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Around Town: Helen In The Heights Brings The Tavernas Of Greece To Houston

This past Friday my friend Courtney and I enjoyed a late lunch at Helen in The Heights. Courtney and I have been friends for a few years and share a passion for travel, great food, and discovering new places. You should check out her Insta @Hiptrip52 for traveling on trend in Texas!

Back to Helen…

Nestled in a 5-story red brick building known as 1111 Studewood Place Helen is a modern Greek taverna offering traditional Greek cuisine and regional Greek wines. This sister restaurant to Helen Greek Food and Wine is just shy of 4 months old, but this ‘little sister’ holds it’s own and more with it’s taverna style menu and vast all Greek wine list!

Upon entering Helen you’ll feel welcomed by the fabulous interior designed by Erin Hicks. Stained concrete floors, red brick walls, rustic chandeliers, exposed air ducts, inviting banquettes, and even a wall of faux greenery in the rear of the restaurant. Designer Erin Hicks was aiming for “a traditional taverna feel with deep blues, brick, whitewashed wood, and replicas of Minoan frescoes.” When the light of the sun dims outside Helen beckons you with a soft glow all of her own.

Photo via Houston Press

Once seated we were greeted by the manager, Greg. Greg was more than happy to offer suggestions as to what we should order. I must say we were quite impressed with his knowledge of the diverse, all Greek wine list, of which any wine can be ordered by the glass! Since most people are not as proficient in Greek wines as say, California wines or other American wines, this is a great way for people to experience different Greek wines without committing to an entire bottle. At least until you’re ready too!

While Greg is not the official sommelier at Helen, Evan Turner is, Greg certainly knows his stuff! He also seemed rather proficient in Greek mythology and relating it to our choices. We really enjoyed the “lesson” that we must of missed in school 🙂

Though there are some of the same menu choices, the food is more classic Greek comfort food than the Greek modern choices that you will find at Helen Greek in the Rice Village. Think souvlaki, cheese pies, pastitsio, and moussaka among other things.

Greeted by our waiter Will, Courtney and I perused the menu and decided to share several different things on our lunch date. Don’t you just love sharing!

One of my absolute favorites is the Village Salad. Pretty much your traditional Greek salad, but the flavors are explosive! The freshness of the tomatoes is something you just don’t find much anymore. Add cucumbers, kalamata olives, red onions, green bell pepper, feta cheese, oregano, and a drizzle of olive oil and you’ve got yourself a great salad!

Then there’s the octopus grilled and served over a Greek fava puree and adorned with kalamata olives, pickled onion and capers and drizzled with thyme oil.

The lamb souvlaki was up next. Perfectly seasoned and grilled with tomatoes and red onion then served on top of fresh pita bread and tzatziki.

What Greek meal would be complete without lemon potatoes? Roasted to perfection and just enough fresh lemon taste!

Before we wrapped up our meal another manager, Priscilla, stopped by our table to check on us. She is as nice as can be! They really know how to make you feel welcome here!

Helen in The Heights is a fabulous addition to the Heights vibrant dining scene. We thoroughly enjoyed dining there and will return soon!

KALI OREXI – Bon Apetite! 

Helen in the Heights is open for lunch: Tuesday – Saturday from 11am to 4pm and Sunday from 11am to 3pm.

Dinner service: Tuesday – Thursday is from 4pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 4pm to 11pm, and Sunday from 4pm to 9pm.

Helen in The Heights is closed on Mondays and available for private events.

 

 

What Is Your Rising Sign and How Does It Affect Your Personality

We all know what our astrological sign is…I’m a Capricorn! But, what about your rising sign? My rising sign is Cancer.

What does that mean and why would you want to know? Well, one’s rising sign is a very important piece of your astrological profile.

The other day Bridgette and I  were talking and I mentioned that I felt that she and I shared a few similar qualities and I went on to explain the concept of rising signs. Bridgette is a Cancer, and as I said, I am a Capricorn. Very different sun signs. Actually, we are astrological opposites! But, Bridgette and I have discovered over the course of our friendship that we do have some similar qualities –  among other things, we both love being at home; we both crave and need alone time; we both feel affects on our mood based on the weather and the moon; we are both quite sentimental and sensitive. I’m guessing that this is due to the fact that my rising sign is Cancer, the same as Bridgette’s sun sign! Obviously, many people can relate to these qualities. But, they may be due to something in your astrological chart!

In technical terms your rising sign, or “ascendant” as it is often called, is the sign that was rising over the Eastern horizon at the time of your birth. It illustrates your outward self: a social mask of sorts… Your rising sign influences peoples first impression of you, how you interact socially, and how you view and relate to others.

The self you project to the world is most often perfectly balanced blend of our rising sign and your sun sign. The main thing to keep in mind when learning about your rising sign is that unlike you sun and moon signs, your rising sign reflects a more superficial, outward personality. Having a Sagittarius ascendant will not make you a Sagittarius, but it will probably help you relate to and attract other Sagittarians.

If you have ever been puzzled by how others describe you, it could be they have encountered the rising sign qualities. It may not be how you see yourself at all!

Rising signs change every 2 hours in a 24 hour period. This is why 2 Aries, while very much alike in many ways, can be very different from one another at the same time! It depends on each person’s rising sign. Have you ever met a Leo that at first glance you thought was a Scorpio because they appeared to be secretive, quiet, and mysterious? So not Leo-like! Maybe their rising sign was Scorpio! Just a thought…

So, are you ready to find out what your rising sign is? You’ll need 2 pieces of information: where you were born and at what time. You must know this in order to determine your rising sign with any accuracy. If you’ve got that you can go to a number of websites like Astrology CafeAstrosofa, or Horoscopes Within to find out what your rising sign is.

Check out this quick overview of the way your rising sign is reflected in your personality:

An Aries Rising makes you appear more…open, lively, independent, and dominant.

A Taurus Rising makes you appear more…calm, steady, sensual, and centered.

A Gemini Rising makes you appear more…talkative, witty, positive, and curious.

A Cancer Rising makes you appear more…shy, subtle, kind, and intuitive.

A Leo Rising makes you appear more…magnetic, expressive, strong, and warm.

A Virgo Rising makes you appear more…reserved, observant, analytical, and nervous.

A Libra Rising makes you appear more…charming, optimistic, balanced, and socially adept.

A Scorpio Rising makes you appear more…secretive, quiet, brooding, and mysterious.

A Sagittarius Rising makes you appear more…jovial, direct, opinionated, and honest.

A Capricorn Rising makes you appear more…diligent, practical, serious, and detail oriented.

An Aquarius Rising makes you appear more…idealistic, progressive, contrary, and friendly.

A Pisces Rising makes you appear more…romantic, sensitive, vague, and artistic.

So what do you think? Did they get it right? Do you have some characteristics of your Rising Sign that are very different from your Sun Sign? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!

Take Me Away: Tropical Smoothie

Hi there! It’s heating up here in Houston, Texas! It’s even hot in the morning when I get up in my beloved city! However, it’s Houston. It’s Texas. It’s July! It’s not like we are not used to this here…

In the name of staying cool and being healthy, I wanted a nice mid-afternoon treat to hold me over until dinner, and give me a little boost! Something that would taste like one of those “umbrella drinks” on the beach, but no alcohol.

So, I decided to make a smoothie with the ingredients that I had on hand. It’s nothing fancy, but it sure did taste good! This would be great poolside! Here goes…

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
  • 1 banana
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
  • 1/4 cup of 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup of coconut water (add more if needed for consistency you like)
  • a few pieces of ice to make it colder

Blend all ingredients together. Pour in a glass, close your eyes, take a sip, and imagine you are on a tropical beach somewhere 🙂

The kids will love this smoothie too!

Here are some health benefits that this yummy smoothie offers:

Pineapple Health Benefits:

  • Digestion
  • High vitamin C content
  • Bone strength
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Eye health

Banana Health Benefits:

  • Heart health
  • Depression & mood lifter
  • Digestion
  • Weight Loss
  • Bone Strength
  • Eye health

Worth The Hike: Maroon Bells and Crater Lake in Aspen

Happy weekend! Have you fully recovered from the 4th of July festivities? After 2 swim and BBQ parties and a night out in the country shooting fireworks I was pretty tired the last couple of days! And, it has been sooooo hot here! But hey, its summertime fun in Texas!

Today I would like to share a “cool weather” trip with you in case you are looking for a little Colorado adventure!

Before the kids got out of school I went on a trip to Aspen with 7 of my mom friends. A few I knew well, a few I knew a little, and 1 I just met on the trip! But by the time we returned home we had bonded! It was a fabulous, fun-filled getaway!

Being mid May we were there during what is known as “mud season”. The name doesn’t sound appealing. The mud season. Sounds dirty and dreary. Not like your dream vacation. But don’t let the name fool you.

The mud season is Colorado’s off season — the window of time between when the ski resorts close and when the summer activities pick up again. The weather warms up and melts the snow, before the wildflowers and grass have filled out Mother Nature’s carpet. Hence, mud.

When we arrived in Aspen we were actually treated to some late season snow! This Texas girl was thrilled! After all, summer was already knocking on the door here in Houston in mid May and I, and the other ladies, welcomed the opportunity to be in one more blast of cold weather before being smothered in 3 – 4 months of extreme heat!

In any case, let me get back on topic…

On our next to last day we decided to drive to Maroon Bells (just a quick 25 minute drive from town) and hike to Crater Lake. Only our hostess with the mostest knew what we were in for, but we were all game!

The Maroon Bells, surrounded by pristine National Forest lands, are the most photographed peaks in all of North America. Here you can explore the glacial valley while surrounded by 14,000 – foot peaks. Maroon Lake, surrounded by fields of wildflowers, mirrors images of the Maroon Bells in it’s waters.

Photo via Colorado.com

When we arrived to Maroon Lake we fueled up on some sandwiches, took a few pictures, and then we were on our way! A 2 hour hike to Crater Lake on the Crater Lake Trail. This 3.6-mile round-trip trail rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas of bushy Aspen woodlands and Crater Lake. Start at the Deadly Bells Kiosk from Maroon Lake Trail and be prepared for a steep and rocky ascent. The first 1/2 of our hike was on rocky trails through the Aspen trees, the second half of our hike was mostly snowy hills and valleys.

Snow Angels along the way!

About an hour in a couple of the ladies thought they would turn back before arriving to our final destination. This was a bit of a taxing hike after all. Plus, we weren’t all acclimated to the higher altitudes and breathing was a little difficult at times. But with a little encouragement we all pushed through and after 2 hours we arrived to our final destination – Crater Lake! It was breathtaking! And, we all made it together!

Before heading back, we sat down for a while and just took in the beauty of our surroundings. It was quiet… Peaceful… Uplifting…

Back at the house at the end of the day we enjoyed some well deserved wine and a yummy pasta dinner! Us mammas were HUNGRY and feeling accomplished!

It was a great day and I would definitely recommend this Colorado adventure that is “worth the hike”!

For more info on The Maroon Bells check out the Colorado.com website here.

The Pisco Sour: One Of My Favorite Summer Cocktails

Hi friends! The weekend is upon us and it looks like here in Houston the cycle of daily rain and clouds is lifting!  AND 4th of July is right around the corner! If you’re looking for a different cocktail to serve at your Independence Day festivities I’d like to introduce you to the Pisco Sour!

All in all, I am not a big mixed drinks person. Though, I do love a good margarita and a good martini from time to time! But, I was wanting something different. Something that isn’t offered everywhere you go. HELLO Pisco Sour! I looooove Pisco Sours! Have you tried one?

A Pisco Sour is a cocktail typical of South America. The drink’s name comes from pisco, which is the base liquor, and the term sour is in reference to the sour citrus juice, lime to be exact. Picso is actually a style of brandy common in Peru and Chile which has a bit of tequila flavor!

I had my first Pisco Sour about 5 years ago at a Peruvian restaurant here in Houston – Latin Bites. I was a little skeptical to order it at first but, the bartender highly recommended it! Why was I skeptical, you ask? Well, it has egg whites in it! While I love cooked egg whites, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink uncooked ones (icky face)… But, stay with me people! This drink is really good and, you won’t “know” that you are drinking egg whites. The egg whites actually give this tangy drink a smooth, full body. The frothy egg white is actually a favorite part of this drink for me! Plus, you’ll get a little dose of your daily protein intake from the whites 😉 It’s a win-win!

Run, don’t walk to the liquor store and buy a bottle of Pisco to make Pisco Sours this weekend!

If you peruse the internet you will find multiple ways to make a Pisco Sour, like just about any other mixed drink… But, here is how I made mine.

What you will need:

  • 3 ounces Pisco
  • 1 ounce simple syrup – made from scratch by boiling sugar in water (you can jar and save the extra for more drinks)
  • 1 ounce lime or key lime juice
  • 1 egg white – I used the pourable egg whites that come in a carton. It tells you how much to pour out for 1 egg.
  • Angostura Bitters (2-3 dashes) OR cinnamon for sprinkling
  • Ice cubes
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Small measuring cup (like this)

Preparation:

 

(1) Mix the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white in a cocktail shaker.

(2) Add ice to fill, and shake vigorously to mix and produce foam from the egg white.

(3) Strain into and old fashioned glass or other cocktail glass, sprinkle with the Angostura bitters on top of the foam. You can substitute cinnamon if you like. The bitters adds more alcohol. Use sparingly.

(4) Serve and enjoy!

Makes 1 (8 ounce) cocktail or 2 small.

I’d love to know what you think after trying a Pisco Sour. Please comment below. And, if you have another favorite summer cocktail please do share!

Cheers!

 

California Dreaming in San Francisco: A Great Girl’s Trip

Thinking about a girl’s trip this summer? Or even the fall? You should definitely consider San Francisco! It’s a great girl’s getaway that offers plenty of things to do! My friend Laura and I went last year and I thought I should share our trip with you in case you are “in the market” for an adventure!

Laura and I have been friends for about 20 years and she’s a great travel companion! I call her “my gastronomy friend”! (check out my fancy word :)) We both LOVE to eat great food and drink great wine and most of our time together is based around these 2 activities with lots of laughter thrown in!

So, I’d like to share a little with you (in a condensed fashion) about our 4 days of eating and drinking wine in San Francisco, Napa, and Sausalito. A GREAT GIRL’S TRIP!

We arrived at our hotel, The Clift, late afternoon. It is a fabulous 4-star hotel just steps from Union Square. Super hip and cool! We found out Saturday night that The Clift Hotel is also a happening hot spot! Their legendary Redwood Room is hopping with cool people, cocktails, and great dance music! Great for people watching and burning some calories dancing!

Photo via Virtuoso

Our suite had this stunning living and dining area!

Check out the fabulous sofa and cocktail table in our room! I think I took a cool photo, don’t you?

Of course we were hungry and ready to have our first (of many) glasses of wine so we freshened up and Ubered on over to Cafe Claude. It was a quick ride over. Less than 10 minutes.

I’ve been to Cafe Claude twice and couldn’t wait to go back! “Cafe Claude is a modern day evocation of vintage Paris in the heart of San Francisco” located in a little alleyway. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights they have live music. Just so happened this was a Thursday night so we got to enjoy a little live music as we dined. We opted to share a few things. This is Laura’s favorite thing to do every time we go out to eat… Sometimes I don’t want to share when I’m really hungry but, I find it’s a great way to order so that we get to try several things. We started with the Moules Frites (mussels & french fries), then had the Escargots, and finished with the Steak Frites and Haricots Verts. It was tres bon!

Friday we got up early to catch the 1-hour ferry ride over to the Napa area. It was a glorious, cool, crisp morning in San Francisco. Tip: Make sure to pack for layering when going to the Bay Area. Mornings tend to be cool but, it can warm up a bit in the afternoons. But, not always… Some days never warm up much especially when it’s cloudy. Another unusual feature of San Francisco weather are the micro-climates.  San Francisco is a city with microclimates and submicroclimates. Due to the city’s varied topography and influence from the prevailing summer marine layer, weather conditions can vary by as much as 9°F (5°C) from block to block, sunny in one neighborhood and overcast in another. While we were there we heard several times from the locals that July can be one of their chilliest months! Who would have thought!?

Away we go!

We hired a driver to take us around Napa. At first, I kinda wanted to rent a car and drive ourselves around “Thelma & Louise style” 😉 I thought that could be a fun way to get around and go where we choose, and I know people do it all the time but, I quickly realized after our first vineyard stop that driving was not for me! I happily welcomed the luxury of being driven from place to place.

Here we are at the first vineyard Judd’s Hill. It actually ended up being my favorite stop of the day. It was very welcoming and intimate.

Judd himself was even on site tending to a vegetable and herb garden next to the terrace where we were sitting. He was more than happy to chat with us and take a few photos. And, our sommelier, Todd, was just fabulous! We sat there for 2 hours and I really could have stayed longer, but onward we must go.

On to Sequoia Grove! This is where we had our lunch for the day. Outside under the majestic Sequoia trees! Sequoia Grove wasn’t quite as “intimate” as Judd’s Hill but, we really enjoyed it here also. The tasting room is actually in a 110 year old barn! My favorite wine was the Rebelliuos Red!

Photo via The Napa Wine Project

I must say, I don’t recall what the name of our 3rd stop was ;( It did nothing for me. Oh well…

Last stop. Already!! Wow, the day goes by fast! You really need several days here. Next trip! Anyway, my friend Laura LOVES champagne! So, naturally or final stop would have to be for some bubbly! Our driver took us to Domaine Chandon.

Can you tell Laura is excited!

It actually has a Visitor Center!! The place and the grounds were huge! Not really what I think of when visiting wineries but, it was nice and we did enjoy or bubbly. We ordered our flights of bubbly and some truffle popcorn and enjoyed the end of our day in Napa lounging in some adirondack chairs on their gorgeous lawn.

Ahhh, life is good…

Back is San Fran and weary from our day of drinking (poor us) we decided to eat at the Slanted Door which is at the Ferry Building where we exited the ferry. I love the Slanted Door! And, it’s right there! So, this was a no-brainer.

Photo via The Manual Creative

Photo via The Slanted Door

I had been here on a previous trip and it was on my list to return. It’s a trendy restaurant serving Vietnamese fare in a glass-heavy space with stunning bay views. They are usually quite busy. Reservations are recommended but, fortunately after a short 20 minute wait we were seated.

We shared some Vietnamese Egg Rolls, Shaking Beef, and some warm mint tea. It was a nice way to end our 2nd day.

Saturday morning, another glorious morning, we decided to hop on the Big Red Bus to see as much of the city as we could. I’ve gotten to where I do this in every city I visit that offers this as it is a great way to see lots of sights and learn some interesting facts and history about a city. And, it’s hop on hop off with your 24-hour ticket. You can get off and explore anywhere you like.

Here we are with nice hair before going over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here we are windblown and cold (temp drops about 20 degrees as you cross) as we go over the bridge 🙂 The guy on the far right of the picture doesn’t look a thrilled as we do…

After winding through the city we decided to “hop off” at China Town. Did you know that it’s the largest chinatown outside of Asia! And, the oldest in North America.

We needed to buy our kids some of the obligatory China Town gifts and we were on a mission for Dim Sum! Now, I had heard not to eat Chinese food in China Town as it’s overly touristy and there are much better places in San Francisco to eat Chinese food. I prefer to visit places off the beaten path and less touristy anywhere I go. But, we were told that there were some pretty good Dim Sum places in China Town so we decided to give it a try. We ended up at Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson Street.

Apparently, President Obama stops by here when in San Francisco so we thought it must be pretty good 🙂 I’m not getting into politics here people! Just saying…

Photo via SF Gate

We waited about 30 minutes to be seated (it was 130pm on a Saturday). Then enjoyed some hot tea and a light lunch of dim sum.

We ate a “light lunch” because we had to save room in our tummies for the next stop! We were eating our way through San Francisco 🙂 We Ubered our way over to the historic Swan Oyster Depot. I realized this place existed about a week before we left for our trip. I’m so glad I did! This place is amazing! A seafood heaven! Family run since the 1940’s. Food critic, chef, author, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain once said, “If I read about myself dying at this counter, I’d say to myself, that was one lucky guy”.

Bay Area Bites has a great article about Swan Oyster Depot you can read here.

It was 345pm and we waited in line outside for about 1 hour (they close daily at 530pm) before being seated at the long marble counter in this 100 year old establishment.

Photo via SF Chronicle

It’s small ( I believe it seats only 16-18 people at a time) but, bustling and lively! And, the family running the place were happy to chat and make sure we had a good time!

Photo via Bay Area Bites

We dined on the freshest of raw oysters and giant cold, boiled shrimp. We washed it down with a refreshing glass of white wine. Finally!! My first glass of wine for the day! Unfortunately, they were out of crab by the end of the day 😦 otherwise, I would have been gobbling up some of those bad boys! Next time!! Yes, there will be a next time! And, I highly recommend that you go there when in San Francisco.  Stand in the line! You must!

Ah, our last full day in San Francisco… We decided to take a ferry over to Sausalito. It’s a quick 30 minute ride. “This little seaside town in SF’s back yard has unbelievable scenery, protected “banana belt” weather, and a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere. If you are driving don’t miss the nearby & gorgeous Marin Headlands”. Lots of great information can be found on the Hidden SF website.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. As usual, we were hungry and thirsty 🙂 Like I said, eating and drinking are 2 things Laura and I really enjoy doing. We took a  5 minute walk over to The Trident restaurant. We wanted seafood and great views and we got both! They have a huge deck that over looks the water. It was so peaceful watching the sail boats go by. We shared a platter of fresh seafood, some yummy truffle fries and, some refreshing Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay to wash it down. It was just what we needed to start our explorations of Sausalito.

Gorgeous trees in Sausalito!

 

The rest of the day we spent browsing the shops and galleries in this idyllic little town buying a few souvenirs along the way. We ended our day at The Madrigal Family Winery Tasting Room. The Madrigal Winery is actually in Calistoga. I hope to visit there on my next trip out to the wine country. It looks like a stunning vineyard from the photos displayed in their Sausalito tasting room. Definitely stop by the tasting room if you are in Sausalito!

Photo via Madrigal family Winery

Back in San Fran we departed the ferry at Fisherman’s Wharf this time. This is a very touristy place but, nonetheless, I’m glad we got to walk around there a bit before heading back to our hotel. If you go to San Francisco with your kids this is surely an area they will like. LOTS of shops, activities, performers and waterfront dining. There is an aquarium and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, among other things. This is also where the famous Pier 39 sea lions are. Wish I had a better picture to show you but, the sun was facing my camera and it was hard to get a good shot.

There are usually hundreds and sometimes thousands of sea lions lounging and playing of the floating docks at Pier 39. They draw quite a crowd!

Back to the hotel for our final 😦 evening. Hungry and thirsty again… We decided on Italian! After a little research (I look to Trip Advisor a lot on vacation and honestly, I’m usually happy with what I find), we decided on Seven Hills in the Nob Hill neighborhood. Seven Hills is #6 of 4275 restaurants in San Francisco! It is a quaint little restaurant with only about 20 tables.

Photo via Zanda

They have a great wine list and even have some gluten free offerings. The waitstaff were super nice and are more than happy to help with our selections.  It was nothing short of wonderful. A great way to end our 4 days in the City by the Bay!

Note: We pretty much Ubered everywhere we went in the city. It was super reasonable and all the Uber drivers we had were nice.

Before I sign off, I must say that there are a lot of things that we didn’t get to do with our limited amount of time but, we sure tried! And, there’s always next time!

San Francisco is definitely a place I will return to! Until then I’ll be California Dreaming!

Cheers!