Knowing My Place

In my neighborhood, I’ve always done a lot of walking. I walk in the morning and late at night with my husband—John marked out a mile some years ago and likes to stick to the same route—and often in the afternoon. Our dogs are frequent companions. I would like to tell you that this activity has become my daily meditation, one that has taught me about living in harmony with my surroundings, but anyone who has seen me trying to corral two stubborn and erratic golden retrievers would know that isn’t true. 

Instead I think of these walks as an opportunity to secure the perimeter of my domestic life. When we first moved to this inner-city Houston neighborhood, Woodland Heights, 25 years ago, I was particularly fond of the elderly women who sat on their porches all day or devoted hours to sweeping the leaves from their curbs. Like them, what I felt was pride of place. It was in those early days that I developed an appreciation for the more creative gardens in the neighborhood, like the collection of cacti that took up an entire lot and the few near-perfect replicas of English cottage gardens fashioned with purple iris, sage, rosemary, and other native Texas plants. These days I check on my friend Marci’s ornamental cabbages and bottle trees and my neighbor Joan’s collection of edible greens, which often make their way into my white bean and sausage soup. 

On the surface, there’s a soporific sameness to these walks. Mornings we see families trotting to school and moms racewalking after drop-off. Nights are more sociable, particularly among the childless dog-walkers: we fall into step with the owners of Copper and Bella and Putty and Smokey, slapping at mosquitoes in the thick summer air or stamping our feet on chilly winter nights as we discuss the news on the neighborhood website—sometimes about crime, usually about lost pets—and gossip about bungalow warts, the local moniker for bad remodeling jobs. 

In other words, nothing seems to happen. Except that, imperceptibly, our route offers a series of associations that are always fading in and out: I see our grown son, Sam, splashing at age five in Marci’s pool, where she taught him to swim; I wonder how Joan’s cancer treatment is going. Here is one of Sam’s kindergarten classmates back from Spain, more beautiful than ever; there are the night herons, nesting again in the oaks on Bayland Avenue, just as they have every year since we arrived, in 1989.

It’s a little like dreaming, these daily walks. I live and relive, reorder and reset our lives in probably a hundred different ways, until we are back at our front door again. Twenty minutes, three or so times a day—when you have lived in one place as long as we have, there’s a lot to process. 

A Glimpse Into Michael Brown’s Collection of Oddities

Hundreds of Houstonians packed Webster’s Auction Palace this past Sunday to pick through the belongings of Michael Glyn Brown, the late, disgraced hand doctor whose years of erratic and violent behavior had made him one of the most infamous members of Houston society. The theme of Sunday’s bankruptcy auction, the third in Houston from Brown’s estate, was guns and taxidermy, and the room was bedecked accordingly. Moose and hyena skins were stretched along the walls.

Max’s Wine Dive

At seven years old, this Washington Ave pioneer still packs the (small) house for fabulous food, fine wine, and a high-energy crowd. Starters of fried-oyster nachos, pulled pork–stuffed piquillo peppers, or Max’s much-lauded fried chicken sliders could make a praiseworthy meal, but you’d miss some stars on the gourmet comfort food menu. What can be done to make chicken swoon-worthy? Pan-roast it perfectly until the meat is tender and juicy and the skin is cracklin’ and serve it atop rich, creamy wild mushroom risotto.

Carrabba’s

There’s much to applaud about the renovation of this Kirby Italian-food favorite (still operated by the Carrabba family rather than the chain): an expanded, open dining room and bar; lots of counter seating; great lighting; convenient garage parking across the street; and upbeat servers. But it’s the food that keeps us coming back: hefty veal marsala alongside pasta coated with tomatoes, basil, and garlic.

Hai Cang Seafood

This popular spot has the ambience of a dated strip center, but it’s celebratory inside, with table after table of multigenerational families chatting, laughing, and feasting—the very mark of authenticity. Admittedly, we were daunted by the menu, with its 200-plus items, but we took a winning shot at crab-and-white-asparagus soup and duck lettuce wraps, a different take on the ubiquitous chicken version. We liked the Hunan-style crispy fish, a whole tilapia fried and drenched in sweet-and-sour sauce with red and green peppers.

Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette

Every Saturday, mid-afternoon, Liberty is packed with oyster slurpers and chardonnay sippers. Those partial to the deep fryer will be happy to know that our fried shrimp and oysters, on a huge platter, were seasoned right and wearing crunchy batter—and who can pass up those skinny fries? Also nice (if begging for a squirt of lime) was the hunk of tuna steak with grilled whole bok choy and super-rich creamed mushrooms. The only real gaffe was the watery seafood gumbo.

The Ring and I

I was in my thirties when I learned that my grandmother had left me her engagement ring. The ring, from Tiffany circa 1929, is breathtaking: the art deco setting, anchored in a platinum band, holds a substantial emerald as deep in hue as an Irish hillside, flanked by two dazzling, emerald-cut diamonds. Though the stones hardly rival the Chiclet-size rocks I’ve seen on the hands of other Texas women, the effect is nevertheless striking.

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