Last weekend I went to Austin with my husband, son, and son’s girlfriend for Austin City Limits, a music festival stretching over two weekends.  I just went along for the ride and to keep the peace, if necessary, because I’m pretty much done with music festivals.  The last one I went to was Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid when I first started law school. The concert was in an open field in the middle of July, which is the second worst month for an outdoor activity in Texas, August being the worst.  My nursing friends came up for the concert, and without going into detail, I’ll just say they behaved very badly.  I haven’t seen them or been to a music festival since.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Austin, located on the shores of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), which was the closest hotel to the festival.  We usually stay downtown when in Austin, but I have to say, the Hyatt worked out great — comfortable rooms, pretty lakeside views, and easy self-parking.

The festival was, of course, the highlight of the weekend.  But we also had a great time dining in Austin.  There has been an explosion of restaurants in recent years, and we hit some old favorites and what are certain to become new favorites.

First stop was Chuy’s, en route to the festival.  The Mexican restaurant hasn’t changed since my law school days, and was as tasty and gut-busting as I remembered:


Another old favorite (of more recent vintage) that we visited, at my son’s request, was Hopdoddy, which I’ve written about before.  Not much more to say, other than that we love Hopdoddy.


Looking for a place to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, we stumbled upon Cenote, in East Austin, an area that has been undergoing an exciting revitalization.  Cenote is located in a historic house, built in 1887.  We were charmed by its patio, friendly service, and excellent coffee.


While the kids were chowing down on food truck fare at the festival, my husband and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Emmer & Rye, located on Rainey Street, an area described by Texas Monthly as being filled with “hot bars and restaurants, a massive amount of construction, and a whole lot of hip young people.”


The restaurant has an attractive patio, which was packed on this pleasant evening:


The interior space was equally inviting:

Emmer & Rye focuses on seasonal and local cuisine, and boasts that it mills “heritage grains” for its pastas, breads, and desserts.  Along with the menu items, there are dim sum style rolling carts with daily specials to choose from.  Here’s Tom, our “dim sum guy”:


We selected a few dishes from the cart (and believe me, it was really hard to pass up every other dish that rolled by), including the excellent beef tartare:


From the menu, we had the very rich cacio e pepe:


Confited short rib carnitas with corn, kohlrabi, chilis, salsa rosada, and flaky roti to tuck it into:

And the dish I cannot get out of my head, grilled butternut squash with deliciously creamy and pungent ome camembert, mesquite vinegar, pecans, and puffed sorghum.  This dish was so much more than the sum of its parts:


We ended with a simple-looking but complex-sounding and tasting cocoa bean ice cream sandwich with white sonoran koji cookie and mesquite caramel:


But wait, there’s more!

The next morning, before we headed home, we had brunch at Jacoby’s, a “transparent, value driven, vertically integrated, ranch-to-table dining experience located in East Austin on the Colorado River.”  That’s a mouthful!


Come hungry for the hearty brunch offerings.  My gang chowed down on Duck Confit Migas:img_8468 3 Little Pigs Sandwich, piled with crispy schnitzel, shaved ham, bacon, and a fried egg:


And Chicken Fried Steak & Waffles with Sausage Gravy and Maple Syrup:
img_8471We waddled out of Jacoby’s, stuffed ourselves into the car, and made one last non-food stop before getting on the road — East Austin Succulents, a sort of magical, if kinda prickly, plant nursery my husband discovered on a recent visit.


If you are into plants, and really, even someone with a brown thumb should be able to grow a succulent or cactus, then you’ll love this place.


You’ll find whimsical arrangements:

Beautiful rocks sold by the pound, for your garden and containers:

And, of course, tons of cacti and succulents:

They even had a few of my favorite spineless totem pole cactus (although the child in us refers to them by another name):

img_8491We headed home, our trunk filled with plants, and our hearts filled with memories of a wonderful — make that, really wonderful — fall weekend getaway.


Who says deviled eggs are just for Easter?  They’re also fun to dress up for Halloween — cute or creepy, your pick!  Get inspired by this updated annual roundup of Halloween deviled eggs, from the merry to the macabre.

Who could resist a cute little pumpkin deviled egg, like these from Tadka Pasta?


Too generic?  How about a grinning Jack O’ Lantern, like these from Ochikeron’s You Tube channel:


Or these from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:


Who wouldn’t get a kick out of these owl deviled eggs from Maker, Baker, Glitter Shaker?  Hoo?  Hoo?


Spider deviled eggs are cute without being too creepy, like these black olive ones from The World According To Eggface:

halloween1And these green olive ones from Momtastic:


Of course, you CAN make them creepy, like this albino black widow spider deviled egg found on Hairpin:


If you’re going to have spiders, you might as well have spider webs, like these from health-actually.com:halloween7

Food Planet kicks spider web eggs up a notch with a bright green filling;


Devil horns are an easy way to dress up deviled eggs for Halloween, like these from Cookin’ Canuck:


You can have lots of fun coming up with devilish little faces on your deviled eggs, like these from So Lovely Sweet Tables:


Or these amusing little devils from Kraft:


Skeleton deviled eggs from Thrifty Fun are a scream:


It wouldn’t be Halloween without some eyeballs, like these from Kath’s Kitchen Sync:

halloween4  Or these zombie eyeballs from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

Zombie eyes 061

Or next level creepy with piped on capillaries from Mom Foodie:


These black and orange eggs from aol.com/food might be too scary for some people:


These red ones found on Homemade Recipes puts the devil in deviled eggs:


Deviled eggs make cute ghosts in a graveyard, from Chef Morgan:


These green goblin eggs from Betty Crocker are pretty scary:


But nothing could possibly be creepier (or less likely to be eaten) than these Satan’s Spawn deviled eggs from Kravings.blog.  Nothing.  Ever.


Happy Halloween!

P.S.  Do you know why ghosts don’t like it to rain on Halloween?  It dampens their spirits!


I’ve heard a lot about Roostar Vietnamese Grill lately, and after visiting the restaurant recently, I can see what all the fuss is about.roostar

Roostar is located at 1411 Gessner Road — a part of Spring Branch sometimes referred to as Koreatown — in a small retail center that also houses Flower Piggy Korean BBQ and La Michoacana Meat Market.  (Roostar is opening a second location soon, near the Galleria area.)

Roostar’s logo was designed to reflect the French influence on Vietnam, and the owners’ love for Texas — the rooster is the unofficial symbol of France, and the star that is the rooster’s comb is a nod to the Lone Star State.  The rooster “is drawn in flame-like strokes and colored with burning reds, symbolizing the passion and energy” that goes into each of Roostar’s dishes.



The first thing you will notice upon entering the tidy little restaurant is Linda, who owns and operates Roostar with her husband Ronnie.  And the next thing you will notice is how pretty Linda is, like movie-star pretty:


And the next thing you’ll notice is how hard Linda works to make sure that each customer is treated respectfully and thoughtfully — whether explaining the menu, offering a sample, filling glasses, or rearranging chairs to accomodate diners.  You’ll also see a lot of activity going on behind her, as employees hustle to fill orders:


The menu is simple, with lots of options to customize your meal:


One of Roostar’s most popular offerings is its banh mi, frequently referred to as the best in Houston (Roostar won the 2015 People’s Choice Award during Houston’s The Great Banh Mi Cook-Off, and will be defending its title this fall).  The sandwich, which is on a French baguette, has its origins in the  period when France occupied Vietnam,  There are several grilled meats to choose from, along with smoked ham, avocado, fried egg, and smoked salmon.  They’re made with traditional ingredients that include house-made garlic aioli, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, cucumbers, and soy sauce.  You can add avocado, egg, pate, or extra meat to any sandwich for a modest charge.  We tried a grilled pork banh mi.  The quality of the meat (not too fatty, smoky, slightly sweet) and the homemade aioli really made this sandwich a standout:


We also tried a box.  The concept of the boxes reminded me of Chipotle’s ordering system, and is very user-friendly, especially for people not familiar with Vietnamese noodle and rice bowls.  First you select a meat (grilled pork, grilled chicken, tofu, chopped ribeye, or wings).  Next, choose your base (noodles, salad, white or fried rice).  All boxes come with a spring roll, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green onions, cilantro, fried garlic, and vinaigrette dressing.  You can add avocado, egg, extra meat, or additional eggrolls for a modest charge.  We went with the vermicelli with grilled pork:


The vermicelli box was fresh and filling, a delicious and satisfying lunch, particularly on a hot day like we’ve been having here.

Last, but not least, we tried the Beef Alphabet soup.  This was unlike any soup I’ve ever had before, and it’s garnered raves from everyone who has tried it.  It’s a salty, savory, umami-loaded bowl with finely chopped beef, alphabet pasta, cilantro, and secret spices. It’s served with house-made chili oil — be sure to add some.  This soup was out of this world.  If Roostar was closer to my home, I’d probably be having this soup at least 3 times a week.


Photo courtesy of Cuc Lam

While you’re there, treat yourself to a thai tea, milk tea, or iced coffee — they’re all great, rich with sweetened condensed milk, but so worth the calories.

We all loved Roostar Vietnamese Grill.  I have no doubt you will too!


At the intersection of Hillcroft Ave and U.S. 59, is a small shopping center housing several of Houston’s ethnic treasures.  This center is located at the edge of the Mahatma Gandhi District, officially named in 2010.  The area is filled with Indian and Pakistani establishments — mainly clothing and jewelry stores, restaurants and bakeries, and grocers.

Recently, we’ve made several visits to Himalaya Restaurant, which features some of the best Indian and Pakistani cuisine in Houston (Anthony Bourdain dined there on his visit to Houston this month).

IMG_7463Inside, the restaurant is modest and tidy, its walls filled with glowing articles about the restaurant:


Chef/owner Kaiser Lashkari is usually visible, chatting with diners, offering menu suggestions, and boasting (rightfully) about his food:


Our favorite dishes at Himalaya are rich and complex, full of spice and heat.  Among those we enjoyed are Aloo Chana Masala (chickpeas and potatoes simmered in curry sauce):


Paneer Hara Masala (the restaurant’s “signature vegetarian dish”):


The Chicken Kabab Platter, which has 2 skewers of Chicken Seekh Kebab and 4 pieces of Chicken Tikka Boti Kebab (our favorite of the two):


And the Spicy Rocket Nan (be prepared to fight over the last piece of this):


Other dishes we liked included Chicken Tikka Masala (my son’s favorite):


Chicken Biryani:


An appetizer of Vegetable Samosas:


And Baigan Bharta, a vegetarian dish made with eggplant:


We also tried the popular Hunter’s Beef, a Pakistani-style beef pastrami, which was chopped, sauteed in butter and spices, and served with chopped tomatoes and magic mustard sauce, which was interesting:


In addition to the great food, another plus is that the restaurant is BYOB (provided each diner orders an entree and a nan).

On a recent visit, we waddled out of the restaurant, bellies full and mouths on fire, over to Subhlaxmi Grocers, located in the same center.


I’d been wanting to go there for some time to see if they had the Indian or Persian basmati rice I’ve been searching for, which of course, they did:

This is unlike the basmati rice commonly available at grocery stores.  Indian and Pakistani basmati rice, I’ve learned, is aged at least a year.  The aging process dehydrates the rice, and when the rice is cooked, it expands much more than rice that hasn’t been aged.  If you’ve eaten in Persian or Indian restaurants, you’ve no doubt noticed the extra-long rice (like in the Chicken Biryani pictured above).

The store was filled with all kinds of things — produce, spices, beans, condiments, sweets — many of which I’d never seen before, such as:

I came home with lots of bottles and packages of new things to try — white poppy seeds, dried limes, pickled cut mango — and stocked up on spices, and that aged Basmati rice.  My mind is racing thinking of the Indian and Pakistani specialties I can try my hand at, although I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about Anthony Bourdain dropping in for dinner.  I’m looking forward to exploring other establishments in the Mahatma Gandhi District, especially some of the bakeries.


Express Rolls, a fast, casual dining concept new to the Houston area, invited me to visit and try some of their items, providing me with a $50 gift card as an incentive to accept their invitation.  I hadn’t previously heard of Express Rolls, and was curious, so I gladly accepted.

Express Rolls currently has 7 locations (with 3 more slated to open by September) — 5 in Houston, 1 in Pearland, and 1 in Katy.  I visited the newly-opened one in Shepherd Square, at 2055 Westheimer Rd.


The modest interior was colorful, clean, and bright:

Express Rolls offers a variety of prepackaged Japanese and Vietnamese items, with an emphasis on fresh and healthy.  The items are prepared and packaged at a central location, and delivered twice daily to each location to ensure freshness.  Whether dining in, or grabbing a few items to take for lunch, Express Rolls provides a lighter, healthier alternative to most of the fast food options around.

Towards the back of the restaurant are refrigerated shelves, where you’ll pick out your items.  If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time choosing from the many options:

Express Rolls

Although some of the items may look like what you can find at your local grocery store, the difference in freshness is noticeable.  For example, Express Rolls’ sushi has soft sticky rice, unlike the rice in the grocery store version, which is usually drier and harder.  Same thing for the dumplings — Express Rolls’ gyoza wrappers are soft and pliable, unlike the drier, leather-like ones of the grocery store version.

Among the offerings are sushi assortments:


Individually-wrapped sushi items:

Fresh salads with miso, wasabi, or sesame vinegar dressing (no slimy lettuce found!)


Gyoza (pork or vegetarian) with a soy dipping sauce:


Traditional or spicy garlic edamame:


A variety of summer rolls — I loved the Perfect Pair combo, which came with two grilled pork rolls and two Hawaiian beef rolls (the grilled pineapple was something different, and went really well with the beef):


And several different vermicelli bowls and rice bowls.  You select the bowl from the case, and when you check out you’re given a separate package of vegetables to add to your bowl:

IMG_3490This is just a sampling of what you’ll find — there are also soups (miso, wonton, Vietnamese chicken noodle), kids’ meals, bento boxes, and more.

At the register, you’ll be given any sauces that go with your items, and if you’d like, they’ll heat your soups, dumplings, etc.

I was happy to have discovered Express Rolls, and in fact, grabbed a few things for lunch on my way to work today.  Express Rolls is a welcome (and healthier) option for a quick, fresh meal.


We spent the Memorial Day weekend in Chappell Hill, a small rural community about 70 miles from Houston.  We almost didn’t make it due to heavy rains and flooding in the days prior to our arrival — the area received nearly 18 inches of rain in 24 hours, and the Brazos River was overflowing in areas.  Where we were staying wasn’t affected, but our prayers are with others in the area who lost their homes, property, livestock, and in a few cases, their lives.  Just outside of Chappell Hill we passed this completely submerged farmland:


I cannot get this image of a cow that drowned out of my mind, and seeing it (and another one), was heartbreaking:

cow flood

We rented Rockstar Ranch last fall, and were excited about returning.

ranch logo

The spacious and comfortable house, guest house, and property make for a great place for “city folks” like us to unwind.

There was a large porch with lots of rockers — perfect for watching the sun rise and set:


I especially enjoyed the beautiful flora around the property:


Mariesii variegated lacecap hydrangea


Trumpet vine


??? — anyone — ???


Knock-out roses

blue flower

Commelina erecta (white mouth dayflower or slender dayflower)


Buddleia (butterfly bush)

And we all got a kick out of the fauna in the area:

green frog

Little green frog on the kitchen window

Up close and personal with the neighbor’s cows:

two cows

Watching you

stalker cow

Stalker cow

white cow

Does this weed make my butt look big?

Rocking on the porch while watching the deer was a favorite activity:

And then there was this little fella that was in the pool — we think it must have washed out of the pond with the heavy rains:


There were lots of insects too, most of which we weren’t too thrilled about — except for the fireflies.  Yes — fireflies have returned to the Texas hill country!  I’ve been in Texas since 1981 and have never once seen a firefly.  Each time one lit up, someone would squeal with excitement.  Well, maybe not squeal, but at least one of the kids would say “cool.”

Much of the weekend was spent just hanging around the ranch — swimming, cooking, rocking, reading.  But we did venture out to a few local places.  Our first stop was for barbecue lunch at the Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli.

There was the usual assortment of smoked meats, and a wide variety of sides to choose from:


The barbecue was OK, and none of us liked the barbecue sauce, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the sides, including the creamy mac ‘n cheese, the tangy pepper cole slaw, and the loaded mashed potatoes:

chappell hill bbq

On the retail side of the store, there were shelves full of pickled things, salsas, condiments, jerky, and refrigerated cases of meats, sausages, and cheeses.

But what makes this place worthy of a visit, in my opinion, is the bakery.  Treat yourself to some pillowy kolaches and giant pralines loaded with pecans (there’s also cookies, cinnamon rolls, breads, and cakes).

 And whatever you do, don’t leave without a pie!


I don’t know how many different types of pies they bake, but the one that we flipped over (and made a second visit to pick up one to take home) was the pecan pie–not too sweet, and brimming with pecans.  With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it had us all swooning.


We also had lunch at the Southern Flyer Diner in nearby Brenham.  The restaurant is located at the Brenham Municipal Airport, and is open every day from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.


The diner’s 1950s decor, complete with waitresses in poodle skirts, cherry-red vinyl clad chairs and booths, and a jukebox is cute and kitschy.

diner seats


Part of the fun is watching the small planes fly in and out.

As I stood there watching the planes, one landed and parked right in front of the diner.  Two older women got out and went inside the restaurant for lunch.


As a family that thinks twice about having to drive more than 10 minutes to go out to eat, I was fascinated by the idea that people would actually fly there for lunch.  But according to the owners, pilots are always looking for a reason to fly, and a burger is as good a reason as any.  The burgers are jokingly referred to as $100 Hamburgers — pilots call them that because they burn about that much in gas to fly there for a burger.  (In fact, there’s a subscription website called the 100 Dollar Hamburger, where pilots can find places to eat  at or near an airport.)

The food was classic diner food, all freshly prepared.  The portions were generous and the food was very good.  Highlights of our meal included chili with cornbread (onions, cheese, and jalapeños available):

 Boneless Buffalo wings (all white meat):

buffalo tenders

Fajita beef quesadilla:


And a juicy 1/2 pound burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and swiss cheese.


There were also root beer floats and milkshakes made with Blue Bell ice cream (this is Brenham, after all, home of Blue Bell Creameries):


We also took a stroll down Main Street in Chappell Hill.  There’s just a handful of establishments, all with an old-timey feel, and many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places:


My favorite was the Post Office on Main Street, with its charming garden maintained by the Chappell Hill Garden Club:


I long ago gave up on my fantasy of owning a ranch.  Being able to rent one as lovely as this is the next best thing to owning one.  I’m already looking forward to our next weekend at the ranch, whenever that may be.




Last week we said goodbye to Lilo, our sweet shar pei:


Lilo was just shy of 11 years old, and lived longer than any of our other three shar peis, which was incredible given all of her health problems.  You may have heard that shar peis are prone to a host of health issues, and Lilo had, I believe, all of them, including chronic ear infections, swollen hock syndrome, and entropion.


Lilo joined our family when she was 10 months old.  We had owned two shar peis — Dexter and Har Gow — who were best friends.  When Har Gow died unexpectedly, we needed a new companion for Dexter on an urgent basis.  We contacted Har Gow’s breeder, and the only dog she had available was Lilo.  She told us that Lilo had been with two other families, but it didn’t work out (including a vague story about an elderly owner that couldn’t care for her).  The breeder assured us that Lilo was a great dog without any problems.  She sent us these photos:

In hindsight, nothing the breeder told us really added up.  As soon as Lilo arrived, we knew she was not as the breeder represented.  She was, for lack of a better word, dull. We subsequently learned that her mother had died during childbirth, which the breeder neglected to mention, which explained a lot.  She had a cherry eye, which the breeder also neglected to mention.  She also forgot to mention that she had tacked Lilo’s eyelids twice, but that it had failed to correct the drooping eyelids (we never really did see Lilo’s eyes).  Lilo was timid, and cowered every time my husband came near her (for at least six or seven years), which led us to believe that she had been abused at some point, although the breeder denied it.  She wasn’t cuddly or playful, and fought with Dexter.  After a few months we contacted the breeder about sending her back.  But then, as if Lilo understood our conversations, she suddenly quit fighting with Dexter and settled in, as though she realized staying with us was maybe not so terrible.

best friends

Dexter and Lilo

So if Lilo wasn’t smart or cuddly or playful, what was she?

She was ours.

We all grew on each other, and Lilo became an integral part of our family.  She was a fierce watchdog, with a menacing bark.  She stayed close to us, and was always right there begging for table scraps.  She slept in our room and snored loudly — we used to joke that it was our white noise, kind of like falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.  If you put your face up to her muzzle, she would reward you with wet sloppy kisses.  She loved to lay in the driveway and soak up the sunshine.  She hated thunderstorms and loved marrow bones.  No matter where she was in the house, and no matter how swollen and painful her hocks were, if she heard the treat drawer open, she came running.  She was our Lilo.


My Facebook followers knew Lilo as “stalker dog,” and I loved to photograph her poking around corners:

Dexter died in 2010, and we now have two duck tolling retrievers — Jasper and Maisy — wiith whom Lilo got along just fine.

We noticed a few weeks ago that Lilo had suddenly lost a lot of weight and was becoming disoriented, and we knew that our time with her was drawing to a close.  We agreed that as long as she didn’t appear to be in pain, we wouldn’t put her down.  And so we provided Lilo with the best hospice care we were capable of, and hoped that she wouldn’t suffer.  I don’t know if that was the right decision, but it was our decision.  It was hard watching her go.  It was like watching a shopkeeper close up for the night — first he hangs the closed sign, then he sweeps up, empties the cash register, closes the lights, and finally, he locks the door.  A few days before she died, Lilo hung up the closed sign and stopped eating and drinking.  Then she became bedridden.  She was not really alert in the day or two prior to her death.  And then, finally, she closed the lights and locked the door.  My employers, who are decent people, were understanding, and I was able to be with Lilo in those final few days, staying by her, comforting her.


Jasper kept the vigil too, watching over her.


In a final act of love and compassion, after Lilo passed away my husband cleaned her up before we took her body to the vet for cremation, bathing and blow-drying her.  He swaddled her in a fluffy clean blanket, and cradled her as we sat in the vet’s lobby waiting for assistance.

She was ours.

Rest in peace, sweet Lilo.  We love you.