Monday, May 5, 2008

Smokey's is Smokin Again!

For those of you who live on the East side of Fort Worth, you have probably noticed a few pros and cons. A major pro is that you probably have the most amount of home you can buy in Fort Worth for the least amount of money. Secondly, you have great access to major highways like 820 and I30 which make getting around a snap. Thirdly, the area is on a current upswing which means that everyday, it seems to get a little better.

There are also a few cons to residing on the east-side. First of all, the grocery stores in the area are not fabulous, especially if you are a gourmet cook. Just ask the poor manager at Albertsons how often he has to order specialty items for me like prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and swordfish. Secondly, you have to go relatively far to get to high-end retail shops so if you have to buy an emergency gift enroute to a neighborhood party, you might have to get fairly creative. But the most difficult con to live with is the fact that good places to eat are pretty scarce around these parts. Thankfully, now we have Smokey's.

During the 1980's, Smokey's BBQ was a local hot spot. But urban decay and economic decline ravaged the area and Smokey's was forced to close its doors. A few months ago, Smokey's, under new ownership, fired up its grills, fryers and smokers and began vending its premium BBQ in the same, modestly decorated Dairy Queen building as it had 20-something years ago.

A drive down to 5300 East Lancaster Avenue and a little over ten bucks will get you a giant plate of ribs that fall off the bone before you can pick them up and two of your favorite side items. I got the baked beans which were absolutely perfect and the crispy cool cole-slaw which helped round out the perfectly spiced sauce and the sweetness of the beans. You won't want to miss Smokey's rolls either which were hot, fresh and buttery.

It isn't fancy. It's just close to home, delicious and it makes you feel good just to go inside. In my opinion, compared to the big BBQ chains in the area, Smokey's will smoke 'em every time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunday Soup, from Chaucer to Saucer

Sunday afternoon, as I breathed a long, deep sigh of relief for drawing very near to the end of a long and arduous work project, I decided that my body and soul were desperately in need of some rejuvenation. My husband and I, not unlike the group from Canterbury Tales, embarked upon an April pilgrimage, but rather than heading for the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, we were headed to the downtown shrine of St. Arnold, St. Pauli Girl and many other beers featuring "patron saint" nomenclature. In other words, the Flying Saucer.

I have to be perfectly honest. It was not the beer that drew us to the Saucer. Well, not directly. It was the beer cheese soup. Many Fort Worthians have pigeon-holed the saucer as a bar rather than a dining destination. In my opinion, this is a grave oversight because the Flying Saucer's un-pub-typisch cuisine is elevated in my mind to the highest status of pub-grubbery.

And there are few greater feelings than sitting in the Saucer's main hall on a sunny (but kind of chilly) Sunday afternoon, enjoying a pint of really good, fresh, German beer (that you totally earned by working hard all weekend) and laughing at the funny quotes folks put on their UFO club "saucers".

If you are a Saucer-newbie, consider this as your official Saucer-primer. To thoroughly enjoy your Saucer experience, select a comfy-couch vignette (if you won't be dining) or a table with an excellent view of the west wall (if you will). Next, check out the fly-paper (it will be a light green piece of paper that is rolled up in a pint glass on your table) and select a beverage, but make it a good one; something rich and heady like a doppelbock from Germany or perhaps an ale from Scotland.

When your server arrives, ask immediately for a bowl of pickle-flavored popcorn. It isn't on the menu and you won't see it on your bill. They offer it "gratis", but you kind of have to be in-the-know. If you are hungry, I highly recommend the beer-cheese soup. It is delightfully spicy, goes great with most beers and it comes in what appears to be a freshly-baked bread bowl which tends to gradually flake off and become integrated into your soup, thus increasing its volume and prolonging your "eat-time". In other words, it grows. I also think it has something to do with the fact that the soup hides in the bread and only comes out when you squish it with your spoon, but that could just be my imagination.

If you aren't a soup person, or you doubt my description of the soup's stick-to-your-ribs ability, go for the bratwurst plate. They do up just as well as that pub I visited in Heidelberg last June and their German potato salad is spot-on. They also have a wide range of salads, popular sandwiches and deep fried nibbles. Heck, they will even tell you what beers bring out the best characteristics in certain foods. Fancy, huh?

So the next time you want to revel in good conversation in a relaxed atmosphere while enjoying a nicely drawn pint, head downtown to the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium where you just might find something on the menu that is (pardon the pun) out of this world.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Big, Bad Wolf

To view a slide show of storm damage, click here

At approximately 3:10 a.m. this morning I awoke to the closest thing mother nature can get to a laser-light show. The wind was so forceful that it swirled my upstairs patio furniture around like the tines of a wind chime. It reminded me of that game children often play around the time they hit puberty," suck and blow", where you lace a toothpick through a lifesaver and attempt to blow it into your opponent's lips. I watched as countless dollars worth of patio furniture moved violently back and forth, just like that lifesaver, as though the wind from the east was competing against the the wind from the west.

I sat there in bed, stupidly, listening for signs of tornadic activity or sirens or really anything that would catapult me into action. You always think that you will know what to do in times like that. You don't. My husband and I just sat there in paralyzing awe of the incredible forces of nature, hoping our brick house high on the hill would be substantial enough to protect us. In retrospect, with a house that is mostly made up of large windows, we probably should have " duck and covered" downstairs in the restroom, which, aside from the "Harry Potter-style" cupboard under the stairs, is the only safe room in the house.

We have a giant Bradford Pear tree in our backyard. It is a very old and stately tree. It is so stately in fact, that we actually built our wooden deck around it. I love that giant tree. I love to imagine all of the different families that tree has shaded, how many birthday party decorations have hung from its branches, how many landmark events throughout history that tree has stood through. But it couldn't hold through this one storm? There was no sound, at least no sound that I could hear through the tempest. There was no warning. The wind blew and suddenly half of the tree just vanished from sight.

Other things flew away without the shelter of that giant tree. The wrought iron railing came unhinged from the upstairs patio, a giant ladder, chaise lounges, outdoor ottomans and the blades to an outdoor ceiling fan all lay strewn about the herb garden, at least, those that escaped the crushing blow of the fallen tree.

We ran downstairs after we saw the tree fall. It completely eclipsed the patio entrance off the kitchen. To see a tree, leaves still green and vibrant contrasted against that tangled mess of twisted metal, broken glass, wrecked furniture, a gas grill that I can barely move with all of my body strength and a giant water hose reel is simply too surreal to describe.

Inside the family room, I could feel wind blowing through the wall and water around my toes. The heavy metal pane encasing a large French-style window had been moved forward nearly two inches by the wind, allowing rain and leaves to blow freely into the room. Both Kirk and I leaning on it couldn't push this frame back in line with the wall. I have no idea how we will fix it.

They said on the news this morning that they winds reached a force of nearly 90 miles per hour. These were, for the most part, "hurricane-force" winds. They are uncertain as to whether or not any tornadic activity occurred or if it was just a "straight-line" wind. I know from my perspective that I have never experienced anything like it. The damage it did and the manner in which it did it was like a delicate ballerina performing at a Slayer concert. Chaos completely surrounding these calculated, precise arrangements of trees, cars and things.

I feel very fortunate that we didn't incur more damage to our home and that today, we still have our health and each other. My heart goes out to those of you who live in Hurst, Breckenridge, Carrollton, Allen or any of the other areas that were badly hit by this storm. Last night, Texas faced its first attack of the big, bad wolf. My hopes are that the remainder of the spring will remain "wolf-free".

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Grace, in many forms

Last night I was in my belly dance class and we were working on some particularly difficult (for me) moves. As I watched my extraordinarily graceful instructor glide about as though her body was pardoned of its obligations to gravity, it dawned on me that in many cases, grace isn't just something you naturally have, it's created, nurtured and worked toward by the individual.

Belly dance, like any other form of dance, is much harder than it appears. A good belly dancer can make it look as though she is comfortable, happy and enjoying every movement that naturally occurs in her beautiful, graceful body. While it is true that years of practice create muscle memory that make performing easier, there are still a great many movements that just feel, for lack of a better term, awkward! There is also a lot to think about when doing the movements in order to do them correctly.

It's not unlike the process one goes through to be graceful under pressure at work, home or in any other situation. Think about a job interview. It doesn't come naturally to sit there with someone who is about to decide your fate and chat naturally about your best attributes, while smiling confidently, does it? Or what about when you are in an uncomfortable discussion with your child, friend, boss, sibling or spouse?

The fact of the matter is that most of us aren't inherently graceful. It is something we developed in order to maintain our jobs, relationships, friendships and quality of lives. Grace is a desired quality to possess, and it is one that takes training and practice to acquire just as belly dancing, ballet or yoga will require the same. Just as you become frustrated while crafting a new skill, you may occasionally become too frustrated to remain graceful in a tense situation.

So today as you go about your day, congratulate yourself for the situations you remain graceful throughout and don't be too hard on yourself for the times your grace falters. After all, it is all part of learning and practicing for your most important performance, the dance of life.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wallets open wide for children in Cowtown

This past Saturday night was the annual hospital fund-drive Gala for the Moslah Shrine, and my husband and I were more involved with it this year because Kirk is the entertainment chair for the Shrine's Patrol unit. We were a little disheartened this year because attendance was not what it has been in year's past, which is a shame because, in many ways this gala is a true throw-back to what fundraisers are and should be.

The evening begins with a cocktail hour that provides ample time to walk around, compliment other folks on their attire, do that scream/hug thing where you declare " OMG, I haven't seen you in SOOOO long!", and most importantly, to allow the complimentary beer and margaritas to loosen up your cash-spending inhibitions.

Once dinner begins, ladies must place all of their trust in waterproof cosmetics because the gala always highlights a child that has benefited from the Shrine Children's hospitals. This year we met a little girl named Leigh who had brittle-bone disease. She was quite fragile and had even broken her wrist three times and healed in the womb. I was holding strong with the tears until her father spoke and you could truly imagine what this must have been like for Leigh's parents.

Her family was not wealthy, they were desperate for answers and faced with an uncertain future caring for child with very special needs. They had no idea how they would pay their medical bills or protect Leigh from broken bones. When the doctor suggested that they turn to the Shrine hospital, he couldn't imagine that there could be state-of-the-art care for Leigh that would have no accompanying bills or expenses. Fast-forward to Saturday night, and Leigh sat, happily smiling in a tiny wheelchair wearing an adorable pink cowboy hat and singing the National Anthem!

It dawned on me at that moment; all of our stress, the extra expenses, the last minute sign-printing and fussing over details, the planning parties and running around all came down to helping children like Leigh. When the evening's MC, television news anchor Mike Snyder called out to the audience to stuff the envelopes from their table with $100 bills and hold them above their heads, I was, for lack of a better description, overwhelmed. I looked around this crowd of nearly 800 people and saw a sea of paper appear,and uncontrollable tears streamed down my face.

The generosity continued throughout the evening from the live auction, to the silent auction and in the casino, which was our (mine and Kirk's) main responsibility. Time and time again as I asked folks to exchange their real money for "casino money", they laughed, handed me a $20 or a $50, sometimes a $100 and declared with a smile, " hey, it's for the children."

As the event came to a close and the exhausted host-committee members began to clear the table decorations and take down tables, all I could think about was, "Wow, what a great city we live in! What selfless people there are in Fort Worth to give so much for people they have never met. What a relief the hospital must have been to Leigh's mother and father, and countless other families."

So for that, (and in case it isn't said enough)I would like to offer a very hearty and sincere " Thank you!" to Shriners in this and every other city. You make this world a much better place in which to live.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Way better than a token...

So last night the hubbie and I had the following conversation:
Me: " What do you want for dinner?"
K:"Um, I don't know, what sounds good to you?"

To many of you, this may seem familiar. Perhaps this is even a nightly discussion in your home. In any case, this conversation is not as friendly, accepting and inclusive as it may seem from the outside. Oh no. People have agendas in these sorts of conversations and I will be the first to admit that I am no different. I want Mexican food. But I can't just come out and say I want Mexican food. I have to somehow jedi mind-trick my husband into believing that he wants Mexican food and that, being the loving and accommodating wife I am, I will succumb to his wishes.

He on the other hand, wants Vietnamese or Thai. Don't get me wrong. I love Vietnamese pho and Thai food is just plumb addictive. Have you had the Thai beef salad with the sticky rice at Belknap Thai ? It's delicious. But last night, I wanted Mexican food and Thai, ain't Mexican! So we bantered back and forth tossing out ideas for cuisine that neither of us really wanted and finally I said it, I want Mexican food". He went along with it for a moment before he showed his hand, "How bout Thai?".

So, we were heading to Angelos BBQ (yes I know, neither Mexican nor Thai) when the sky went omninously gray and I turned to Kirk and said " so, Angelos is pretty far away and the storm is getting bad. Maybe we should just get Thai". But, that isn't how our game is played. He felt too guilty to allow himself Thai when we had already agreed to eat what neither of us wanted. Any minute now, he would suggest Taco Cabana. I was sure of it, but he surprised me. "Nah, let's check out Haltom City and see what we find." Well, I am always up for an adventure, but that isn't the only reason I went along with it. Number one, we had been on this adventure before and the only thing we found was Oscars, an amazing Mexican food restaurant on old Denton Highway.

It was looking more and more like things were turning in my favor. As Kirk turned onto Denton Hwy, I became virtually twitterpated by the thought of those crispy, salty chips and tangy salsa that would greet me at the table. But much like the record needle that scratches across the record and snaps you back into a cold, cruel reality, it happened. Oscars had moved (only next door into a nice big building with a patio) and in its stead, was a new restaurant called, Wooden Nickel. You could tell from the street that this restaurant promised the one thing that can lure Kirk blindfolded from 40 paces; gravy.

Long story short (too late, I know), The Wooden Nickel is a family style restaurant in which you select a decadent home-style entree (not a dieter's place) such as: chicken fried steak, brisket (that was so tender I couldn't pick it up with my fork), rosemary baked chicken with carrots, catfish and more. Kirk had the rosemary chicken and I, of course, had the brisket. The really fun part is the homestyle service. You get all-you-can-eat of freshly baked rolls, green beans cooked with bacon, ears of corn, salad and mashed potatoes and gravy. It was almost as good as my mother's home cooking and that is saying a lot (she is from Minor Hill, Tennessee and I bet she could give Paula Deen a fair opponent in a cook-off).

Anyway, the moral of this long-winded story is this: if you can't decide or agree upon what to eat and you happen to be on the East Side of Fort Worth, The Wooden Nickel is way better than a token restaurant and for a very modest price will give your soul the comfort it requires.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Humble Beginnings

My friend, J Mil, once told me that if I were to blog, I could become a web superstar. Somehow I seriously doubt it, but hey J Mil, this Blog 's for you! It is a small price to pay for forgiveness since I bought his wife (my best friend and fellow tribal belly dance student) zils (finger cymbals) for her birthday. But that's not what this blog is about so, please read on.

I recently learned through a social-media seminar that was given by Blog Guru, Geoff Livingston, that Fort Worth, Texas has " an immature blog community". What Livingston meant was that there aren't a plethora of people blogging about Fort Worth yet, which means that new bloggers (like myself) have many opportunities... of course naturally I took it to mean that Fort Worth needed some immature bloggers and I am always willing to fulfill a niche, so " hello!".

First I would like to say that Fort Worth is an amazing little-big city. In fact, the locals often refer to it as an " incestuous little city", which has less to do with "loving our brothers" and more to do with the fact that you can't pop by Fred's on a Saturday night without seeing five people you know and at least 10 people you "know of". Plus, you have to watch what you say in this town because everybody knows everybody else and that is a strange quality for a town that has a population of 500,000+. Of course everyone knows everyone else because this is the most "volunteer-oriented" city I have ever lived/worked in.

If you truly want to experience the greatness of Fort Worth, you have to get involved. Attend the Chamber of Commerce events. You will meet the most interesting people. A few weeks ago I attended a Women in Business event at Stonegate Mansion (the legendary former house of , Cullen Davis) and I met a girl named Tracy who has a incredible business concept. She was trying to plan a birthday party with her daughter one day and her daughter said to her, "Mom, why don't we just cook?" Which lead Tracy to create a business called " Kids Love to Cook". Tracy takes care of the invitations for your child's party, the party favors, the food, the kitchen cleanup and turns your child into the head chef of his or her own party for a song. She has a patent pending folks so don't even try to steal her idea. But Tracy is a genius and she is only one of the many remarkable people I have met since I matriculated from TCU after growing up near " that other big city to the east".

I also recently learned about a cool new restaurant in town, Ronin Sushi, where you can order cool fusion sushi and watch a rogue-ish samurai art film at the same time. In fact, it seemed like the perfect atmosphere to fuse the two special interest groups I manage at Fort Worth Sister Cities; Foodies and Filmies, and since it was Japanese culture and right around the time of Golden Week, we have a nice little pair up with the Nagaoka committee as well!

So, that is a little about me and little about the cool stuff I have uncovered recently in Cowtown. Look to this blog occasionally to discover what I think is cool and you just might find something you think is cool too.