shoes, thirty years earlier. And I think if I had gotten to sit with my great grandpa on the porch, we might have talked about the campus and what has changed about it and what will never change as long as it exists. That is the essence, the core, the heart of this project – figuring out how history - old, reimagined, new, alike - forms an indelible, vital connection between me and the world.

The connection I'm making between the idea behind collecting and my perspectives about home here is that home is not a place - it is a collection of experiences, of people and life. In the country or in the city, I have a little home in me wherever I am. I was thinking about this this week, as Thanksgiving comes upon us and I am returning to familiarity, albeit looking a bit different, but always the same. I think maybe my definition of home will change with time and experience and life - it is an inchoate (not yet fully formed) perspective. and yet, the beauty of it is that because of who defines it, it's character of familiarity won't ever change.

 "Welcome home!" a calling voice from somewhere in the house says. the scenery may be different but it feels like a place I know. "Welcome back." 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

a year!

Perhaps the only redeeming thing so far about this post is that it isn't november yet, so a whole year hasn't passed since I wrote here last. (oops.)

Lots has happened!

I've been scrolling through pictures and remembering it all, especially because hey guess what! I've lived in Houston a year!!

and if there was ever a time for me to return to my blog, it's now! (and I think it'll be a more regular thing, too.)

I can hardly believe I've been affectionately remembered as "the girl in the city" for so long now! I was having a conversation last week about how every believer's story looks different, but such a common theme is about identity.


When I first moved here, just a few months after graduation, I was moving here in a bit of a desperately bold move to figure that out. It wasn't dramatic as a crisis, but I do remember crying a few months before graduation about how I had always been someone - mostly a student - and now that I was graduating, with a fistful of rejection letters and no job, I couldn't be a student any more but I wasn't replacing that title with anything.

I was just me. and man, the reality of myself - the person I had been barreling towards in what seemed like a very short four years - stared right back at me. no more avoiding it. time to be just me, the person I'd be more or less for the rest of my life. besides that, there's apparently so much more than what college or high school "prepares" you for, and the prospect of finding out what exactly that was was scary and unappealing.

(Also maybe now is a good time to insert a back-in-time note to my 13-year-old self who loved Switchfoot.....this is your life! are you who you want to be? that girl back then GETS that. (-: )

and that's where one of the most important lessons presented itself. joyfully, thankfully, wholeheartedly - I started to settle into real truth, the kind that burrows into your soul and stays awhile.

My identity is not ME. It's Jesus. it's a living representation of the hope and the reality of the gospel working for the good of a King. living in community, resting in the honesty and encouragement that comes from living life with other people on a sojourn, walking with each other and Jesus (and isn't it God's perfect wit (I like to think He has a gentle sense of humor) that I ended up at a church NAMED Sojourn...)

{Ernest Hemingway once said, "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."}

Anyways, it's been a good year. Besides the big stuff, there's been so much I've been proud of this year. It's been, seriously, such a year. When I think back on this first foray into a life I LOVE living, I want to remember everything: the creaky apartment tucked into the oaks in a very colorful neighborhood in Montrose (that we loved the first time we walked in), the way the whole room filled up with sunlight and made it easy to work on writing during the day. late night glasses of wine with the only person I knew in Houston 365 days ago (she was also my roommate), comparing thrift store finds and talking about boys. banana trees wrapped in twinkle lights and a little Boston Terrier downstairs that always let me pet her.

My first big "break" - an out-of-the-blue call from Community Impact, offering me a spot in their freelance writer rotation, and my first big project - on oil and gas, of all things (that I knew nothing about). and then getting the print copies in the mail and reading my name in print. I'd done it. I had moved here with no job and a few hundred dollars and I'd ACTUALLY done it. (for the record, my responsible budgeting, scribbled down in a notebook, said I couldn't make it past 3 months without a REAL miracle. And yet, I made it an entire year. I always seemed to have extra, and I am so thankful and astounded at the goodness of life with Jesus.)

a crazy three weeks in the world of cultural heritage and realizing that nothing anyone says about me (or my skirts...) makes any difference in who I am. Jesus says who I am, He has written that in every autumn breeze that makes my spirit shiver with quiet joy. That's what I left with from a weird and stressful job situation. GOOD right?!

regular customers who remembered my name, and asked me how I was, a wealth of tea knowledge and accepting friends - we were all a little weird, and it didn't matter one bit. Patience and steadiness and a steadfast heart amidst chaos (to be taken literally and figuratively. welcome to saturdays at a coffee shop.) learning that a watched boiler pot....never boils. the best vegan banana peanut butter cookies in the world and a hilariously honest and wise Asian woman who taught me about business and life and cooking. perspective. (how many times have I prayed prayers of thankfulness when I wake up on a Saturday and I don't have to work?)

and then, rescue. a job that provided insurance and not-writers pay. most recently, a promotion into marketing, one that makes me so excited to go to work. a spot award on my bulletin board reminding me that my skills and my gifts are valued there. a roommate who bears my burdens and celebrates my joys - no matter how small - with me and invites me into life with her - and who lets me do the same for her right back. a townhouse tucked into the side of a park with trees for my hammock, letting me grow and bloom right where I'm supposed to.

{"Jesus, into whose strong hands I long ago committed my life, is engineering a universe of unimaginable proportions and complexity. And yet, He makes note of the smallest seed and the tiniest sparrow. He is not too busy to keep records of even my falling hair. In our darkness, we suppose He has overlooked us. But He hasn't. It is God to whom and with whom we travel, and while He is the end of our journey, He is also at every stopping place." (e.elliot)}