In the Texas Monthly Recommends series, Texas Monthly writers, editors, photographers, and producers offer up their favorite recent culture discoveries from the great state of Texas.

The tiny town of Todd Mission had never struck me as a magical place until I began attending the Texas Renaissance Festival. From October to late November, the sleepy hamlet (population 116) northwest of Houston attracts thousands. By day, the festival’s wooded paths are lined with merchants, artisans, costume-clad performers, and fantastical fairies and elves. Charming shops sell ceramic goods, candle wax, crystals, and giant wind chimes. Centuries-old practices like blacksmithing, glassblowing, and printing with a Gutenberg press occur in real time. Nights are adorned by the flickering light of lanterns as visitors huddle together in loud pubs to be warmed by alcohol and good company. You may even see a fire-blower or two.  I love everything about Ren Fest. From the scenic drive to Todd Mission to the rows of towering pine trees on festival grounds to the pure delight of wandering, it is an immersive experience. But the forest is more than just a temporary retreat for the average explorer—it’s an entirely different world. It’s a place to tap into dreams and fascinations that are normally out of reach. Each year when I enter the forest, I’m instantly rejuvenated by a sense of childlike wonder and reminded that I can still spot the magic in this world, if only I believe it’s real.  —Gianni Zorrilla, assistant editor

Gorge Yourself on Avocados at an Over-the-Top Dallas Restaurant

Whether you think an avocado is a fruit or vegetable is beside the point. For AvoEatery in West Dallas, the perennially popular superfood is a lifestyle and, yes, a gimmick (the restaurant is run by the Irving-based marketing group Avocados From Mexico), but also an entertaining, unpredictable jumping-off point for culinary experimentation. The spacious restaurant, a modern storefront in the trendy Trinity Groves restaurant complex, opened the gates of avo heaven in January 2020 with a menu that’s all about avocados. Your table has the potential to be graced by plates like avocado strawberry shortcake topped with avocado mascarpone cream, or avo chicken and waffles paired with a spicy maple syrup and avocado lime crema. If you really want to go wild, there are also avocado cocktails. Top picks include the Avo’d Fashioned, with a touch of avocado chocolate bitters, and the Avo Rita, consisting of avocado puree and a hibiscus salt rim. I’ll (avocado) toast to that! —Lauren Castro, editorial intern

Listen to reggie’s Soulful New Song

Reginald Helms Jr., a.k.a. reggie, is one of the most intriguing musicians to emerge from Texas in the last few years. The Houston native (he now lives in Los Angeles) has had a meteoric rise, already having worked with mega-producer Kenny Beats, surpassing two million streams on his debut single “Southside Fade,” and performing on the prestigious Colors series. Not to mention that he accomplished all of this with just four singles out. His newest single, “Avalanche,” features his “country cousin,” St. Louis emcee Smino, and offers another glimpse into his fascinating artistry.

“Avalanche” has a laidback soulful beat paced by a twinkling guitar line and a subtle kick drum. The track muses on overcoming self-doubt. The chorus, “Even when my downs feel like an avalanche, somehow everything in my life feel like it’s heaven-sent,” hints at the challenges reggie faced to get where he is right now, which he has been open about on past tracks. On the song’s bridge, I almost mistook his entrance for that of André 3000. This dude is special.

Jeff Jackson, the mix engineer for “Avalanche,” lauded reggie’s range and versatility. “He isn’t an artist you can put a ceiling to,” Jackson told me. “As far as pushing Black music forward, this guy will be at the forefront in the years to come.” –Ben Moskow, editorial intern 

Read an Engrossing New #MeToo Book

There’s a scene from Lise Olsen’s gutting, meticulously researched new book Code of Silence that I can’t stop thinking about. It takes place on an August morning in 2003, on the steep highway bridge that connects the Gulf Coast towns of Kemah and Seabrook. A woman named Cathy McBroom was there with her running group, jogging alongside a colleague—a security guard at the Galveston courthouse, where McBroom was an assistant to federal judge Samuel Kent. The day before, Olsen writes, something terrible had happened: Kent cornered McBroom in the courthouse, then violently assaulted and groped her. She loudly pleaded for him to stop, to no avail. The security guard was one of several officers standing around the corner; instead of coming to McBroom’s aid, they walked away. The next day, on the bridge, McBroom confronted her coworker. Had he heard her cries, and if so, why didn’t he help her? As Olsen tells it, he quietly “looked down at the laces of his tennis shoes,” then admitted that he’d known exactly what was going on—but had feared getting fired from his tenuous contract job. The conversation ended, and they kept running, rage and adrenaline coursing through McBroom’s body. 

Code of Silence’s 288 pages are full of moments like this, as all kinds of people—strangers, colleagues, friends—ignore evidence that Kent regularly harassed and attacked his employees. These judges have near-total impunity: they’re appointed for life, and are exempt from the laws that protect most employees who report workplace misconduct. When a worker does file a complaint, judges are secretly tried by a kangaroo court of their peers. And it wasn’t just Kent—Olsen dives into cases outside Texas where bad-apple judges got off with a slap on the wrist, or no consequences at all. (Ever heard of Brett Kavanaugh?) This is infuriating reading.

Olsen, now a senior reporter and editor at the Texas Observer (where, full disclosure, we briefly worked together), broke the news of McBroom’s assault for the Houston Chronicle in 2007. (Skip Hollandsworth also wrote in depth on the case for Texas Monthly in 2009.) Olsen has stayed on the story ever since, following McBroom and other women through a grueling legal process. Justice won out in the end: thanks in part to the media, as well as a dedicated pro bono legal team, Kent became the only federal judge impeached as a result of sexual misconduct. But McBroom wonders how many other victims are out there. “What was it all for? I did succeed in getting [Kent] off the bench, but I wanted to see more reforms,” she told Olsen. On October 12, TM’s Mimi Swartz will host a book talk with Olsen at the Houston Public Library; free registration is required. —Rose Cahalan, associate editor