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.}