Monday, April 30, 2012

Breaking bread with Slow Dough Bread Co...

...what a delightful experience it was.  I had the great good fortune to visit with Heath Wendell and Marlo Evans owners of Slow Dough Bread Co.  This handsome bread-making duo wowed me with their enthusiasm, knowledge and overall joie de vivre for their business and the art of making the best bread in Houston (my opinion, but one bite of their bread will make you a believer).
Heath Wendell and Marlo Evans

I learned from spending an hour with Heath and Marlo, about fermentation, slower is better, paths being found, passions being realized and bread making at its finest. I also learned new words, Couche:  the name of the type of linen that is used when the dough is rising, Biga: the term for fermented dough starter, LaVain: the term for the fermented sour dough starter. Biga is made from flour, water and yeast, LaVain is more complicated, starting with green organic grapes (Heath's preference) wrapped in cheese cloth, soaked in water for 10 days, (the grape skin attracts the yeast floating in the air), grapes removed from the water, the water is the basis for the starter. It is usually only made once, kept alive, added to, etc.  Amazing!
Fermented dough

Dough rising, sitting on Couche

Heath and Marlo's paths intersected one day at The Tasting Room,  romance was the starter, fermenting then flourishing into a joint venture of mutual respect and desire, growing a business that has integrity and spirit. Heath was a recent transplant from Chicago, doing consulting work for area bakeries and Marlo, a native Texan, was getting her graduate degree in acupuncture.  I'm sure serendipity played a hand, because Heath's enthusiasm for his craft soon had Marlo very interested in the fine art of bread making. The two set up shop, Marlo working on the branding and business creative and Heath making sure that the quality of the bread being produced is of the highest quality. 

Slow Dough Bread Co. has been in business for almost four years. Their first bakery was in the Heights in a small 2000 square foot facility with one mixer and one oven. It was clear that with sales growing and the word getting out about this fine bread that a larger facility was needed, so they moved into the 10,000 square foot former La Madeleine bakery. La Madeleine moved their operation to a 200,000 square foot facility on the East coast. The good news is Heath and Marlo were able to move their operation to an already established bakery, with ovens, mixers, slicers and walk-in refrigerators at the ready.

The business was growing, but how to manage it all. Marlo took the opportunity to apply to the Goldman Sachs program called 10,000 Small Businesses. It is an initiative set up by Goldman Sachs to help small businesses grow and create jobs. There were 90 applicants, but only 32 slots. Marlo got in and she says it has been extremely helpful. Not only is she surrounded by other small business owners, who have similar questions and concerns, but the classes are set up on a two week rotation, so what is discussed in class can then be applied directly. This program is teaching Marlo how to grow their business in a smart way. A way that will create jobs in the Houston area and keep them from making decisions that could stunt their rising business.
Jalapeno Cheese dough

Heath and Marlo believe whole heartily in their product. It is so obvious by the care in which they run their bakery. Heath is a fifth generation baker, learning his craft from his maternal grandfather, but it wasn't until a 14 month stint in Paris working under Yves Desgrandes that Heath felt the spark for baking that he had seen in his grandfather all those years. Heath realized that he loved to bake and baking is what he wanted to do and that, that was okay.  He did say that the respect that the French give their bakers is incredible. That walking down the street with Yves Desgrandes was like walking down the street with a celebrity. Everyone knew him, greeted him. Heath said that he is not looking for stardom, that he wants continue to hone, refine, his craft, to provide the very best bread possible.  I would have to say that I think he is pitch perfect.
Buns to be!

I asked Heath why he decided to stay in Houston. He said that Marlo, Houston's weather and the fact that  Houston had a need for a large bakery,  is what convinced him to stay.  Believe this or not a lot of bake goods that we eat in Houston are not from Houston, they are shipped in from other cities like  New York and Chicago. Slow Dough Bread Co. services 225 chefs in the Houston Area. Heath says they are his bosses, each one of them. That it is his job to get them the bread they need, the quality they need, when they need it.

Beautiful bread, all.

Oh, another thing I learned, that the slower the fermentation of the dough and the slower the dough is allowed to rise, is the key to the enormous taste and texture of this bread.  Houston is lucky to have Heath and Marlo. I look forward to seeing them continue making their bread, sharing their enthusiasm, knowledge and craft. 
One of the ovens. It is much larger than it looks in this picture.

Dryer shakes flour off the Couche

The Bakery

Listening to Heath and Marlo talk about Slow Dough reminded me of a much used phrase by Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss." I really believe that reaching inside ourselves and finding that spark, that joy, the thing that makes us happy is the key to our overall health and success.
Star of Hope Mission receives the left over bread at day's end.

Quote of the day: "You can tell how good a restaurant is, by the quality of the bread they serve." Taavi Mark.

Just a quick note: You can buy Slow Dough Bread at Georgia's Market. There a Georgia's Market at 12171 Katy Freeway (I-10) and at 420 Main Street (Downtown) and enjoy it at 225 restaurants in the Houston area.

Slow Dough Bread Co.
8728 Westpark Dr.
Houston, TX 77063
713-568-5674 o
832-415-9698 f

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liberty Kitchen

I was in the Heights at lunch time, so I called my friend Lisa who works in the area,  to see if she wanted to meet me at Liberty Kitchen for lunch.

I have been wanting to go and it's always fun to lunch with a friend. Lisa said great, so we grabbed a table on the patio. Just a perfect day for it. Houston has been showing off lately with this fine weather. We're all the better for it, don't ya think?!!!

Lemonade, fresh squeezed, had to have it. Oh my, what a lovely blend of lemon, organic sugar and mint, served over a stack of crushed ice. Yes. It is delicious. Love it!!!

Lisa and I both decided to go fried. She, with the fried shrimp po'boy and me with the fried catfish po'boy. Both served with cherry tomatoes, greens and remoulade sauce, put squarely in the middle of  fresh baked Slow Dough french bread.(Great BREAD) Yes, indeed, quite the treat. My catfish was light, flaky, flavorful. The combo of excellent fish, bread, greens, tomatoes, sauce was a joyous bite after bite.  Lisa said the shrimp was well prepared, good flavor, too, much enjoyed.
Fried Catfish Po'boy, goodly portion, it will fill you up!!

Fried Shrimp Po'boy with Onion Rings. The o-rings are stellar!

Lisa ordered the onion rings. Lightly battered, crunchy, inside the onions are soft enough to bite into without being mushy. Very good. I had the twice cooked french fries. Good, too.

At the corner of Studewood and E. 11th in the Heights. Just look at that Houston Blue Sky!!!!
Quote of the day: "If I go down in for anything in history, I would like to be known as the person who convinced the American people that catfish is one of the finest eating fishes in the world.”
Willard Scott (The Today Show)

Liberty Kitchen
1050 Studewood
Houston, TX 77008
(713) 802-0533

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hello Pub Grub, Hello Queen Vic...

...hello happy tummy. The Queen Vic is a master at pub grub.
Sticky Toffee Pudding, made with dates, butter, is so yummy!!!

The proof is in their Sticky Toffee Pudding. Wow!!! and everything else that I tried!!!

This great pub is quietly situated on Richmond about two blocks West of Kirby. It sits perpendicular to Richmond, so if you were not on the look out for it, you might pass it by and let me tell you, you do not want to pass it by. It is a warm, friendly pub and it reminded me of a few places I visited in the UK. As if, that has much bearing on how good this place is.

I went with my friend Flora. We started out with beer. They have a full bar with a goodly amount of wine, too, but it's a pub, first time there, had to have a beer. The beer I selected is made at a micro brewery here in Houston, Buffalo Bayou Brewing. It is the lighter of the two beers, called 1836. Flora had the almost darkest beer on the menu Nitro Pecan Porter (made in Austin!)

I have met the owner of Buffalo Bayou Brewing, a young Harvard MBA man, Rassal Zarinfar, who knows the beer business quite well. I met him at a GroundUp Houston meeting. He explained that he had been a bartender and then worked in beer distribution, took time out to get his MBA, went back to distribution, but really wanted to try his hand and use his work background and education to own  a brewery of his own making, good choice!!! It was fun to put the beer to a face or the face to the beer.

The beer menu changes on a regular basis and it is ranked from lighter to darker brews, the lighter on the top.
The menu isn't huge, but what is on it, makes the mouth water. For some reason, I gravitated at first glance to the Bangers and Mash, but wanted to really look over the menu to make sure. In the meantime the waiter brought out the daily specials, which are available after 6pm or so. They all looked tasty, but it was the Bangers and Mash that I wanted. Flora opted for the Veggie Burger.

The Bangers and Mash, was very good. The sausages were juicy and delicious, sitting on top a bed of olive oil mashed potatoes, covered in caramelized onions and shiraz demi glace.

The Queen Vic's Veggie Burger is made from chick peas and mushrooms, topped with English cheddar cheese, housemade pickles, a tomato chutney that has a nice curry flavor on a hearty whole wheat bun served with "chips". Flora said that this was very good. She loved the flavors, the hint of curry with the chickpeas and cheese.

Oh yes, and we split a salad. Yes, split. The Queen's House Salad is big enough for two. It is a nice blend of fresh greens, tomato, avocado, purple onion, sesame seeds and topped off with a champagne vinaigrette.

Quote of the day: "[I recommend]… bread, meat, vegetables and beer."
-Sophocles' philosophy of a moderate diet

The Queen Vic - Pub and Kitchen
2712 Richmond Avenue
Houston, TX 77098

From the Queen Vic Web site: "The Queen Vic was created by owners/ Executive chefs Richard Di Virgilio (Rick) and his wife Shiva. This concept was dreamt up in summer of 2009 while visiting family in London. Their goal was to create another "foodie bar" comparable to Oporto food and wine bar, their first concept. This concept however will focus more on beer and artisanal cocktails. Rick and Shiva are both trained chefs and have a great deal of experience in running a profitable and organized business. They believe that empowering their employees will produce a joyous environment for both customers and employees. They work side by side with their employees, to ensure a top level of service and product.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Japanese Gardens, a vacation to remember....

and I never left Houston... mode of transportation, bicycle:  no lost luggage, long lines or cramped seats, plenty of leg room!!!! and all it cost was about 200 calories. Not bad.
Self-propelled transportation. Dependable, always runs on my time schedule and it is fun.
Clear blue skies, low humidity, a gentle breeze, a need to be outside prompted this trip. It could not have been a better day for it.  This Japanese Garden is inside of Hermann Park. It is free to the public. There used to be a fee. I remember going when it first opened. The plants were new, a lot of sun and not much shade back then. My, how everything  has grown. It was truly like being on a vacation. I feel relaxed and invigorated all at the same time.

Lovely shadows.

Birds and turtles.


Big Flowers

More birds

Big bird

Bridging the gap. A garden in the middle of a large city, impressive.

The sound of water running over rocks is ever present.

Meditation happens easily.

Squirrels, too.
Quote of the day: "In my hands, I hold a bowl of tea
I see all of nature represented in its green color
Closing my eyes, I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart
Silently drinking, I feel these become a part of me."
-Sen no Rikyu

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wheel me some chocolate....

if you please a nicely painted minivan.
"When art meets chocolate" from Nancy's card!!!

Chocolatier, Nancy Burke, enjoys her work and I can see why. It's art!!!! Chocolate style!
Nancy Burke, Chocolatier

Some pretty great creations came tumbling out of this rolling chocolate truck. I had the Violet: Creme de Violet and Absinthe and the Lemon Blueberry Goat Cheese chocolates.

So pretty, you kind of hate to eat it, NOT!!!! Too good not to eat!!

And yes, I ate them on the spot with chocolate orgasmic pride. Very good indeed.
Cupcakes, too.

This was the chocolate mousse pie with cream and cream cheese.

Rice Krispies Treats with Chocolate, of course. That will add a snap, crackle and pop to your day.

Quote of the day: "There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate." - Linda Grayson

Chocolate d'arte
1913 Summer Reel Drive
League City, TX 77573