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Monday, August 18, 2014

My Trip to Port Aransas, TX: Goodnight Summer, Goodnight Beach

photo credit: wikimedia

My last trip of the summer takes me to the Texas coast. It's time to go after days of play, but I need one last moment on the shore. 

A few others are there doing the same. They stare out at the gilded waves reflecting the new morning sun. Two thoughts undulate in my head—someone bigger than we are had to organize this, and timelessness mixed with newness. Saltwater and waves have been around since the beginning, but the life within is new and ever-changing. Ancient Greek tragedies and comedies, settlers, explorers and travelers find their stories' epicenter in the ocean. I then remember I'm not alone in my adoration. The opening paragraphs of Moby-Dick speak to humankind's shared fascination with water:

"There now is your unsular city of the Manhattoes, belted by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there…

Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

…There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries…Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever."
Tim Burdick Photography

He goes on to say if landlocked man would find the nearest pond or stream. Artists of landscapes always employ an element of water. A poor man from Tennessee invests in a trip to the beach instead of buying a much-needed coat.

"Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

Herman Melville said it best. I have nothing else to say. Now on to fall!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The First Amendment and NYC

A man with long white hair and a beard leans back against the steps reaching up to Federal Hall on 26 Wall Street. He plays the national anthem on his flute. Like the mild summer air coming off the Atlantic, the anthem ubiquitously floats around the Financial District reminding our small group where it all started.

This site was New York City’s 18th-centry City Hall where you could say the First Amendment was born. It’s no wonder newspaperman John Peter Zenger won his fight to print government corruption in his publication—the United States was born out of an intolerance for authoritarian, monarchial governments. Zenger’s acquittal marked a most important founding moment in our history—the freedom to expose injustices is no small potatoes. After all, the press is considered the fourth branch of the U.S. government, and essential part of the checks and balances system.

It was a great surprise to stumble onto this site during my latest NYC trip. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The New York City Cab Driver Who Changed My Life in 10 Minutes

The (New) World Trade Center: Tower 1
My last night in New York City the cab driver taking us to dinner asked me where I was from. “Texas,” I said defensively. Everyone thinks Texans are wealthy because we are from the “Land of Bush and Oil,” so I deflected and asked him where he was from. After more prodding, he started to tell me his story, and it moved me to tears.

He grew up in poverty in Bangladesh but left for New York City 25 years ago at 40 years old. His family wasn't able to come to the U.S. until 12 years after his move.  It took him that long to get legal citizenship and safely bring them over.

He labored long hours for years as bussing tables in a restaurant at an age when his body was already tired. His English was broken, but from what I understood, he said the restaurant owner noticed his work ethic, asked him work as a cook. He soon after applied for his green card. He said after five years he took an exam and then got approval for citizenship.

The mere mention of that day un-furrowed his brows and brightened his eyes. He missed his family and could now move them to New York with him. All this time, his wife and six children were living back in Bangladesh—a country so poor he said most people work 12 hours to earn one American dollar.

Once a legal citizen, his family moved, and he hoped to provide them with a world of opportunities not available to them at home. He started driving a taxicab. He said, as a cab driver, his extended family at home considers him wealthy. He sends a few hundred dollars back to them in Bangladesh. It was obvious from his tone that this act was his pleasure, not a burden or obligation. 

He said he spends his life suffering for others and future generations, as he felt he should. His frame was small, his head and face, bald, and his eyes big, sweet and brown. He looked like a boy with wrinkles. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, but painted a picture of self-sacrifice most of us Americans can’t comprehend. The Dalai Lama calls the U.S. the most individualistic nation in the world—a culture that tends to fend for themselves and nobody else. But Mother Theresa reminded us through her selfless acts that joy is found in serving others. When we serve ourselves it is never good enough.

The cab driver became passionate and said first generation immigrants in America never have it easy so why would he. He then asked about my forefathers. I said my family goes back six or seven generations in the U.S. and five in Texas alone. He reminded me that they probably didn’t have it easy when they first came from Ireland and Scotland to have what I have today. I was humbled. 

In just one generation, he changed the direction of his family's path. He said in the U.S. all you have to do is work hard, but in Bangladesh working hard still ends in suffering and poverty. His hard work is manifest in his six children’s success—his eldest son has his MBA and works in finance, his daughters got their education degrees to teach, and his younger twin sons will soon finish their masters in chemical and electrical engineering.

I learned in my tour of the Financial District that the first immigrant processed through Ellis Island was 15-year-old Annie Moore. She traveled alone with her two little brothers for 12 days at sea. Her parents were already in New York looking for work and new opportunities. They eventually reunited, but the road wasn't easy. She married young, had 11 children but only five lived into adulthood. She died at 47 of heart failure. I can't help but wonder where her descendants are now, but this New York Times piece gives us some clues. 

The cab driver said if he were born in the U.S. he would have studied hard to be a doctor. In Bangladesh he said he was a shaman-like character helping cancer patients and treating other ailing people who couldn’t afford medical care. This guy was not just a cab driver. The bus boy is never just a bus boy, a mother not just a mother, a CEO never just a CEO, and a homeless person never just a homeless person. 

Everyone has a story. We all have something to learn from our fellow humans. 

After ten minutes we arrived at the restaurant. I tipped him and said "thank you for sharing your story." 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Vote for Fort Worth's Best (New) All Around Restaurant

The Assistant Manager,
Tony Hayman.
My vote for best new all around Fort Worth, Texas restaurant in 2014 (never thought I would say this based off the Dallas location in NorthPark) is...wait for it...Kona Grill!

Situated on the corner of 7th and University Drive, this place has great views from the inside out.

The food was fantastic, atmosphere contemporary-chic (whatever that means), and the place kid-friendly. See Tony here? He checked on my son several times. Then the chef came out three times to high-five him.

The place is like a theme park for adults too with their indoor water features, LED-tipped cosmetic trees and fish tanks at eye level. It was loud enough that my 2-year-old could make monkey mating calls and not offend others, but not too loud that I couldn't hear my sister and mother speak.

"My toddler and my tummy were in heaven." 

Then there was the food. It was the best. I got the Miso-Saké Sea Bass with shrimp and pork fried rice and a side of Pan-Asian ratatouille. It was perfectly prepared. I order sea bass almost everywhere I go, and this place got the flakes and flavor just right.

Their kid's menu was brilliant and had many not-so-unhealthy options. My 2-year-old's food was served in an unbreakable massive bento box that he couldn't throw at me (too heavy). It was filled with sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese penne pasta, panko-crusted chicken fingers and a fresh orange carved into the shape of a teddy bear.  WHAAAT? (I know, you wanted to eat that teddy? Me too). Loved it...until he dipped it in ketchup and savored every last bight. Oranges and ketchup, really?
Child's Bento Box (teddy orange in top left mom thought it was a starfish...see below information).

Not to forget that Wednesdays are half-price-bottle-of-wine night, which we didn't know about until we arrived. My mother ordered the table a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay (mostly for herself). I guess all moms need a break.

Monday, March 31, 2014

You Can't Beat Yucatan Taco Stand's Happy Hour

While researching for a story about margaritas for a local magazine, I stopped by Yucatan Taco Stand on Magnolia Ave. Little did I know their tacos are $2 from 2-4 p.m., and their house margaritas are $4. I walked away with a tempura fish taco and a grilled vegetable taco topped with their cojita cheese and fresh cilantro, and a margarita. The total bill was $8.

"You can't beat that," said the cashier.

Nope, you can't.

Muddled jalapeño and cucumber, Republic Plata tequila, 
fresh lime juice and simple syrup served on the rocks.  

If you're wanting a custom margarita, don't be afraid to ask. They have 103 different tequilas to choose from, and ingredients like cucumber, jalapeño, coconut, cinnamon, mint and more to create your perfect margarita.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fort Worth's Friday on the Green is Around the Corner

I love everything about Friday on the Green in the hospital district just off of Magnolia—it's family friendly, has great food trucks, local breweries' beer, fantastic music, and it's free to the public! Not to mention it is more fun to be outside any day (unless a snownadocane strikes...or it's August in Fort Worth). This year they kick off their 6th season 7-10 p.m. Friday April 4.

Friday on the Green only runs Spring through late fall on the second Friday of each month. There will not be an event in August due to the aforementioned horrid August heat. I tried to go in August once and thought I just might die, so I am glad to see they canceled this one. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pizza Snob

It's a good thing you don't have to tip at Pizza Snob (by TCU). It only seems fair to pay for the amazing gourmet ingredients you pick and watch coalesce into a delicious pizza. 

I say this because the service was unorganized, and employees frazzled. I guess that's why they seemed snob...ish.

Maybe they had a bad night.

However, it's a foodie's dream. You get to drool over ingredients like rosemary goat cheese mozzarella, smoked provolone, candied jalapeños, roasted baby portabella mushrooms and buttermilk sauce.

As you move through the line you pick your aforementioned ingredients but are only allowed up to four. Every pie goes for $7.99, and salads start at $2.99 for the tiny one, $5.99 for personal size, and a shared table salad is $8.99. We tried the kale salad, which came pre-dressed. It was pretty good, but a little
sweet for my taste. The ingredients were fresh and tasty even if it wasn't savory. 

You know how I feel about atmosphere—as you can see by the pictures it is warmly lit, friendly and well designed. I really liked the feel of the place. The only problem was my friend couldn't hear my small voice over the loud room. 

Overall, I would recommend this place. It is a new way to do pizza, but not the fast-food-feel I expected from my experience at Pie Five. They had the doors and windows open, which brought us outside on a beautiful night. 

And don't forget to order one of the two delicious craft beers they have on tap—Revolver's Blood and Honey and Rahr & Son's Blonde!!

Spicy Italian and Custom Veggie

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Silent Films at the Kimbell

If you're looking for something cool to do besides lie around your house on the weekend, check out the Lone Star Film Society's Silent Sundays at the Kimbell's new Piano Pavilion auditorium.

While silent films seem like a hard sell, you can expect a unique experience as you watch history's first films that shaped the industry with the accompaniment of live music. Way Down East will screen 2 p.m. March 16, Strike plays 2 p.m. Sunday, April 20, and first ever Academy Award for best picture, Wings, plays 2 p.m. May 18.

I'm a little late in the game writing about this—the series kicked off Feb. 16. Their first production F. W. Murnau's "cinematic masterpiece" Sunrise had an unexpectedly large turnout. Classical pianist Robert Edwards performed his interpretation of the film live as the audience went back in time. After all, this is how moviegoers experienced film in the 1920s. And if they saw the same film three times, there may be a different musician and interpretation each time, LSFS director Alec Jhangiani said.

Without the distraction of the sometimes overstimulating dialogue and sound effects, one moviegoer said he could really experience the visual aspect more acutely. Hopefully I will see you March 16!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bird Café and AF+B...making Fort Worth Cool as a Cucumber (updated)

Gentling Brothers painted beautiful images like these that fill Bird Café's walls

AF+B's Jack Rose

All of a sudden, Fort Worth is cool. I always thought it was with its Cowtown roots, but now it is in a hip, cool cat kind of way (no...I'm not as old as I sound). With restaurants like Bird Café and AF+B we now have creative menus, fresh ingredients and crazy mixology behind the bar. 

Part I: AF+B

AF+B had a turkey pastrami sandwich special that day. Everything from the avocado and fennel purée and tomato jam to the turkey pastrami was house-made. The arugula was locally grown by
House-made Turkey Pastrami
the farmers depicted in the beautiful photography hanging on the tavern's walls. In fact my waiter James said nothing they serve has been out of the ground for more than three days. They make their own ginger syrups, "turn the curd" themselves for their ricotta, and create their own sweetened condensed milk.

The only thing not house-made was the bread, which came from the Black Rooster Bakery. That place is amazing for lack of better words (sorry, I'm in a hurry!). The tomato jam covered the inside of one slice, and the fennel and avocado purée the other. I loved the arugula, which added a nice peppery contrast to the sweet tomato and fennel flavor.

Back to the ginger syrup! I tried the Chilcano, which is Moscow Mule's Peruvian cousin. The house-made ginger beer was out-of-this-world awesome! Not too sweet but just enough spice. I also tried the Jack Rose with blended apple jack, fresh lime juice and pomegranite grenadine. It was delicious and served in an old-fashioned martini glass. I felt like I was sipping a cocktail with Murtle in the Great Gatsby.

AF+B's Chilcano
I love how simple and fresh this place is. I really don't think you can go wrong when ordering here. And the idea is a neighborhood tavern, but the atmosphere is much lighter and more airy than it is cavernous. It is loud when busy.

Update: I went the other night and ordered lots of plates off the permanent menu. I was blown away. Some of the best food I've ever had in Fort Worth. May I recommend items you must order when you go?

You must order the scotch eggs. No, I don't usually like scotch eggs, but these soft-boiled beauties are wrapped with a thin layer of chorizo sausage and then breaded. Amazing. I also thoroughly enjoyed the gulf blue deviled crabs. The lamb tartar was good, but tartar isn't really my thing unless it's fish. Their grass-fed beef chili was excellent, but a little on the sweet side.

For the main dish, I recommend their wood-grilled butcher's cut steak with their house-made chimichurri. It was unbelievably good.

Part II: Bird Café

If you're not careful you can rack up a serious bill here. For a hungry person it takes several of Bird Café's small or shared plates to fill up, which is a large portion of the menu. There is a small section titled "for those who don't share" devoted to diners who wish not to blow the bank on a dozen shared plates. (When I go back I am ordering off that menu
without shame.)

I started the meal with a "New Deal Old-Fashioned" and the shrimp and crab chop salad. The salad was good, but didn't blow me away. The drink did. The hard rye whiskey was ameliorated by house-made orange cordial, cherry brandy and bitters. I adored the single large ice cube that floated in my glass all evening.

Gentling Image
We then shared some hot plates—roasted quail with celery root purée, "moth balls," which are house-made ricotta-stuffed gnocchi thingies, and agave-glazed baby back ribs with boring potatoes.

My favorite was the quail dish. The celery root purée is actually poached potatoes and/or turnips seasoned with celery. It was delicious, and my friend's favorite. (They're very secretive about how they prepare their food so that's all we got out of them, hence the use of the word "thingie" and the turnip/potato confusion.)

I will probably not order the other dishes again, although the moth balls taste good they just have a unique texture.

I loved that the menu had a wine pairing or cocktail suggestion next to each dish. It makes it easy for those of us who want to try something new but don't know where to start.

My dining experiences are only as good as the atmosphere, and this placed rocked it from the upstairs dining room overlooking downtown Fort Worth to the cozy main room downstairs. The entire place is covered with paintings by the Gentling Brothers (Stuart and Scott). Walking through and studying these images is a must do when you dine here. I've always been a fan of these artists, so we spent thirty minutes admiring after dinner and skipped dessert.

Quail with celery root purée, which was actually some other root like a potato or turnip. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo #FWSSR

His first pair of blue jeans, cowboy boots, and his first rodeo. 

Bucking broncos and bulls send cowboys flying, tough cowgirls whirl around barrels as their horses' hooves thunder back into a tunnel beneath the stands, and children scramble to catch their calves for prize money. 

All of these things are reminiscent of the past, but the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo remind us city folks that the Wild West still lives right under our nose.

Every winter Jan. 17-Feb. 8, cowboys from as far as France and Australia move to Fort Worth for a few weeks to show us how it's done. They perform daring tasks actually practiced on ranches all over the world to show off their antiquated skills and win prize money.

And yes, these cowboys are the real deal. No show ponies here.

This long-lived North Texas tradition is one I recommend for everyone. I go at least twice every year.

Evening performances sell for $25 a ticket, and matinees $19. The event is held at the historic and beloved Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in the heart of Fort Worth's cultural district.


Click here to read my feature story in Fort Worth, Texas magazine on the lady behind the sparkling Palomino Flag Girls.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

AF+B Opens, Chef Jeff Harris Shares His Story and Excitement

American Food and Beverage just opened in Fort Worth across from the Brownstone and Waters on Crockett Street completing a trifecta of elegant dining experiences. Its open and airy space feels as fresh as its menu.

I caught up with AF+B's executive chef Jeff Harris about his passion for food, his story that ends at this restaurant, and why he left Bolsa in the Dallas Bishop Arts District.

Jeff grew up in East Texas on his grandparents' farm. His grandmother prepared southern meals with fresh vegetables from the garden. His whole family—cousins, aunts, uncles and parents—would often eat these home-cooked meals together. They didn't need a special occasion, they had good food. He loved watching his grandmother throw things together in the kitchen. He said she didn't even use measuring spoons because she knew how to make most things by heart.

Later he went to college changing his major until he finally got his real estate license and a desk job at a bank. But he never stopped dreaming about food, flipping through cookbooks and preparing meals at home.

A pile of wood for their grill
At 30 years old, Harris quit his day job and moved to New York City to pursue his passion for cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education. While there he was exposed to the farmer's market and top notch food scene. He then got a job at Craft NYC for several years, and later moved to Dallas to be the executive chef of Bolsa.

It didn't take much persuading to get him to here. "I love the concept of what they're doing," Jeff said. "They have responsible sourcing so they buy from local farmers that treat their animals well." It's a neighborhood upscale tavern, with dishes that have great ingredients but aren't overly complicated. The menu is sophisticated, yet relatable. The same can be said for their mixology.

And with fun kitchen tools like a wood burning grill, a rotisserie and smoker, Jeff will be prepping smoked duck breast, wood-grilled sterling lamb saddle, wood-grilled steaks, spicy grass-fed beef ribs and oh-so-much more.

So why share this chef's story you may ask? Because his experience and vision will be reflected in what you see when you come to check out AF+B.

Best New Restaurants (and Best New Food Blog!)

I stumbled upon this beautiful fledgling food blog when researching for a story I'm working on. I loved its best-new-restaurants-in-Fort Worth list. I will definitely refer to this list when trying to think of a new place to try! It has beautiful photography. Check it out.

Beautiful food photo from blog Food, Fort Worth

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cooking Class Fun!

By Jocelyn Tatum 

Ready, set, GO! The big screen TVs reveal the stove top at the front of the room. Chef Christine bellows information to get the class started, and the first glass of wine is poured. It's time to play.

If you haven't guessed yet, I am at a Central Market cooking class. I tried this because it appeals to many passions—my love for cooking and learning new things, and my love for meeting new people and hearing their stories, and my love for doing something different.

Each group of four sat at one of the four assigned tables. That equals 16 people, which means the intimate feeling wasn't lost. We sipped wine, whisked egg whites until they held peaks, delighted in each other's stories, and learned things like "cooking light is about concentrated flavors [and] egg whites must be room temperature and in a metal bowl before they can hold peaks." Who
salad ingredients

Before we prepared each course, Chef Christine demonstrated on the big screen what to do next. Then each group divided up duties and walked to our station in the kitchen. The industrial gas stove flared its bright flame. The lady next to us joined in on the discussion of whether we should put the herbs in the wasabi rice milk slurry or directly onto our "composed" salad (composed means it's not tossed...another thing I learned). We decided to put it into the hot dressing because the heat kicked up the aromatics. This was later poured onto our fingerling potato, fennel, corn and avocado salad. It was time for our next dish so we scurried back to our tables.

Listen, cook, taste and repeat.

Folding the egg whites into the sugar and yokes.
Did you know sugar cooks yokes so you have to move fast?
No? I didn't either. 
The three-hour experience flew by, and at the end we got to enjoy the fruits of our not-so-hard labor. The first course was the aforementioned salad. The second course was grass fed bison filets, poached green beans with lemon juice and low fat au gratin potatoes. The desert was a lemon pudding soufflé that melted onto our palates. 

The Central Market cooking school offers everything from lobster dinner, cooking light (my class), grilling with Jon Bonnell to couples Chinese New Year. Classes typically cost about $75 each, but after eight classes you get to try one for free.

This is definitely something new and different I recommend in Fort Worth! And if you want to share this experience with your children, check out the Young Chef's Academy on Camp Bowie.


We had to work for dessert!

Lemon pudding soufflé

Cooked fingerling potatoes, corn, herbs, fennel, avocado salad
with warm wasabi dressing.

Grass fed bison filet, herbed au gratin potatoes, poached lemony green beans.

*Side note: please remember that I do not accept gifts to write these stories. This content is pure and we paid for the class ourselves. This is important to me as a professional. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coming Up: Marfa in a Teepee

Yet another trip to Marfa, Texas. This time I got to sleep in a teepee.

For 2014, dare to do something different than usual. Stretch yourself. I left my comfort zone when I entered the community outdoor showers and slept in a fabric hut with only a zipper between me and the rest of the world.

I hope to finish my article about this weekend getaway soon and will post. I just need to find the time to write it and pitch it to a travel magazine! Stay tuned...

Our front door had a zipper. 

I loved this so much I had artist Kristen Soble paint it for me in watercolor.

We rented bikes.