Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A hero, herbs and garden parties

J. R. Martinez kept joking that he was “on fire” as he spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at Lamar State College-Port Arthur. An unusual choice of words, he admits, because motivational talks from this veteran/actor/ “Dancing With the Stars” star stem from an explosion he survived in his military days.

Martinez needed therapy to walk again. Now he can dance. Now his thoughts about “finding a way to make it work” inspire people of all ages. He got his groove back by supporting other wounded vets, and says we can all do something to make the world better.

“We all can. It doesn’t matter. There are no excuses any more,” he said about being the best one can be in any situation.

What’s more, I sat next to a lovely couple during this presentation. The story of their life was inspirational, too.

Time for Thyme for Herbs

Spring is one of my four favorite seasons, largely because of the

Thyme for Herbs Society Herb Fest, conducted with Beaumont Botanical Gardens. “A Day of Herbs and Roses” will be from 8 a.m. to noon at Tyrrell Park on Saturday, April 14.

The International Herb Association has designated the rose as herb of the year for 2012.

Emily Baize, Thyme for Herbs president, asks we consider herbs as culinary plants, as they do in the

Mediterranean and Middle East. Vendors will feature foods with rose flavoring, rose water, rose syrup, and rose jam. Abbie and Jean Baradar from Abbie’s Imports in Beaumont will host an 8:30 a.m. demonstration. Amber Weir of Dandylyon’s Garden in Arlington will offer framed pressed flower art, sachets, crocheted items, quilt front aprons, and vintage jewelry. She will demonstrate pressing flowers at a free demonstration at 9:30 a.m. in the Garden Center. The plant sale on the Garden Center

patio will feature herbs, antique roses which can be grown organically, and Cajun hibiscus with plate size blooms in vivid colors. Tommy Hebert from the Golden Triangle Rose Society will speak on organic rose methods at 9 a.m.

Lucia Bettler from Lucia’s Garden in Houston will have books for sale, especially those on gardening with herbs and roses. Native plants, orchids, and bromeliads will also be for sale.

Wild Birds Unlimited will have information on birding in southeast Texas and products to attract garden birds.

Refreshments will be available as visitors browse the plant sales of herbs, vegetables, native plants,

bromeliads and orchids. An 11 a.m. demonstration by Randa Sfeir will offer samples of baklava.

Baize says members grew most of the herbs that are hardened to southeast Texas weather. Greg Bostwick, owner of Bostwick Farms and local meteorologist,

will talk about his Cajun hibiscus at 10 a.m.

Shari & Beau Cribbs from Beau-tanicals will have

soaps, herbal salves, lotion bars, and lip balms. Deborah Burdette will offer her cement and hypertufu garden ornaments. In addition to the Herb Fest activities, admission to the Conservatory will be free during the event.

Spring garden party

If you don’t have an outdoor garden area, make one indoors and host a spring gathering, suggests Ricky Eisen, an event planner and the founder of Events & Celebrations by Between the Bread. Here are some of her tips:

· Décor and Centerpieces – Use flowers as centerpieces. A money saving alternative is to use silk flowers which brings the spring theme to life and can be used year after year. For the décor, stick with light colors that compliment the outdoor space and the chosen flowers.

· Activities – Plan games or other activities that get guests up and out of their seats. Bocce ball, badminton and croquet are challenging and fun games that will get everyone mingling.

· Menu Choices - With the warmer weather, choose lighter fare for the menu and if you have a barabecue, take advantage of it. Create a signature drink and leave out all the ingredients allowing guests to mix their own. Instead of ice cubes that melt and water down a drink, use frozen fruit.

· Parting Gifts – Let guests bring the spring home by giving everyone a small mason jar with dirt, a packet of seeds and instructions on how to take care of their new plant.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bowling you over

Doug Davidson is handing out kid discounts for MaxBowl Centers. He recently updated Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce members with news that the center at 3500 Regional Center Drive has had some work done, and a new look for the grill is coming up. I’d mentioned leopard print duct tape in another column. This cool stuff is actually a prize you can claim from the very flashy new game center Davidson is proud to show off.


Have you seen the Yonanas commercial? The woman puts chunks of frozen banana into a counter-top appliance and out comes some yummy-looking frozen stuff that’s a wee fraction of the calories of ice cream, and it’s good for you. You could use other fruits and make berry/banana blends and top it with syrup and nuts. Or you could grind up some chocolate with the fruit. With this machine you could be the frozen treat mom of the neighborhood, and satisfy barbecue guests with more adult blends.

I’ve sampled a Yonanas machine and I agree, families can have a lot of fun with this. It’s a great get-healthy project that can be a “teaching moment” on nutrition. I’ve long been a fan of simply freezing slices of bananas and dropping them in to yogurt. If you look on the internet, lots of people have made their own reviews, but I’m thinking, they clearly didn’t follow provided directions. The fruit needs to be the right size and nuts go onto your serving, not into the machine. Be careful not to let a lot of your product get left behind in Yonanas. Make sure it all gets in the bowl. I found it a tad of a chore to clean, but I’m funny that way. Yonanas can encourage your family to eat more fruit, and I encourage that.

Cleans up good

Roux Maison’s new collection of eco-friendly laundry products will help you love wash day into the night. Try Essential Detergent, lavender-based in Ambrosia, or Sweet Tea and Fragrance Free. I loved Ambrosia’s delicate scent on a blouse and it’s a natural for fresh sheets that will help you get to sleep. A Delicate line is for fine washables and a Sports edition deals with bacteria while it works to maintain elasticity of those stretchy work-out togs. Look for Roux Maison Swimwear to deal with salt water, chlorine and sunscreen and a stain remover works on organic and non-organic stains.

Parents may want to try Vaska’s Perfect in scent-free for a botanical blend their toddlers will appreciate. It’s concentrated to reduce the product’s carbon footprint, and got my goods clean. Vaska also has a fabric softener, Oxygen Brightener and Spott Off. Both lines are approved for high efficiency washers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

“The Big Year” shows why birders love Texas coast

The High Island water tower and bird-crazy travelers are depicted in a movie with top-shelf actors. I’ve been waiting to catch “The Big Year” on DVD, because I heard it mentioned the famous bird “fall out” experienced on our Texas coast. The scene, though featuring digital birds, was great. Owen Wilson, Steve Margin and Jack Black played birders obsessed with sighting the most varieties of birds on their big year count. They were highly competitive, but this regular spectacle of exhausted migrating birds falling from the sky as they spot land did not disappoint. There are enough birds for everyone.

A movie still shows Owen Wilson at kiosk of the Audubons High Island refuge. When the movie appeared on the big screen in 2011, an expert anticipated it would inspire viewers to “get their Audubon on.” We have a local society and I’ve been fortunate to join them at a Tyrrell Park meeting. They are as passionate as expected.

Berry good reads

Have you collected a bunch of tiny hotel soaps? Put them to work keeping deer away from your berries. Drill a hole in them and twist tie them to garden stakes. Or, spread little bags of human hair around Stella Otto calls this “tankage” in “The Backyard Berry Book.” She cautions that trailing or semi-erect blackberry roots must be kept in the dark before planting, even on cloudy days, to keep yields high. But she sheds light on bramble production that will keep you in cobbler. You’ll love her easy trellis designs.

Ott’s book “The Backyard Orchardist” taught me some pruning tips and how to spread branches with toothpicks or clothespins so a fruit tree can spread out for better bearing. She goes with the thought that life without cherries is the pits, and shares how to grow them along with apples, pears, etc. She makes it sound so easy, but I caution that patience is required as one awaits succulent bounty on the branches.

More leopard for me

My crafty aunt showed me a roll of duct tape that made my eyes pop. It was leopard print, from the Duck Tape line of patterns. Spring is home improvement season, so make your mark with tape that comes with images of fire, skeletons and even longhorns on orange.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

King Gumbo invites tastes of H20 gumbo and “etc.”

George Newsome says his grandma’s gumbo was so hot it would make all his cousin’s nose run. Her name was Claudia Anne Laland, from Washington, La.

“That’s real French, from France,” Newsome said of her name.

He says his own gumbo is, well, not so hot, but he’s sure to get his fill as Taste of Gumbo, Etc. As King Gumbo, he is head of the Rotary Club of Port Arthur’s big, flavorful fundraiser set for Saturday, March 17, at the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center. Get samples from Port Arthur area restaurants and service groups for $8. Proceeds go to charity and have helped groups including Salvation Army and Untied Board of Missions. Newsome says attendees are in for a “real treat.” While there’s plenty of gumbo, other foods will also be up for sampling. The event will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and you can get tickets at the door.

March H20 Madness

H20, Port Arthur’s new seafood restaurant, will be serving up manager Wayne Kung’s seafood gumbo, heavy on the okra, at Taste of Gumbo. He says it’s a recipe he took years to develop, based upon a fine New Orleans dining experience. Garret Pierce, sous chef, and Caleb Countryman, front manager, recently took an afternoon break to remind Southeast Texans they’re ready for a rush in their new restaurant. Pierce said now that diners have been steady in to sample their range of goods, from sautéed black mussels and bruschetta shrimp pasta to fried tilapia fish sandwich and bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp, he’s ready to get busy in the kitchen and crank out some platters. The men said they put a little extra spin on basics, such as mahi mahi in a spicy mango sauce. Weekday lunch specials are $5.99. What a deal.

This restaurant has a trendy side, and the bar has sports on the TV. Their March Madness specials include buckets of beer, fried and boiled shrimp and oysters.

Char Crust: This was no grilling accident

If you covet those crispy pieces of meat that some consider a happy accident, know that Char Crust lets cooks broil, bake and grill to seal in the juices and get more crispy bits on purpose. The Roasted Garlic Peppercorn is designed to “make music in your mouth,” according to the box. I was singing after I skillet-grilled chicken with this spicy blend containing a “whisper of lavender.” I still have plenty left to play with steak, salmon, lamb or cauliflower. That is one informative box. I charred some green beans in the Ginger Teriyaki. This is good stuff. If I get to have a Easter picnic, this is coming to the grill with me.

PA barbecue an ‘endangered species?’

The Houston Chronicle recently had a full-page ode to barbecue and the tribute mentioned Port Arthur. Here’s part of what the story said:

“Daniel Vaughn says he’ll pretty much stop under any sign in Texas that says “barbecue” or “smoked meat” on the off chance of finding “that diamond in the rough.” Sometimes the barbecue is just OK; he keeps driving. And then sometimes he hits a pocket of gems that sends a shiver through him. It happened recently when a Houston friend steered him to East Texas in search of a particular style of fatty beef links that hail from the black-owned barbecue joints of Beaumont and Port Arthur.

“It was like stepping into history,” the Dallas-based barbecue fan said of the juicy, fat-oozing sausages. “It was like finding an endangered species.”

10 million can’t be wrong

Turbana Plantain Chips sent out a press release from Coral Gables, Fla., announcing pride in producing 10 million servings. One of those came to me and I’m on board with a bag of sweet, crispy plantain chips that make a flavorful pick over greasy potato chips. You get a unique flavor in a chip that’s free of trans fats, GMO, cholesterol, gluten, preservatives and additives. Try them in chili, chili-lime, lime, sweet, lightly salted and garlic. I just saw a plantain for sale in a local Vietnamese market , and I don’t know how Turbana got one of those to turn into something so thin and crunchy. A bag of these will sure jazz up your peanut butter sandwich. For more info, visit

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fort Worth is in bloom with action
I just happened to hit Fort Worth during the Cowtown Marathon and the mood was action-packed. But the city’s botanical gardens were peaceful acres that seemed miles away from nearby skyscrapers. Birds and bees enjoyed the flowers as much as I did, but the big focus is on an upcoming butterfly exhibit. Landscapers were moving in butterfly-shaped planters filled with colorful pansies.
I hit the Amon Carter Museum of American Art for Georgia O’Keeffe’s versions of flowers on canvas. If you make it by may 13, you can catch “Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell.” His western scenes include two images of Native American women braiding the long hair of their men. I thought a woman brought her own giant magnifying glass, but noted the museum provided them to scope out the incredible details of Russell’s work.
You can imaging that grabbing a bite to eat was also part of my journey, so here’s what I hit: I’ve heard celebs on the west coast love In-N-Out Burger, so I was thrilled to find one. It was super clean, super efficient and super crowded. I can see why people love to go there, but in honesty, the food tasted a bit like cardboard to me.
Cattleman’s Steak House in the Stockards, has been in operation since 1947, but it was my first time to go visit. I ventured downstairs to private dining areas and I just wonder if I spied Kinky Friedman in the Bluebonnet Room. What I tried and loved there was calf fries. They were so light and airy I wonder if they used panko on them.
There’s still lots more waiting for me in Fort Worth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Phone call from the boss could mean good news

I picked up a charm that reads “Free your mind from worries.” You have to remind yourself to do that. Todd Patkin has written a big reminder in “Finding Happiness.” He calls it a man’s quest to beat depression and anxiety and finally let the sunshine in. Once he put his fears and pain into perspective, he found success in helping others shine. He shares his good, bad and ugly and provides plenty of tips. Here’s my favorite: When he supervised managers, he’d call their homes when they did a superior job. He’d try to get the answering machine, so he could leave a message for the spouse and children of his employee to offer big hugs that night.

Helping others shine is one sure way to feel good about yourself, too.

How short is it?

Talk about a page turner. Sean Hill’s book “Very Short Stories: 300 Bite-Size Works of Fiction” fit a couple on a page. A sentence or two tells it all, with stories shorter than this good review. Here’s one:

“Brought home a talking mule to impress my family, but he was a smooth talker. He quickly turned them against me, taking my spot at the table.”

What was that? I’ve heard plenty jokes with longer set ups. I love these bites. Here’s one more:

“Bill left the coffee shop disappointed. She hadn’t come. He felt rejected. Pam waited patiently at another Starbucks across the street.”

Organic bliss

Lent is, for me, a time of awareness and reminds me to care for the body with good food and medical check ups. Sevani “positively pure” holistic skin care is something fragrant and luxurious I sampled in a tiny brown bottle. Sheryl Gibbs, an aesthetician, created the eco-friendly line to “renew, repair and rejuvenate.” Serum Vitale Essential Nutrient Oil is based on “pure plant intelligence” and feels like the cherished oils people in the Bible would enjoy. Visit for more information.