Saturday, December 27, 2008

I dream of Victoria's Secret, but Victoria does not dream of me

I don't know if it's the lighting in the change rooms, the fact that I'm practically naked or that I'm spending way too much to plump, push up and accent my cleavage in a pathetic attempt to magically transform into a Victoria's Secret supermodel, but whatever it is, I detest bra shopping.

It seems no matter how much I prepare for the experience, it always ends with me drinking hot chocolate with extra whipped cream in Starbucks after being frustrated and disappointed.

But that was before I discovered La Mode Lingerie on West Gray.

I DREAM OF VICTORIA, BUT VICTORIA DOES NOT DREAM OF ME
Okay...I admit it. I am totally envious of the women who are the perfect 34B or 34C and can buy pretty matching sets from the Victoria's Secret catalogue and have them fit. Sadly, like a lot of women, this never works for me. I've had to accept the fact that my body is just not made for their bras - which sucks as they are so cute!

But pretty matching undies isn't what I was searching for this weekend.

This time I was looking for some serious and practical undergarments. I wanted a strapless bra to go with my New Year's Eve dress. And not just any strapless bra - I wanted one that was guaranteed to stay put all night long, even if I wanted to dance.

GOING STRAPLESS FOR THE FIRST TIME
For years I have avoided strapless dresses and tops just because I never felt comfortable in any that I've tried on.

Believe me, I've done bra fittings at Neiman Marcus. I've tried Macy's and I've even visited wedding boutiques. Call me paranoid, but no matter which one they gave me, I was convinced that they were going to slide down, and I'd be spending the entire evening discretely trying to push it back up.

It turns out my fears were correct.

While these places were fitting me for the bra that fit me the best, it seems that my size is weird and the bra that "fits" is still not the right size. They were simply selling me the closest match.

THE LAST STOP
Refusing to pay $60 or more for a bra that I didn't feel comfortable in, I dropped into La Mode Lingerie.

I figured, if I didn't find one there, I would return my strapless dress and get something else. Besides, the boutique is conveniently located by a Starbucks and after driving all over the city, I was dangerously close to needing my pity-party hot chocolate fix.

I walked in, and let me just say, La Mode should have been my first stop. They are set up for the serious bra shopper who doesn't want to waste all day. There is no rummaging through drawers, no bins of bras, and no frustration at trying to find your size or color.

I simply told the woman that I needed a beige strapless bra and gave her my estimated size. Within minutes, she brought over three could work, and the fitting began.

30% OFF AND FREE ALTERATIONS!!!
The people that work at La Mode Lingerie are the bra fairies. There is no lying, no trying to squeeze you into something that doesn't fit, and no denying when something is too big or is going to pucker or show through your outfit.

They want you to look good and feel good about what you're wearing - even if no one else is going to see it.

So when they had me try on the one that was the "closest fit," they were honest and told me that it wasn't perfect. They said that was a little too big in the back (Ha! I knew those other ones would slip down).

But get this...they would alter the hooks for FREE!!!

Now that's service.

Plus, if you go now, they are having a 30% off sale on all regular priced items until December 31.

Oh...and here's a tip. When shopping for a bra, bring the outfit you want to wear it with. This way you be sure that it will work for the occassion.

LOCATION
2013D West Gray
Houston, Texas 77019
713-529-3980

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm dreaming of a Mexican Christimas

Can you believe that I've lived in Houston for over five months and have never had Mexican food? I know. I can't believe it either.

I told my friend Juanita about this dilemma and she said, "What are you waiting for? Christmas?"

Apparently, I was. This is because it wasn't until the holiday season that I had my first mouthful of real Texan Mexican food.

The first time I had it was on December 20 and I so wish I would have it earlier. It was soooo good.

I was invited to a graduation party for one of our station interns and she was having a traditional Mexican celebration. I had no idea what to expect, especially when it came to the food. But I was excited to find out.

For months people have been telling me about how good Mexican food was here, but honestly, I never believed them. I just assumed it would be greasy, heavy and fattening -- kind of like Taco Bell.

After my first bite, I realized I was I wrong and was missing out on something wonderful all these months.

The food was nothing like Taco Bell -- well, maybe some of it was fattening, but I have no problem with calorie-filled food as long it's incredible and worth the workout I would have to do afterwards.

At Aneyeli's graducation there was a buffet of different sauces and stews. I'm not even sure what everything was, but I loved it all -- especially the chicken in the mole sauce. That was fabulous.

And it's a good thing I loved all the food, because on Christmas Day I had it all again. This time, it was my at co-worker's home. They made me rice, salsa, enchiladas (which I had never eaten before) and my favorite - chicken in mole sauce! Man...just typing it out makes me crave it. It was so good.

Plus, Mexican hospitality is over the top. They take you in and make you part of the family -- which is what the holiday season is all about.

Thanks guys!! You are the best.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Toasting the New Year in James Bond style

There's nothing like bringing in the New Year with a glass of the bubbly. But this year's hottest drink has nothing to do with champagne. It's all about the martini...or I should say: the BLUE martini.

Unlike James Bond who has been drinking martinis since Ian Flemming wrote Casino Royale, I've only been a martini girl for the last decade.

I started with the girlie ones. You know -- cosmos and the occasional decadent chocolate martini, but for the last few years it's been the traditional vodka martini - crisp and clean. I've also been known to get the dirty martini - but just a little dirty with two olives.

But here's my problem: While I love martinis, I have no idea how to make them. They always turn out too strong and just not satisfying. In fact, I've been told from my friends that they are more of a punishment to drink than a treat at the end of the day.

So with the holiday season upon us, and the possibility that I may have to serve beverages to my friends, I turned to the experts at Hpnotiq vodka for help.

Just like champagne, their brand of vodka is bottle in France, but it's not the type of vodka you would use to make a traditional martini.

First of all it's special because - well, it's blue. And secondly, they've blended their premium vodka with natural fruit juices and a splash of cognac.

So if you've ever wondered what those cool blue drinks were that people are drinking in all the hottest clubs, that it's. It's Hynotiq vodka!

Here's a couple of easy recipes that they gave me to try out. They swear they are so foolproof that even a novice bartender like me wouldn't be able to screw them up.

Tinsel Bellini

  • 2 oz. HPNOTIQ
  • 1 oz. Limoncello
  • 1 oz. Champagne
  • Splash of lime juice
Rim the Champagne Flute with a light coat of sugar. Pour chilled HPNOTIQ, Limoncello and Champagne into the champagne flute. Add a splash of lime juice.

Jack Frost Martini

  • 2 oz. HPNOTIQ
  • 2 oz. super premium vodka
  • Splash of Cointreau
  • Splash of lime juice
Shake with ice just like in a James Bond movie and strain into a martini glass.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's a comfy type of eco-friendly at Houston's new Ruggles Green

One of the reasons I like visiting San Francisco is that they've taken the whole tree-hugger concept and made it chic. And that's exactly what the brand new Ruggles Green did right here in Houston.

Located at 2311 West Alabama (across from Whole Foods on Kirby), the little restaurant had their soft opening at the end of November. And it's not what you would expect in an eco-friendly green food joint.

First of all, you won't find any lime green plastic chairs and stark white walls. The place is warm and cozy with wood accents. Secondly, the food is really good. And thirdly, it's set up to be kind of an organic wine bar.

Now that's perfect for the Texas tree-hugger.

LET'S START WITH BRUCE - THE FOOD DUDE
Some of you already know Bruce Molzan. He owns the other Ruggles in town and has worked under Wolfgang Puck as well as a bunch of other great chefs.

I talked with Bruce and he's done a lot of "firsts" over the years, so developing Houston's first "green certified" restaurant seemed almost like a natural evolution.

"I was trained as a classical chef and after so many years of cooking, I was getting bored. It was time to reinvent myself with something fresh, new and challenging," said Bruce. "My friend Fred had been studying the green scene for years. He approached me and said we should do something green."

Bruce makes it sound simple, but creating a menu that is at least 25-30% organic was harder than he thought it was going to be. It wasn't because he didn't have any ideas - believe me, you just need to sit down with Bruce for five minutes to know that he's overflowing with creativity - but it was because no other restaurants in the area were looking for organic items.

"I wanted to make some simple like organic pizza dough, so I thought I'd just get some organic flour, organic sugar and organic olive oil. Turns out none my normal big suppliers carried those items," said Bruce.

Bruce said he could have got the stuff he needed at specialty places, but then his prices would be outrageous and who wants to spend $40 for a sandwich? Thankfully, he didn't give up. He ended up finding Rainbow Foods which delivers to Whole Foods across the street and a local farm that has him really excited. Really, really excited.

"We went Gundermann Farms and they had 25 varieties of lettuce that were all organic. I had never even heard of some of these types. It was incredible," said Bruce.

THEN THERE'S FRED - THE GREEN GUY
Bruce's role at Ruggles Green is to create a mouthwatering menu that looks good, tastes good and uses 25-30% sustainable and organic foods. So if Bruce is the food guy, Federico Marques is the guy that makes sure everything else is green.

"I've been friends with Fred for 15 years. He's the smartest guy I've ever met," said Bruce.

Federico has been involved in the whole living systems, eco-environment industry for years. He's even worked for NASA and Bayer.

Federico said that the restaurant industry is extremely wasteful --from everything from the lights to the how they dispose of their oil.

"All this oil can be turned into biofuel. It doesn't have to be waste," said Federico.

Recycling their cooking oil is just the beginning. Ruggles Green also uses 15 watt lights instead of the standard 65-75 watts ,and they have a dishwasher with a new water softener. It now uses 50% less water.

They are even going to be using an electric car for deliveries and catering.

AND WE CAN'T FORGET RANDY, AKA THE VAULT
One of the cool things about Ruggles Green is that it's not just about the food. Even the building uses recycled parts, and that's where Randy Bower comes in.

"The granite you see around the pizza oven and artwork areas came from another site," said Randy. "We've also used an energy efficient air conditioning unit, and ventilation.

SO WHAT'S ON THE MENU?
What's on the menu is really good food. Yup...if you visit Ruggles Green, you'll find great salads, spicy fish tacos, burgers and pastas. Their wood-fired mac & cheese also sounds fabulous, but I haven't tried it yet.

And for you die-hard Ruggles fans who already love the existing locations, they do have their famous white bread pudding on the menu.

In addition to the basics, you'll also get some unusual items that are worth trying such their 98% lean buffalo burger and their fire-roasted tomato basil soup that comes with puff pastry dome. Of course, the menu items incorporate organic, all-natural, hormone-free, and preservative-free products wherever possible.

And then there's the hemp items. If you visit Ruggles Green you are going to see hemp everywhere. It's in the brownies, in their veggie burger, and even in their empenadas. The question, is why?

"It's a superfood. It's high in Omega 3 and protein," said Federico. "It's entirely sustainable. Plus, your getting protein with your brownies."

All I can say is if it's anything like the other items on the menu, it's guaranteed to be super good.

Location:
2311 West Alabama
Houston, Texas 77098
713-333-0777

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Heights are so bright that I have to wear shades - or funky 3D glasses

Saturday night the Heights are having their 21st Lights in the Heights event and it's going to be fantastic. I should know, I already snuck down and checked it out around midnight on Friday night just to see what was going on.

I started down Bayland and wound my way over to Woodland. I saw a quite a few houses that made me go "oohh and aww", but they were nothing compared to one home at the end street. It was so incredibly lit up, I actually had to stop my car, get out and take a closer look.

"We've been watching them put up the lights for weeks," said one neighbor. "Every day he's added something new, but tonight was the first time everything was lit up."

THE HOUSE WITH THE LIGHTS

When she said everything, she meant it. The house, trees and even the bushes were covered with lights. My pictures don't do the place justice. You've got to go see it yourself.

"We have a mountain of empty light boxes. I haven't counted them yet, but we used between 40,000 to 50,000 lights," said David Jenny.

David and Rachel Jenny moved to the Heights in April 2008, so this is their first year participating in the Lights in the Heights festival.

It took them three weeks of working weekends and evenings to get everything done in time. And what is really impressive is that they used no net lights. Everything was hand strung, including the 8,000 lights on one of the trees.

"The trees were the hardest part. They are high and we had to wrap the lights around them," said David.

But David wasn't alone with the thousands and thousands of lights. His cousin Jonathan Wheeler also helped out and took care of the lights on the roof.

"It's payback for letting me stay in the spare room while my house gets repaired after Ike," said Jonathan.

While David and Jonathan were out stringing lights, Rachel was busy making the decorations.

"I made all the garlands and bows by hand," said Jenny, pointing to the garland around the door and the gate. They also have a suspended wreath hanging over the archway that took some engineering in order to work. The attention to detail is quite impressive.

"I have two back up generators in case we lose power," said David. "You'd be surprised at how much energy this takes up. It's around 10,000 watts of lights."

The Jennys aren't novices when it comes to holiday decorating. They went all out on Halloween and that's when the neighbors told them about the Lights in the Heights event.

"They described it like Houston Mardi Gras, so we decided to go big," said David. "I even considered doing the roof, but then changed my mind. It's a little steep and probably not a good idea."

David, Rachel and Jonathan had a blast putting everything together --from the red door, to the presents under the tree, to the nativity scene on the driveway. They even have funky 3D glasses that they pass out to friends to create various effects with the lights.

Jonathan let me try them out, and I must say that they were fun. I love the 1960s kaleidoscope and the starry-eyed ones the best.

But you'll have to visit the Lights in the Heights yourself to check them out.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE LIGHTS IN THE HEIGHTS

The Jennys house on Woodland is only one of the many houses in the neighborhood where the residents have gone all out. They have not only decked the halls, but covered everything with sparkling lights.

I saw homes with flamingos, sparkling snowmen, and even saw a home that had Santa fishing in a boat. Some of these people put the Griswolds from the movie 'National Lampoons Christmas Vacation' to shame.

But here are some guidelines:

1) Wear walking shoes: The streets in the area are closing to make it a true festival. The police will start bringing out the barricades at around 5:30 p.m. to close off Woodland and Bayland Streets so you'll be able to watch up and down to really check out the decorations.

2) The barricades come down at 10:00 p.m.

3) Residents are encouraged to park their cars off of the street closure (Woodland and Bayland) if at all possible.

4) If you don't live in the area, park on cross streets or streets parallel to the festival route.

5) Come early! Getting in and out is tougher the closer in you want to get to the route and traffic is heavy during the event.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bliss in the City: Cosmos, pampering & girl talk

OMG...Bliss on Shepherd is a spa after my own heart. I swear that if Sex in the City was located in Houston, Carrie and her girl pals would be hanging out there and sipping on cosmos.
This is because Houston's Bliss is not just a spa. It's a nail bar!

Okay, for those of you who haven't been to a nail bar, you really have to go. Not only do you get all the traditional spa services like massages, manicures, pedicures and facials, but you can enjoy a glass a wine, a martini or freshly roasted coffee while you are being pampered. How cool is that?

THE BUSY GIRL'S HAPPY HOUR

The first thing you'll notice when you walk into Bliss is the design. It's open, spacious and beautiful. In fact, the lobby is not a waiting area, but a chic and happening lounge, where you can get your nails done while hanging out with friends.

"Girls can drop in, have a cocktail and catch up with their lives, while getting some pampering done," said Nancy, co-owner of Bliss.

Nancy and Nick Nikolovski are the owners of the Bliss, which is Houston's first nail bar.

They wanted a place where people could come and relax after work or on an afternoon.

With any service, customers can get up to two complementary drinks of their choice -- ranging from Cosmos, appletinis and other cocktails, to wine, coffee and tea. They also serve mimosas on Sunday.

"We wanted to pilot a new concept with Bliss and create a social environment," said Nick. "We have all the traditional spa amenities, too, but then the nail bar brings out something different."

They also do a lot of SPArties (spa parties) such as baby showers, bridal parties and birthdays.

"One SPArty that we had was for a 10-year-old girl. Nancy helped them learn how to make bath balls with salt and different scents. It was fun and very entertaining," said Nick.

But if you don't want to hang out in the lounge, Bliss also has a private suite where couples or a group of friends can get together and enjoy some quality time.

"We have a group that comes in to watch Lipstick Jungle on the flat screen in the suite. The girls get their nails done, relax with a cocktail and then watch the show together and chat," said Nick.

MIAMI MEETS EUROPE

Before opening Bliss, Nancy and Nick were basically spa connoisseurs. They had been to spas all over the world and spent some time in Miami. They knew as a customer what they liked and what was missing.

"I started Bliss for almost selfish reasons. I was tired of going to high-end spas and wondering how clean they were," said Nancy.

They had been thinking about the concept of Bliss for a while, but what really set the ball into motion was a scare Nancy got after visiting a spa.

"I thought I got an infection from a spa. It turned out to be nothing, but after that I didn't want to worry about how clean the tools were. I decided I would open my own place and make sure everything was up to my standards," said Nancy.

Nancy works in the healthcare industry so she said they went all out when it came to sterilization and cleanliness.

Nancy said that at Bliss, they don't reuse anything, and they have a medical grade sterilizer. Their whirlpool footbaths are also state-of-the-art. They are pipeless so the water is not recycled.

"Our staff has a three-step process. They soak, manually scrub and then sterilize all the tools," said Nancy. "Plus we have a designated Clean Cop."

SLIP INTO BLISS WITH DAILY DEALS
So are you ready to go all Sex in the City with cosmos and fabulous nails? I know I am. The only problem is trying to figure out which night to go on because Bliss has some great specials:

Early Bird Specials: Come in before 2 p.m. during the week and get a mani-pedi for $55 (regularly $70)

BYOB (bring your own boy) Tuesdays: This is like Guys Night Out because your guy friend will get 10% off any service.

Girls night out Thursdays: Get any service and get your eyebrows done for just $15.

They also have gift certificates that you can purchase online and some fun stocking stuffers in the store for the spa-lover on your list.

INSIDE BLISS SCOOP

While the daily deals are great, I really can't wait for January. That's because Nancy and Nic let me in on a little secret, that of course, I will share with you...
"In January, we are planning to kick off a wine tasting night co-hosted by local wine bars," said Nancy.

Wine tasting and manicures with some girlfriends? Now that sounds like fun!

LOCATION:701 Shepherd Drive Suite #100
(2 blocks before Washington)
Houston, TX
713-864-8787

http://www.bliss-nailspa.com/

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nana Mouskouri and a weekend of cookies

This weekend, I'm planning to spend time at home. Don't get me wrong. I love checking out the stuff that's going on around Houston and blogging about it, but sometimes it's nice to hang out at home -- especially during this time of year.
That's because it's the holiday season, which means it's time to start baking.

And if you don't believe me, just ask my mother.

Unlike me, who waits until the last moment to do her baking, my mom starts in mid-October.

Yup...that's right. She sets aside a Sunday afternoon, puts on an old Christmas CD (Nana Mouskouri is her favorite) and begins measuring out the ingredients for our traditional Christmas cake. It takes days to ferment the fruit (it's soaked in rum), and then after baking, months for the cake to mellow.

The weekends that follow are dedicated to making the squares: peanut butter nanaimo bars, date bars, brownies, and something yummy with marshmallows, coconut and chocolate. We don't have a name for this one. We just know it is delicious.

Finally, it's time for the cookies.

Each year the assortment varies, but shortbread and decorated sugar cookies in holiday shapes are a "must." These are followed by what we call Thimble Cookies or Jam Jams. They are shortbread-like but shaped into a ball and covered with walnuts. Then just before baking, a thumbprint is carefully placed in the centre of each cookie.

Of course, we don't eat the cookies when they are made. They were always kept in a big freezer in the basement (I grew up in the north and we really did have a basement), where they tempted us for months before the big unveiling on December 24.

So what am I making on my cookie-weekend? Well, let's just say I'm not going to make as much stuff as my mom does. But I will make something.

Michelle's Mom's Jam Jams

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup powder sugar
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 6 egg yolks
  • Pink of salt
  • Rind of 1/2 lemon
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Any type of jam
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Then add salt, lemon rind and the eggs yolks, one at a time. Once blended, gradually the flour and knead the dough until thoroughly blended. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Roll the dough with slightly floured hands into uniform balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Press a slight indentation into each ball with your little finger.

Paint with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle the tops with finely chopped walnuts.

Bake at 350° F. until the balls are golden brown. When cooled, fill the indentations with homemade jam (or if you are lazy like me, store bought jam).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

'So Vino' leaves you with nothing to whine about

Let me just start by saying that So Vino on Westheimer in Houston is soooo good.

After working a long week, sometimes the only thing I want to do is chill out with a glass of wine and good conversation. The only problem is I usually don't have wine at home, and my pet rabbit isn't exactly the best talker although he is fabulous at listening (must be the big ears).

So when I ended up at So Vino on Westheimer on Saturday night, I was happily surprised to discover that the wine bar not only measured up to my expectations, but exceeded them.

FULL WINE LIST AND FULL BAR

As soon as I walked in the door, I could feel my stress start to disappear. Dressed up for the holidays, the d├ęcor is classy with gold highlights and comfortable seating. The mood is soft, but casual.

In other words, you can come in jeans and you won't have to yell over the crowd to have a conversation -- which is perfect for a relaxing night out.

As you might expect, they have a full wine list with everything from traditional whites and reds to more exotic vintages.

I won't get into all the wines, as the menu is six pages long and changes weekly. But I can tell you that glasses range from $8 to an incredible $75 for those nights when a celebration is in order. Although, I must admit, I've never had that kind of celebration yet -- but if you do, let me know what it's like.

And if you have no idea what kind of wine to pick, just ask Marco. Marco is the guy who runs the place and is there every night. He knows the menu inside out and is fantastic at chosing wines to the customer. He can pick out something for you based on your cravings, personal tastes or what you're eating that night.

"My goal is to make sure that every customer in the place has a smile on their face," said Marco. "It's all about service and making sure the customer is happy."

But if wine is not your thing, they do have a fully stocked bar with everything from beer to premium liquors.

Oh and here's a little secret: Carlos, the bar manager, makes killer martinis and can whip up anything your heart desires. He even made me a mystery martini while I was there.

"It's got chocolate, a little apricot brandy, chambord and a couple other things," said Carlos. "I'm not even sure I can make it again."

I have no idea what it was, but I'm not complaining. It was mmm...mmm...good.

GREAT ATMOSPHERE AND GREAT SNACKS

As you can tell, I was enjoying my night out. I even liked the complimentary nuts served at the bar (they have chocolate chips in them). Plus, I was kind of digging the retro dance music they were playing.

But what really surprised me about So Vino was the menu.

Usually wine bars serve pizza and maybe some cheese. In fact, with the exception of Max's Wine Dive, this is the first one I've come across in Houston where you can simply snack, eat a full meal or just have a bowl of truffle popcorn (yes, they really do have popcorn on the menu)

Tempting as it sounded, I didn't try the popcorn (they say it goes great with champagne), but I did get the duck which came with a malbec-blackberry reduced reduction, potatoes and Brussels sprouts. It was really good and I would get it again, especially as the wait staff paired it up with a great red wine.

HALF PRICE WINE NIGHT

Here's the best part: You don't have to wait until the weekend to uncork a bottle of wine. On Monday's, So Vino offers all their bottles that are under $100 for half price.

So you can either order your normal bottle for half the cost or you can go all out and order something you would never try and get it for a reasonable price.

Basically, it's a win/win either way...especially when you pair it up with great company and great food.