Winter Weather Brings Ice to Houston But No Snow

The agave leaves are slick with ice from the sleet and rain that came during the pre-dawn hours.

The predicted snow didn’t come to Houston.  Having gone to bed even earlier than most work nights.  I woke up around 5, and the light from the streetlight outside showed no snow on the ground, nor even any white flakes coming down, so I jumped back into bed until it would be time to take Annie out.  Even by 7:30, she was somewhat hesitant to go out.  When I checked the outside temp of 26, I could understand her lack of enthusiasm.  (Still 26 is a bit better than the 21 that hit us early Wednesday morning, and the daytime high was just 35 yesterday.)

But we did go out, still no snow.  There were, however, small puddles on the patio.  Then when I looked up there was a sheen of ice covering the garage.  As I stepped out onto the grass, the ice-covered leaves crackled underfoot.

I felt a little guilty for not having to go into work on a Friday, but aside from my crunching the frosty leaves, it was still outside, no usual hum of the commuter traffic coming from 529.  “No need to feel guilty,” I thought.  I was no different than the so many others who had been told on Thursday not to come in on Friday.

Once I started nosing around the yard, I found that the bricks on the front fence were coated with ice.  From this, I knew that any bridges and overpasses would be covered too.  As I’ve now gotten back inside, I’ve found according to the Houston Chronicle, that is the case, and that there have been many accidents because of the icy roads.  I’m glad that I don’t have to get out there and make my way to work.

I know those from the more northern climes might think us somewhat wimpy when we get a bit of actual winter weather.  However, with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles out there crowding the freeways on a regular workday morning, ice-covered roads could create complete havoc.  Even with the much lighter traffic,  the Chronicle says there have been more than 100 accidents already, one of them a 10-car pileup on 290, which is one leg of my normal morning drive.

I do feel a bit like I’m playing hookie.  No matter,  I’m going to grind some beans to make coffee and make a real breakfast, then enjoy the rest of a leisurely morning.

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View from the Suburbs: Quest for the Best Mexican Restaurant

Discovery of the weekend--Tostada Regia--on N. Gessner, Houston, Texas

If Prilosec is doing its job, Mexican food is my favorite, and when I lived “in town”, I’d get my fix about once a week.

My FFMP (forever favorite Mexican place) in Houston is El Paraiso, right in the heart of Montrose, on Fairview.  I started going there not long after I moved into Montrose in 1984.  Even through all these years, the great quality and homecooked taste of the food have never changed.  There’s even one waitress who has worked there since the days when I started eating at El Paraiso, and she still looks the same as she did “back in the day”.  It’s a favorite of business people and other workers for lunches, but starting later in the afternoons, every “type” of person you might encounter in Montrose might be represented among the clientele, and the atmosphere is one of the friendliest around.

When I moved near Memorial Park, I soon discovered El Rey at the corner of Washington and Shepherd.  Though the small interior can get crowded, nothing can beat going through the drive thru for either tacos al pastor or una torta.   Even jostled around in a styrofoam box, the portions are large and delicious.  El Rey’s frijoles a la charra are some of the best.  Since I moved out this way, there’s an empty lot about a mile away that says, “El Rey–Coming Soon”.  I keep wondering, “How soon?”

For the most part, I’ve been eating at home since I moved out here to the ‘burbs.  My kitchen is spacious, and I find that usually I’d rather make something for myself instead of going out.  There’s most every kind of fast food place and a wide variety of ethnic restaurants within a very short drive.  Even so, I haven’t ventured much beyond McDonald’s and a couple of Chinese buffets.

But for about the last month, I’ve been needing my fix of Mexican food.  Even though I’ve made some myself, it’s just not the same.  There’s every type of Mexican food place that one might imagine, from the mobile stands to chain restaurants.  With my taste buds hankering for some flavor, I’ve decided I have to try one new place every week.

There are several Mexican places right near the corner of Eldridge Road and S. H. 529, all in the strip centers that line that corner. I’ve tried two so far, Taqueria El Monarcha and Lupita’s Restaurant, both of which advertise themselves as estilo Michoacan.

First, I tried Taqueria El Monarcha.  Despite being in a storefront building, the place has a bit of character and the staff were attentive.  I ordered asado de puerco (roasted pork).  The meat came in the form of small pieces of meat, cooked almost to the point of being burnt, but were just crunchy and delicious.  The plate came with plenty of hot tortillas, good portions of refried beans and rice, and lettuce and tomato for any tacos you might roll up.  Ten bucks, including a tip, and I was out the door.  The food is good, but the back room, which might feel a bit cozier than the dinette style front, was filled with a family birthday party.

About a week later, I tried Lupita’s Restaurant.  Granted, it was long after lunchtime mid-week, but based on my experience, I won’t go back.  First, upon entering, there wasn’t the expected smell of spicy Mexican food, but just the odor of Pine-sol.   There was only one other customer in the bright, but sterile dining area.  The lone waitress seemed unsure of herself, somewhat hesitant to wait on this “gringo”.  I ordered carne guisada (stewed beef).  El Paraiso’s carne guisada has always been the gold standard for me; their version is simple but so good–nicely cooked chunks of meat covered in the thick gravy it has been cooking in.  Lupita’s carne guisada came floating in a dark red sauce, which I think was made from chile poblanos. I’m usually OK with dishes made with these chiles, but this tasted something like a soup made with chile powder.   The red sauce that came with the chips tasted very similar.  On the other hand, the green sauce was bright and delicious.  I can’t finish with Lupita’s without mentioning “the entertainment”.  Like El Monarcha and other taquerias, Lupita’s has two big screen TVs, but the court-type show in Spanish that was on while I was eating my meal was more disgusting than a Jerry Springer dream.  Obviously, the participants and the case were fake, but supposedly, these two 20-something girls had masturbated this rancher’s stallions in order to get the semen to use as face cream for themselves and to sell in spas–and all the details were included.

Today, I was out running errands, and by 1 o’clock, the toast and coffee I had while paying bills were long forgotten.  I decided to try one of the many restaurants along Gessner, north of I-10.  N. Gessner here in the part of Houston known as Spring Branch, and it’s peppered with Hispanic and Korean restaurants and shops as well as some Vietnamese noodle places.  These are all mixed together with the typical American Baskin ‘n Robbins, brake mechanics, donut shops, and Walgreens.

I took a chance and stopped at Tostada Regia, which had caught my attention other times when I had passed by.  I was hungry and this place was the right choice to satiate my appetite.  I ordered tostada ranchera, but first came a large basket of chips and three dishes of salsa: a very good green one, a spicy cooked red, and then a pink one, which the waiter told me was a habanero salsa.  It was hot, but no hotter than the red.  My order came quickly, and the plate held this very large tostada–7-8 inches–with a crispy flat tortilla on both the top and bottom, filled with shredded chicken, lettuce, onion, and Mexican-style sour cream.  I added the green sauce to it, and I couldn’t stop eating it.  Not to mention, on the side, there was a cup of  delicious chicken caldo with rice.

Tostada Regia has a comfortable atmosphere.  With the attentive staff ready at the waiting to serve more tea and water and the rustic wooden tables and benches, it reminds me of the old La Jalisciense that used to me on Montrose near West Gray.  The restaurant had customers coming and going, though, not quite the diverse crowd that could be found at La Jalisciense.   That doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter that Tostada Regia is not quite in my vecindad;  it’s close enough that I’ll go back when I’m out running errands or just when I need “a fix” of good Mexican food.

View from the Suburbs: “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow” After the Rains Came Through? Check Out the Rainfall Amounts and Other Houston Weather

 

The beans were complaining after the rain, but the kitschy chickens didn't even squawk. (5-15-10)

During my drive home last evening, the dark clouds only got more ominous on my Friday evening drive to the northwest.  I was hoping to at least pick up my mail and get Annie outside before the rain started, but the first drops started coming down with a couple of miles still to go.  There were just sprinkles coming down when I finally got into the house, but the thunder was already going and Annie had to be coaxed to go out evening after waiting so many hours.

A garden and a rain guage go together like apple pie and ice cream!

The heavy rain started falling around six o’clock, and half of the 2.60 inches of rain (now almost 3 inches including the slower rain that fell from about 10 AM to 2 PM today) that my rain guage shows (near S.H. 529 and Huffmeister) fell within the first hour.  (I headed out to check between showers.)  The amounts seemed to vary quite a bit across the county from about a half inch to almost 5 inches.  (Take a look at the Harris County HS & EM Rainfall Map via the link on this blog’s right sidebar.  It’s a cool reference map, and updates quickly even as the rain is falling.)

The garden was in somewhat of a disarray after so much rain pouring down heavily in a short period; however, nothing was really damaged that much.  Most of the beans, which had been growing tall and gangly, had been pushed over and some of the leaves were matted into the muddy soil.  A couple of the tomato plants also had to be righted again and restaked, but for the most part, everything looked happy to have real rainwater after nearly a month with nothing but the stuff from the hose.

Though the garden is small and the soil not the best, I’ve already picked a few radishes, some green onions, and yesterday morning, the first tomato, which is from a plant that I had stuck into a container, before I had even thought about actually having a garden plot.

It looks as if the heavy rains might not be over with a 70% chance for rain today (Saturday, May 15th) along with a flood watch and some rain predicted every day for awhile.  Here’s the forecast for our neck of the woods (You just gotta love weather lingo!):

Friday, May 21st: Partly sunny, with a high near 90. South wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Friday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 74. South wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90. South southeast wind between 5 and 15 mph.

Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 75.

Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 73.

Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 90.

Monday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 70.

View from Suburbia: Thrustmaster, the Yellow Gate, and Garage Culture

One of the signs along my way home, photoshopped, the way my imagination does it every day.

Fifteen minutes was about all that it used to take for me to get home from work, and after checking the mail and changing clothes, Annie and I’d take our walk, sometimes making a circuit to the edges of Memorial Park, but more often than not, just to “our” little Camp Logan Park, where we’d meet up with friends of both the human and canine kind.  I’d often drop my little digital camera into my pocket and take shots of flowers or interesting bits of architecture, signs, or anything else that caught my eye along the way.  The yellow metal gate at a house just down the street was one of my favorite points of interest.

Yeah, so? Maybe the commute does make my mind go a bit far afield. But what really goes on inside a place called "Thrustmaster"?

Now, most of the first hour after I head out my office is spent wending my way home on a mish-mash of freeways and roads in front of, behind, and alongside the thousands of other Houston commuters performing that same daily ritual.  As I get closer to home, the  small, mostly petroleum-related industries along 529  help stimulate my imagination, because the radio certainly doesn’t.  I have thought for a long time that Houston has the worst selection of radio stations anywhere in the U.S. and my drive home has only proven it.

Once home, I’m greeted by Annie, she runs out to the backyard to perform some of her daily rituals, and then we’re off for our evening walk.  First, we’re off to the communal mailbox around the corner to see what bills and advertisements there are (some expected some not, but there are sure to be some every day).

Once we see that nothing too unexpected has arrived in the mail, we start off on our walk around the neighborhood, sub-division, I guess some would say.  I like my neighborhood, especially my little cul-de-sac street and the next couple of ones which have large, mature trees and a nice homey feel.  But soon after we leave our street, the houses become newer and the large trees fewer.  Unlike in the old neighborhood in town, there’s no real park to head for; there is a kids’ play area on the far side of the sub-division, which can serve as a destination, but nothing much that would be worth taking photos of.

In reality, our neighborhood feels like it’s surrounded by a moat.  Driving out of it is no problem, but walking is another matter because the major streets on either side have big ditches next to them with no sidewalks, and the other two sides have high wooden security fences.  I suppose this is the way the developers designed this sub-division (and when I start paying attention, I realize it’s the same for many others), so even though there’s a Walgreen’s and other small businesses and services no more than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not that easy to get there on foot.  Adjacent to the sub-division are an elementary school, a junior high, and a parochial school, but because of the ditches, kids can’t really walk to them.

Likewise, when Annie and I continue on our evening walk, we’re limited.  Consequently, we take almost the same one or two paths every night, and while the houses aren’t as cookie-cutter as in some suburbs, there aren’t many interesting features like yellow gates.  Our walk, though, does give us some exercise and time to smell and think.  She does more of the smelling than I do.  Hopefully, I do more of the thinking.

Suburbia definitely has a different lifestyle.  One thing I’ve noticed here is people and their garages.  When I lived near Memorial Park, though I lived in an apartment, the people I met at the dog park generally lived in the surrounding townhouses, which, of course, had garages.  I’d hear stories about how someone had left a garage door open for a few minutes, and during that short time, bicycles or other items had been stolen.  Therefore, most of time, unless a car was going in or out or perhaps was being washed in the driveway, garage doors were kept closed.  Even when they were open, what I noticed, but hadn’t given much thought too before, was that aside from cars and maybe a few stored boxes and other items, the garages in my old neighborhood basically were used for keeping the cars.

And that was one of the big reasons I wanted a house–to have a garage to keep my car out of the elements and in a more secure place.

But here in suburbia, the garage is part of the life.  It seems as if there is almost a garage culture.  For one thing, people here must feel much safer.  When Annie and I walk, we see many garages left wide open, sometimes with cars inside but more often not.  These garages appear to be used not primarily for car storage, but as some type of game room or party room.  What struck me the most is how many of these open garages have TVs–big TVs– in them, which are almost always turned on, whether anybody is around or not.  Not that it’s just the TVs.  There are bars and recliners and other such items that add to this party room element.  One garage has a glass door into the rest of the house and another has an entire dining room set up.  Perhaps some of these garages are being used as “the man room”.  I have to laugh at that.  I’m wondering if any gay guys have ever felt the need to have a “man room”.  I mean whether you’re single or attached, if you’re gay, every room in your apartment or house is yours, you don’t have to escape, so is there any need to have a “man room”?  And then again,  if there were a need, what would be in it?  I’m just saying.

All of this “garage culture” has been a sort of revelation to me, a former apartment dweller, who only wanted a garage for a place to keep the car and as a place to putter and paint.  I had to ask myself if I was being nosy giving so much attention to what people in my neighborhood have in their garages, but in the end, I decided that I was just noticing what there was to notice, because when the neighborhood “moats” limit how far you can walk and when there aren’t any attractions like yellow metal gates, you notice what there is to notice.