Crafts, coffee shops and designer Marie Flanigan: It’s a Friday round up!

TGIF, y’all.

Stopping to smell the fleurs in my hood

Stopping to smell the fleurs in my hood

It was a pretty quiet week by all accounts, but admittedly, I needed that kind of week. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, slow down and refill the creative well.

For me, that usually entails long walks, usually in my Houston neighborhood of Montrose. There’s no zoning in Houston, so that makes for a chaotic and often comical mishmash of architectural styles, especially in artsy neighborhoods such as Montrose.

For example, a charming, one-story, 1940s bungalow might be tucked in next to a four-story Mediterranean behemoth, next to a blocky, modern wonder, next to a seemingly bombed out abandoned warehouse.

There is no rhyme or reason, which keeps it visually interesting and it’s sort of a great conversation starter. Also, as illustrated in the above photo, my neighbors grow beautiful flowers and I get to enjoy them on my walks.

I also got crafty this week, which is unusual for me, as I don’t consider myself

I made this with glue!

I made this with glue!

a crafter. Years ago, I made a plastic bag holder, so that when I forget my reusable shopping bags the plastic scourge is forced upon me and I have no choice but to leave an establishment with it, I can at the very least save the bags and use and use them some more. But, I didn’t like any of the holders I saw out there in the world, as they usually had fabric with chili peppers or little  country houses and whatnot, which just isn’t my style (now there are so many cute ones on the market, like these I found on Etsy).

Though I cannot sew myself out of a plastic bag holder, I managed to piece together a handy and stylish holder using fabric, grosgrain ribbon and fabric glue. As mentioned, it somehow has lasted years and is holding up like a champ, apart from the ribbon coming loose the other day. So, armed with Gorilla Glue (the greatest invention ever if you are clumsy), I repaired the “handle” and added a little fleur-de-lis detail using my letter wax and seal. Magical!

Blacksmith Coffee Shop is the newest on the bean scene.

Blacksmith Coffee Shop is the newest on the bean scene.

As the week wore on I was pretty bored with walking, crafting and catching up on episodes of “30 Rock” — OK, that last one is a lie, because I never, ever tire of that show. So, I checked out the newest addition to Houston’s bean scene (I totally just made that up “bean scene” and it made me laugh when I said it in my head), and to my ‘hood (it’s not just wacky houses and flowers, people!)  Blacksmith Coffee Shop, at 1018 Westheimer (right next door to Burger King and across from Hay Merchant and Underbelly).

(Sidebar: Did you think I would ever get to the end of that sentence up there? Me either.)

Brought to you by Bobby Heugel of Anvil Bar & Refuge fame and David Buehrer, the local roaster behind Greenway Coffee Company and the reason I’m awake most days, Blacksmith is serving up yummy eats and handcrafted coffee. The interior is simple, featuring a lot of steel work as one might imagine given the name. Clean lines and natural materials define the space. I’m a huge fan of the bar running the length of the window, because it’s wide, offering a good deal of space for laptops, notebooks and, oh yeah, food and coffee. 

That brings us to today (FINALLY), when I met and interviewed Marie

Check out the fabulous conference room at the new design studios of Marie Flanigan Interiors. Photo by Jill Hunter

The new design studios of Marie Flanigan Interiors. Photo by Jill Hunter

Flanigan of Marie Flanigan Interiors. Flanigan has been a great source of mine for the past year (check out this piece on creating hotel style at home) and I was thrilled to get a tour of her new design studios (at 2525 Driscoll), which are open to the public one day per week.

As usual, I’m writing a piece about this for print publication, so I’m not giving up all of the goods, but via collaborations with local design favorites such as Circa Lighting, Mecox, Lam Bespoke, Ligne Roset and Laura Rathe Fine Art, to name a few.

My meeting with Flanigan was an inspiring end to a week that allowed my creative brain to relax a bit. Hearing about her new endeavor, what gets her motivated as a designer and how collaborating with local vendors and her clients keeps her energized has me primed and ready for next week, in which will involve writing, writing and then some additional writing.

How do you get and stay inspired to create? Share it with the group, then go out and have a great weekend. You deserve it after the week you had, no?

Flu season etiquette

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Throughout each week, I meet with countless editors, public relations and marketing people, other reporters, sources and of course friends and family. There always is a lot of handshaking, hugging and likely a few pecks on the cheek. I’m a huggy, kissy, handshakey kind of gal, so alll of the above is fantastic — except during cold and flu season.

I had this conversation at a recent happy hour meeting with a long-time source. He owns a successful PR firm and is shaking hands all day. Between sipping bubbles and sharing cheese, he mindfully slipped off to the washroom to give his hands a good scrub. We discussed our flu-avoidance strategies, which for us both involves loads of hand sanitizer (I keep a bottle stashed in the car and in my purse) and frequent handwashing.

One could avoid handshaking and opt for a quick fist bump a la notable germ-o-phobe Howie Mandell. This is acceptable only if you know the other party very well and are in a casual environment. I do not recommend it in business meetings outside the music industry or you likely will be be met with confused looks and awkward moments.

If you already are sick and staying home is not an option, it’s acceptable to head friends and associates off at the pass and preempt contact with a simple, “You may not want to shake hands with me. I think I’m coming down with something.” A source did this with me at lunch last week and I was grateful to her for it.

At home, be sure to swap communal hand towels in the washroom and kitchen with fresh, clean replacements throughout the week. If they aren’t delicate linen or vintage, wash them in hot water as an added measure.

It’s both proper work etiquette and good common sense to wipe down desks, phones, keyboards and other items at your work station with disinfectant a couple of times per week. Offices are a cestpool of germs and desks and keyboards are where everything disgusting and contageous go to live. Do yourself and your co-workers a favor and clean often.

Finally, always sneeze into the inside of your elbow — NOT in your hands. But you already knew that one, right?

Tuesday Taste: Heavenly, cheesy, delectable Alfredo sauce

I like mixin' it up in the kitchen, y'all

I like mixin’ it up in the kitchen, y’all

Cooking is one of my passions, but far above the making of the food in my list of favorite things to do is the eating of the food. When not cooking at home or dining at a friend’s house, I like to visit new restaurants, take pictures of my food (yes, I’m THAT person) and then eat it.

For no reason in particular, I’m determined to keep this blog from morphing into one that is food-themed. But, I’m self-aware enough to know that food is going to wiggle its way into my words and pictures, so I’m dedicating Tuesdays to food glorious food!

On the days when you are feeling hungry for food fodder, but I’m not blogging specifically about it, visit me on the “Kitchen” page, where I’ll provide links to posts of culinary past and once in a while offer up a favorite recipe.

Upon my return to Houston from a few weeks of work and play in Austin, I couldn’t

My adorable kitchen in all of its adorable adorableness.

My adorable kitchen in all of its adorable adorableness.

wait to get back into my adorable little kitchen and whip up some good stuff. I had been craving pasta Alfredo all week, so that was the first item on my cooking agenda.

I tweak nearly every recipe –except for those passed down by my grandmothers, because they are perfect. I got my Alfredo sauce recipe from the beautifully photographed Williams-Sonoma Pasta cookbook.

Here’s the recipe as written:

Ingredients

5 tablespoons butter
12 oz. (double) whipping cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Nutmeg

Note: In my version, I eliminate the nutmeg and add a clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of basil. I was out of garlic (GASP!!) Sunday night however, so I made it the more traditional way. To my surprise, I didn’t miss the garlic.

Instructions

Add butter and cream in a small saucepan on medium heat. Bring it to a boil, constantly whisking it. When it starts to froth up, turn down the heat or remove it, and stir in most of the cheese and seasonings.  Add cooked pasta (I like angel hair or fettuccine and coat with sauce. Plate it and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Fettuccine Alfredo a la Melanie.

Fettuccine Alfredo a la Melanie.

I recommend serving it with a simple salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and a crisp Pinot Grigio (as pictured) or your favorite dry, acidic white wine, to balance out all of that richness. Also, because I just really like any excuse to have wine with dinner.

I enjoyed it while watching Downton Abbey, but it’ll taste good with pretty much any show or movie cued up.

Enjoy!

 

 

Read this blog post, then read some more

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain that has made the rounds online:

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

A cup of coffee and a good book make me happy

A cup of coffee and a good book make me happy

Reading is one of my favorite past times and the love I have for it is one of the many gifts handed down to me from my dad.

When I was really little, I of course read for fun, but as I quickly discovered, if there was something I wanted to learn or better understand about myself or the world, the answers could be found in a book. Also, I realized that reading of almost any sort enriched my life and made me a more intelligent and – I hope – more interesting person.

The books I’ve read over the years have shaped who I am in more ways than I’ll likely ever know and I continue to devour books both for fun and for knowledge.

The following list (which I’ll continue to add to as I revisit old favorites and find new ones) offers a taste of what’s in my home library. These are the books that have either been wildly entertaining, packed with information that helped me as a person, writer, cook or some other thing or that have completely changed my life.

Enjoy, share your favorites and please, if you end up reading one of my favorites and you want to discuss it, comment or drop me a line of Facebook, Twitter or via email.

Fiction

A portion of my book collection at home.

A portion of my book collection at home.

“The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin

“Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen

“On the Road,” by Jack Keroac

“The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Keroac

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” by Milan Kundara

“The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Flowers in the Attic,” by V.C. Andrews

Non-Fiction

“Emily Post’s Etiquette 18th Edition,” by Peggy Post

“A Room of One’s Own,” by Virginia Woolf

“The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron

“The Not So Big Life,” by Sara Susanka

“The Official Preppy Handbook,” by Lisa Birnbach

“French Women Don’t Get Fat,” by Mireille Guiliano

“The Betty Crocker Cookbook”

This ongoing list will live on the “Library” page of the site, so check back and comment often. Happy reading!

Buddhism, swanky offices, Lance Armstrong and handcrafted furniture: It’s a Friday roundup

TGIF, y’all!

Contemplating bloggery in my bedroom.

My view this morning when contemplating bloggery and willing myself out of bed.

This morning, on a whim born of a not-enough-coffee fog after much debate, I’ve decided that Friday will heretofore be a roundup day in which I will regale you with myriad stories about the countless hours spent bashing my head against the keyboard magical people, places and things I’ve encountered throughout the week.

Early in the week, I took a field trip to a place I’ve been meaning to visit for about 10 years, Xiang Yun Temple Austin. It’s a buddhist temple on highway 360. I’ve passed it countless times over the years and have remained intrigued by it.

According to the temple website, Xiang means fragrance and Yun means cloud, which is

Xiang Yun Temple main hall and grounds

Xiang Yun Temple main hall and grounds

fitting being among the fragrant cedar trees on the edge of the Hill Country where the hills meet the sky.

The grounds and the main hall of the temple are peaceful and infused with buddhist symbols and imagery, such as statues of the Buddha, fresh flowers, offerings of fruit on the altar, drums and dragon statues.

There is a tea room on the premises, with one seating area by the windows featuring low-slung tables and cushions and another area in the middle of the room with more traditional tables and bamboo stools. It was closed on the day of my visit, because it was cleaning day at the temple, a ritual for the Chinese New Year. (Sidebar: Because of the tea room being closed, I ended up discovering Zhi Tea, which you can read about here in an earlier blog post.)

In conversation with one of the monks, I said, “I thought I may have visited on a bad day, but then realized it’s a good day.” She said, “Everyday is a good day.” We both smiled.

Peddle.com employee lounge area. Photo by CEO Tim Yarosh

Peddle.com employee lounge area. Photo by CEO Tim Yarosh

Later in the week, I toured the offices of Peddle.com, an internet company housed in the Buttrey Building downtown. The company’s owner worked with designer Joel Mozersky of One Eleven Design and Alter Studio Architecture.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I’m writing about the Peddle offices for a print piece to publish in February, but with its rustic modern look and homey atmosphere, I’m surprised the employees ever go home. Which is part of owner Tim Yarosh’s masterplan to create a workspace where people want to hang out, be creative and enjoy work – as much as that’s possible to do. Frankly, I want to live in these offices.

That day, after my tour of the offices and interview with Mozersky and Yarosh, I popped over to the

Nick Cave sound suits

Nick Cave sound suits

AMOA – Arthouse at the Jones Center and caught the Nick Cave “Hiding in Plain Sight” and Andy Coolquitt “Attainable Excellence” exhibitions.

I was struck by Cave’s sound suits, which are otherworldly, yet because of the textiles he uses, the pieces have a familiar vibe. The video in the back room is rad. It features people in his creature-like sound suits dancing in tribal fashion and pogo-sticking to electronic music.

At first, I’ll admit, I wasn’t too keen on the Coolquitt pieces, but became fascinated with his light fixtures. What can I say, I love lamp.

Me reporting for Reuters and my dear friend and partner in crime Gary Dinges for the American-Statesman on the scene at the Nelo's Cycling Oprah/Lance watch party.

Me reporting for Reuters and my dear friend and partner in crime Gary Dinges for the American-Statesman on the scene at the Nelo’s Cycling Oprah/Lance watch party.

After the exhibit, I walked over to Cafe Medici (on Congress Avenue in the swank Austonian building) to absorb the art exhibit and return emails, while sipping a spectacular latte made with Cuvee coffee, a roaster about 20 miles outside of Austin. (Sidebar: Everyone who knows me or follows me on any social media will be shocked that I didn’t photograph my coffee beverage, which is why you are seeing a photo of me and reporter Gary Dinges here instead).

At this establishment I learned the valuable lesson that, beyond the possibility of a Yelp coupon, there is another fantastic reason to check in on social media: One of my editors emailed saying she saw on Facebook that I was in Austin and asked if I was available to cover something later that night. Finally, obsessive Facebooking pays off!

So, I wrote a story for Reuters about an Oprah/Lance Armstrong watch party at Nelo’s Cycles. Click here to read it. My favorite part of the night was when one of the Nelo’s guys yells to the crowd to chug their beer every time they hear the word “Sorry.” Ha! Note, this is the second sports-related story I’ve written for Reuters. The first being about Formula One race weekend. Given my apathy toward the sporting of sports, this is a supremely ironic twist in my reporting career.

That brings us to this morning, when after being smacked repeatedly in the face by my cat – the

Petrified Design's Plover lamp, Plover lamp detail, bent pecan plywood, Cask chair, Tre bar stool prototype in walnut.

Petrified Design’s Plover lamp, Plover lamp detail, bent pecan plywood, Cask chair, Tre bar stool prototype in walnut.

best/worst alarm clock in the ever-verse – I dragged myself out of a warm, soft bed to trudge down to the South Lamar studios of Petrified Design in chilly 36-degree weather BECAUSE I SUFFER FOR YOU PEOPLE.

Again, because my interview with adorable hardworking and talented designers Gable Bostic and Tyson Pendergrass will soon run in print, I’ll just offer a taste here on the blog.

Friends Bostic and Pendergrass create handcrafted Texas modern furniture, which you can find online and in Austin at Mockingbird Domestics. They also love craft brews and coffee.

There you have it, my week in a nutshell and perhaps the longest blog post in history. As you noticed, because I know you are all very smart and observant, I love to explore, learn about new places and meet interesting people. I hope you enjoyed my adventures as much as I did and I hope you’ll share yours with me. Have a fun, adventuresome, relaxing or whatever it is your into kind of weekend.

Cheers!

Melanie

Dragon player: Feng shui for the new year

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Johnathan Adler Dragon, $350

Each day, I get an email with a feng shui tip of the day from Astrology.com (Stay with me, those of you who aren’t into this “woo-woo,” “New Agey” stuff — it’s all about symbolism!). Yesterday’s was to place a small dragon next to the faucet in the kitchen to bring more prosperity into my life, among other things:

… Inviting a dragon into your home will assist in the fulfillment of all of your intentions, as dragons represent and invoke courage, enthusiasm, positive energy and flow. In fact, a properly placed dragon can strengthen your life force, increase prosperity and bring fortune and luck.

The American Feng Shui Institute defines feng shui as “the study of how the environment affects those who dwell in it.” A basic principle is to incorporate feng shui’s five elements – earth, wood, fire, metal and water – throughout a home (you can read more about it and how to feng shui your entryway in a piece I wrote for the Houston Chronicle a few months ago featuring wisdom from designer Teri Pugh and feng shui consultant Gina Castellano). Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, but I’m a believer in the power of symbolism, so if seeing a little dragon image by my faucet each day helps me better slay the dragons of my day and makes me think prosperous thoughts, I’m game.

So, the hunt begins for a fabulous dragon. I’m hoping to find a modern one, such as the snazzy guy pictured above, $350, at Jonathan Adler (as a bargain hunter, and one who as much as I believe in symbolism, believes that saving money also increases prosperity, I’m sure I can find a less expensive dragon that’s just as cool, but you get the idea).

The dragon, according to the tip email, also can be placed in your office (behind you, rather than in front of you where you’d be “confronting” the dragon) and in the romance area of the bedroom (oooh, la la). But, the email cautioned, not in the bathroom, lest you “flush all your dragon luck away.”

Here’s to a prosperous 2013 and slaying all of your dragons.

What little omens, good luck charms and symbols do you put around your house and why?

Afternoon tea at Zhi

Silver Needle Buds white tea in a Good Life pot at Zhi Tea

Silver Needle Buds white tea in a For Life pot at Zhi Tea

(NOTE: UPDATED BELOW ENTRY)

One of my favorite indulgences is afternoon tea (never to be called high tea, contrary to popular belief). There is something about the simplicity of the tea and the decadence and delicacy of finger sandwiches, scones (with clotted cream – oh my!), preserves and other little treats that makes me feel like I’ve treated myself well and gets me energized for the rest of my day.

This makes sense, because traditional English tea was just that, a respite to energize the aristocracy and the otherwise upper crust between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Recently, I enjoyed tea at the Zhi Tea Gallery in Austin (4607 Bolm Rd., 512-539-0717). It’s a cozy little haven off the beaten path. In fact, though I lived in Austin for five years before relocating to Houston a couple of years ago, I only discovered it just the other day. It’s truly one of those hidden gems. The owner is delightful and he and the staff are happy to answer questions, make recommendations and all around make you feel at home.

Inside, you’ll find a lounge area with comfy sofa, chairs and a coffee (er, tea) table, the retail shop, which includes a vast selection of the colorful and modern little For Life teapots in which the tea is served on the table service side, as well as a seating area with light wood tables and chairs. There also is a little library, if you’d like to stay and read a magazine or book.

The menu includes a stunning array of loose leaf teas and also cheese plates, hummus and veggies and delectable baked goods. On the retail side you can buy any and everything you need for tea at home. All of the tea pots are lovely and would make perfect gifts to tea-loving friends.

Since finding it, I’ve visited twice and each time I had a wonderful experience. The first time, I had a pot of the Single Needle Buds white tea and the next time a pot of the Ambrosia white tea. The former was mellow and light and latter sweet and smooth.

By yourself or with a friend, tea is an inexpensive treat that feels like a big luxury.

What’s your favorite inexpensive indulgence?

UPDATE: Zhi is having a Valentine Tea and Chocolate Pairing on Feb. 9, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Enjoy four courses featuring chocolate from The Chocolate Makers Studio. It’s $25 per person or $40 per pair and attendees get 10 percent off all teas in the Gallery and a tea sample to take home. RSVP in person with credit card or cash at the gallery (address above) or  via credit card by calling 512-539-0717 or via PayPal by emailing jeffrey@zhitea.com.

Question: If I buy a drink for a friend, is he obligated to leave the tip?

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Today’s question surrounds cocktail etiquitte. The asker wants to know if when buying drinks for a friend, if the friend is obligated to offer up the tip. Also, if said friend doesn’t, does the buyer have the right to be annoyed?

We advise that while it would be a lovely gesture for the friend to offer the tip, he isn’t obligated to do it. If he doesn’t, it’s of course a free country, but it was a gift to buy the drink, so you are obligated to absorb the cost of the tip and keep your annoyance to yourself. After all, you knew that was part of it when you bought the round. No matter what though, a hearty thank you is required and cheers to the buyer’s health.

This conversation does have us thinking that from now on, we’ll at least offer up tip money when given the gift of a delicious adult beverage.

What do you think? To offer tip or not to offer tip?

Cheers!
M

Question: Do I have to go to my high school friend’s wedding?

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Happy Tuesday! Last week during a small celebratory gathering at Houston’s hippest cocktail and caffeine purveyor, Double Trouble, a friend asked a pressing etiquette question: Do I have to go to my high school friend’s wedding?

Our friend tells us that after not seeing or hearing from her high school chum for years, an invitation arrived in the mail. Having recently bought a home, a plane ticket to a destination wedding for a long lost friend isn’t in her budget.

The easy solution: Send a lovely card with your regrets and a small, thoughtful, but budget conscious gift for the bride and groom. In your R.S.V.P., it’s not necessary to explain, a simple “I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend the wedding,” or “I have a prior commitment that day,” or similar will do.

Do you have an etiquette or style question? Email us at charmfinder@gmail.com.

Cheers!

M