• I've had to forgo $5 happy hour pizza at Benjy's[http://houston.culturemap.com/mapdetail/benjys-washington/] to jog up and downshills I never knew we had in Houston.
  • The routine at my primary boot camp is comprised of strength training drillsinterspersed with jogging sprints, all accompanied by a whole lot of "angry"yelling from our well-meaning instructor.
    Photo by Whitney Radley
  • So many people begin workout routines and boot camps around this time that I'mless likely to fall behind the jogging pack and become traumatized away fromexercise
    Photo by Shelby Hodge

I am admittedly not one for making New Year's resolutions or following other trendy social movements that set you up for failure. (God forbid I become a resexeciser!) So when I decided to start my workout regimen directly after the first of the year, it was purely and shamelessly because the numbers are on my side.

So many people begin workout routines and boot camps around this time that I'm less likely to fall behind the jogging pack and become traumatized away from exercise. And even though I'm the queen of excuses, I can't blame my aversion to outdoor workouts on the Houston heat if I begin during one of our warm winters.

How exactly does one go from the happy hour seats to the park trails at 6 p.m. every day? I’m still finding that out the hard way — here's what I've got so far:

  1. Telling anyone and everyone who would hear about it that I was starting a new workout routine so that they would hold me accountable (again, fear of shame works wonders).
  2. Accepting invitations to mixed workout classes with different groups of friends without double thinking it. Changing up routines and including a social element are proving to be key.
  3. Posting the heinous "ZOMG, this is workout day #1" picture on Facebook.
  4. Spending a good few hours or so (punctuated by impromptu dance routines) compiling a music playlist that will keep me jog-dancing the whole time.
  5. Reminding myself that it’s okay — necessary even — to slip up a few days or more.

The first few days forced me to leave the comfort of my brand new Temper-Pedic mattress pad at unforgivably early hours or forgo $5 happy hour pizza at Benjy's to jog up and downs hills I never knew we had in Houston.

I'm still wondering when my sore muscles will turn into strength and energy.

After about a week, I was merely following the routine and going through the motions instead of debating whether to workout that day. I'm hoping I'll get to the point where I'm actually excited to sweat my "beach wave blowout" into a ball of frizz, and I'm still wondering when my sore muscles will turn into strength and energy.

So far I've seen very little physical progress. I'm inclined to blame my workout-induced expanding appetite for the stagnant measurements. I've also read that beginning to exercise initially creates fluid retention, the body's natural response to preventing dehydration and to repair muscle damage.

Whatever the scientific explanation, working this hard and not seeing results is precisely when the social and financial commitments help keep you going and where the boot camp comes into serious play.

The routine at my primary boot camp is comprised of strength training drills interspersed with jogging sprints, all accompanied by a whole lot of "angry" yelling from our well-meaning instructor. Push-up and sit-up variations, run as fast as you can, do it all over again. Alternating cardio and strength training is a way to prevent plateaus and make your heart pump while keeping the muscles guessing.

It's a good routine that I couldn't have drawn up, and one that I wouldn't work through as fervently as I do if not for our drill sergeant. Still, he gets paid to chase us up hills, what most cultures would consider criminal. I'm just hoping it will pay off when I require less coffee and B12 vitamins to get me through the week.

The first few days are killer, and the morning after the first workout is absolute torture. (Remembering how to walk again requires active thinking because your legs have forgotten how to take turns and bend at the knees.) The good part is that looking forward to pre-workout laughs and post-workout dinners with friends will keep you going until it eventually feels less like an attack on your limbs and more like a part of your lifestyle.

The bigger task is beginning and committing to the new undertaking, the rest becomes habitual. It all starts with small steps, a solid plan and a really, really good playlist.

  • See more farm-raised and game meats on Houston menus, as Rainbow Lodge has doneso well for years and others have followed suit.
    Rainbow Lodge/Facebook
  • A seemingly endless list of new food trucks continue to open to the delight ofHoustonians who love the often clever, delicious and reasonably-priced farecreated by entrepreneurial chefs.
    Photo by Bethany Quillin
  • Look for more attention to be paid to bread, including housemade artisan breadand bread service like Chef Kevin Naderi offers at Roost.
    Photo by Billy Knox
  • Meatless: Chef Anita Jaisinghani’s Pondicheri brought the concept home in 2012.Shown here, the chef's beet and barley salad
  • Craft beers are all the rage, nationally as well as locally featuring Houstonbrewers St. Arnolds, Karbach, Buffalo Bayou and Eatzie Boys 8th Wonder Brewery.
    Photo by Darla Guillen

The 10 biggest food trends of 2013: Expect donuts, exotic meats, beer dessertsand plenty of surprises

In the pros' kitchen

Trends come and go, with fashion and with food, of course. With Houston’s culinary scene finally receiving national respect, look for the city's chefs to lead the way with their own interpretations of some projected trends for the New Year.

Researching while considering things I’ve seen and/or hope for, my list might actually be a wish-list as much as anything else, but these are the ones that resonated with me and one that I see already emerging or easily taking hold in Houston.

Food Trucks

Not to be deterred by the challenges of operating a food truck in our fair city (which is extremely difficult compared to other cities), a seemingly endless number of new food trucks continue to show up to the delight of Houstonians who love the often clever, delicious and reasonably-priced fare created by entrepreneurial chefs. Serving everything from Filipino, Korean, PB&J, waffles, burgers, grilled cheese and everything in between, there’s no stopping this trend.


Even hard-core carnivores are becoming hip to “meatless Monday,” not to mention eating kale. Chef Anita Jaisinghani’s Pondicheri brought the concept home in 2012.

Expect veggies to continue to move front and center with interesting new preparations for everything from root vegetables to the leafy green spigarello. And more vegetarian menu items in general — for everyone.

Game Meats

Seen as both a national and a local trend, we will see more farm-raised and wild game like alligator, venison, boar, rabbit, bison, elk on Houston menus, as Rainbow Lodge has done so well for years.


Yes, we love our Shipleys, but I can’t help but think Houston is ripe for a donut shop the likes of Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Doughnut Plant in Manhattan or Dough in Brooklyn (not that I’m obsessed with donuts when I’m traveling). Until then, look for donuts to appear on menus everywhere and watch for the Lance Fegan/Lee Ellis team to open their drive-thru donut/fried chicken shop in the Heights near Liberty Kitchen in 2013.


Popping up everywhere (pardon the pun), popcorn is at the top of numerous trend lists, for both savory and sweet applications. Apparently popcorn is the new crouton — how bad could that be?


Used to preserve and as a flavor element beyond the way we typically think of it (i.e., brisket or ribs). Consider vegetables, ice cream and even cocktails to include a smoky element in the coming year.


Pickling is the baby-step of fermenting, which grows living bacteria. Pickled vegetables have shown up as a stand-alone dish on menus like Down House in the Heights. Foods like kimchi and sauerkraut will continue to expand in popularity due to their unusual meld of umami and sour tastes.


Look for more attention to be paid to bread, including housemade bread and bread service like what Kevin Naderi offers at Roost, with bread especially created by Slow Dough Bread Co. and featuring a choice of spreads. Gluten-free breads should also become more available.

Smaller Portions/Family-Style Plates

Diners are seeking ways to try a variety of dishes and share their food while decreasing waste. While some Texans might wince at the thought of smaller portions, I’d encourage an open mind and thusly an appreciative palate.


Craft beers are all the rage, nationally as well as locally, with Houston brewers Saint Arnold, Karbach, Buffalo Bayou and Eatsie Boys 8th Wonder Brewery. The momentum should continue with beer showing up all over menus, including dessert.

  • Since everyone already wants stainless steel appliances, why not go for thatextreme industrial look? Many of these counters are created from recycled steel.
  • Granite is pretty, strong and heat resistant, and since it’s essentially a chunkof polished rock, every finished countertop will be one of a kind.
    Paramount Granite
  • Shown are samples of Elements by Durcon, offered through New Living. It'scomposed of Texas/Oklahoma quartz, recycled glass and resin — and it's extremelydurable.
    New Living/Facebook

A New Year's resolution for a more beautiful kitchen: Weighing in on countertopoptions

Stellar surfaces

I already exercise daily and eat lots of veggies, so when it comes to New Year's resolutions, I'm resolving in 2013 to get my home into shape — starting with replacing my tiled kitchen countertop.

This would seem like a an easy promise to myself to keep, but it turns out just selecting a new surface on which to cut those vegetables and place a toaster has become a maze of aesthetic, ecological and sometimes even political choices for a homeowner.

So after speaking with many a kitchen expert at some of the chain home improvement stores and getting a green building perspective from Jeff Kaplan and Fina Reisinger of the local green home store, New Living, I compiled a brief overview of the multitude of surfaces to choose from, if your own resolution involves a more beautiful kitchen.


Anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of HGTV knows that whether it's buying an ice fishing shack in Siberia or allowing identical twins to find and renovate your new home, the kitchen has got to have granite countertops.

Anyone who has watched more than 10 minutes of HGTV knows that the kitchen has got to have granite countertops.

Pros: Granite is pretty, strong and heat resistant, and since it's essentially a chunk of polished rock, every finished countertop will be one of a kind. There are an abundance of fabricators and kitchen showrooms in town, including the big home improvement stores, that sell and install granite. It's the counter king when it comes to resale value.

Cons: Natural stone countertops come in almost as many prices as colors, and you practically have to earn a doctorate in geology to appraise what that chosen slab of earth is worth. Since granite is mined throughout the world, it can be difficult for a socially or environmentally conscious buyer to know the labor and ecological practices of the place of origin. Granite is porous, so the surface has to be resealed every year. There's also the remote possibility that your beautiful kitchen rock is radioactive.

Engineered quartz

The pretty, pre-manufactured step-sister to granite, these countertops are created by mixing crushed quartz into a polymer resin. Since the products are manmade, they tend to look somewhat more uniform than granite, but do come in many colors and patterns.

Pros: The non-porous surface does not need to be resealed every year and it keeps bacteria from growing. Several brands like Caesarstone and Silestone tout their green credentials. Quartz surfaces are becoming much more prevalent and can be found at chain and independent home stores.

Cons: Depending on the brand and installer, quartz can be more expensive than granite and many not come in as many colors and patterns. Granite appears to be winning the beauty contest against quartz when home buyers are the judge.

Recycled glass

There are several different products that combine recycled materials, especially glass, with a resin or cement base. Eco countertops, one of the most readily available and therefore relatively affordable products, are created from recycled mirror, porcelain, glass, vitrified ash and resin.

If you're looking to buy locally and show that state pride with your choice of a countertop, Elements is a new brand out of Taylor, Tex., that mixes quartz with recycled glass. Unlike Eco, you're probably not going to be able to order this brand from Home Depot, but like all the resin surfaces, it never needs to be resealed.

TexStone is made in Houston with recycled Houston glass.

There are also several U.S. brands that mix recycled glass and cement to produce their surfaces. New Living's in-house brand, TexStone, is made in Houston with recycled Houston glass. Jeff Kaplan tells of one New Living client who went so far as to bring in his own saved beer bottles to be used in the creation of an extremely custom countertop.

Cons: These glass and cement mixed countertops can even beat the most exotic granite when it comes to pricing and it might be difficult to find local fabricators and installers. Cement is porous and so must be resealed regularly, much like natural stone. Some of the surfaces, like the ones by Vetrazzo, are so sparkling with color, you might feel the need to put a velvet rope around the perimeter, hang a "No Touching" sign and then build a completely new kitchen to do your actual cooking in.

Stainless steel

Since everyone already wants stainless steel appliances, why not go for that extreme industrial look? Many of these counters are created from recycled steel, and it's certainly durable, though it will scratch. They're great for helping to create the professional chef fantasy every time you cook.


For that most basic and beautiful of the natural looks, reclaimed wood and butcher block countertops are becoming more fashionable. They, of course, can be burned and stained and require regular sealing, but are arguably the most environmentally friendly surface of all.

And the rest

This list just scratches the scratch-resistant surface of kitchen possibilities. Recycled plastics, bamboo and even recycled paper can make functional, yet beautiful and unusual countertops. The biggest challenge is deciding which kind of surface is right for you and your kitchen — and the toaster.

Take the Sodium Swap Challenge: Reduce your salty habits for good in just 21days

New Year, New You

Exercise for an hour each day, limit reality TV time and cut alcohol intake in half? Let's not kid ourselves — it's less than two weeks in to the new year and we've already broken those lofty resolutions.

But the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have come up with one that we can get behind: The Sodium Swap Challenge, a program for reducing your salty habits for good in just 21 days.

Though it may seem like just a fleeting commitment, the organizations say that participants should be able to notice a difference in the taste of their food and in their overall health by the end of the month.

"To get started with the association's challenge, we ask that consumers get familiar with the food labels and nutrition facts for the foods they eat and track their sodium consumption over the first two days to get an idea of how much they are eating, which I'm sure will be surprising to many people," said Nathalie Sessions-Fye, registered and licensed dietitian and AHA volunteer.

Find more information here, and check out the chart below for fast facts on sodium.

  • Honest Company co-founder Jessica Alba wanted to provide parents with safe,sustainable and affordable products.
    Photo courtesy of We're A Big Deal
  • Build your own nutrition bar at Elementbars.com.
    Element Bars/Facebook
  • Greenling delivers fresh local produce to your home.
    Photo courtesy of Greenling
  • YumUniverse has free gluten-free, dairy-free and meat-free recipes.
  • Klutchclub is like the Birchbox of the health world.

5 websites to feed your health kick, from build-your-own energy bars toeco-friendly bath products

A healthy start

The start of a new year often inspires a renewed interest in wellness. And because we also value convenience, we turn to online resources that we can explore from the confines of our cozy home. From eco-friendly home and bath products to gluten-free meal plans, these five websites help us satisfy the the need for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

The Honest Company
Co-founders Jessica Alba and Christopher Gavigan started the Honest Company to provide parents with eco-friendly, affordable and safe home and baby products. Sign up for a Discovery Kit (free plus shipping) to give the goods a trial run, or shop the store for things like biodegradable and plant-based disposable diapers and organic bug spray. The Honest Company manufactures all of its own products and promises the highest health and sustainability standards.

Greenling supports local and sustainable farming and provides Texas residents with the highest quality foods, delivered straight to their homes. Here's how it works:

  1. Choose your products online.
  2. Greenling picks up the goods from local producers.
  3. Your box arrives on your doorstep.

Opt for the local box, which includes an assortment of produce, or a recipe kit tailored to diet meal plans and juices. The website also has recipes and information about the "farmer heroes."

This is more than a website for free recipes focused on delicious meat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free meals. Founder and recipe developer Heather Crosby sells eBooks — including meal plans, a holiday survival guide and a dairy-replacement guide — a three-month meal plan subscription and a lifetime subscription. When you sign up for life, you get access to the YU library of eBooks, and you receive meal plans, members-only discounts and more. Joining Crosby are other food and fitness experts, from trainers to chefs and drink enthusiasts.

Klutchclub is like the Birchbox of the health world. Subscribe for one, three or 12 months and receive a box filled with a variety of health and fitness products. There are different packages for men and women, but if you sign up for the Best of Box, items are gender-neutral. What's inside? Fitness DVDs, health bars, body butter, acai energy chews, blueberry juice and more.

Element Bars
On this website, you can build your own nutrition bar or granola. Select the core (chewy, crispy, oaty, datey, fruit and nut), then add fruit, nuts, sweets and boosts. As you pick the additions — from whey protein to apricots and almonds — the nutrition facts get tallied. For the cereal, choose from regular granola or gluten-free granola and add fruit, nuts and sweets. Once you customize your bar, create a name, order a box of 12 and wait for the goodness to arrive.

  • Anastasia Lash Genius Clear Waterproof TopCoat, Sport + Store Water Bottle andHerban Essentials Towelettes.

New year, new routine: Jump-start your fit lifestyle with these tiny trinketsthat make workouts fun

Fit in 2013

Here we go again. Another New Year, another slew of resolutions spanning food choices, exercise regimes, and various other valiant self-improvement initiatives. Tackling the weight loss front always tops my list of "to dos," and given this challenge appears annually, I gladly welcome any propaganda or accessory that tricks my brain into thinking this will be fun.

On that note, here's a list of three tiny trinkets to help jumpstart your newly found 2013 gym rat lifestyle.

Anastasia Lash Genius Clear Waterproof TopCoat

I fervently refuse to RSVP yes to the "wearing makeup to workout party," but for those rushing from work and without time to fully defragment, I understand that sometimes you cannot avoid it. Full disclosure, I've been there myself: Cue raccoon eyes during a heated Vinyasa class.

For my fellow ladies who wish to abolish the trails of mascara running down your face during sweat sessions, check out Anastasia Lash Genius Clear Waterproof TopCoat. Instantly making any mascara waterproof, brush this wondrous little wand over your previously coated lashes and enjoy clump-free eyelashes devoid of the terror from mid-class blackout eyes.

Sport + Store Water Bottle

Stop carrying plastic water bottles around and refilling them time after time after time. Do good for both Mother Earth and yourself out by picking up a Sport + Store Water Bottle, which not only will reduce waste from unnecessary disposable bottles, but also helps you stash your goods and stay hydrated all in one convenient container.

Now you can just carry a single item into the gym without having to haul an enormous bag for your wallet, keys, gym pass and water.

Herban Essentials Towelettes

Notice a funky smell while in downward dog on your yoga mat (or even on yourself)? Storing this dirty and ripe-smelling mat in your warm trunk only amplifies the issue. Whether it's your exercise equipment or your own bod that might not have time to hit the showers after getting a workout in, reach for an Herban Essential towelette to wipe out bacteria, germs and odor.

Available in lavender, lemon and peppermint scents, these easily portable wipes will also help invigorate your mood in case the endorphins aren't enough to get you through the rest of the day.

Good luck my friends, with achieving your healthy resolutions in 2013. What "toys" help you garner excitement for jumping into an exercise warrior?

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion seizes the awkward with mental health campaign

hot take

We all know Megan Thee Stallion is the baddest you-know-what of them all. She can share the stage with a fellow Houston queen (and still get choked up about it), make an ex-porn star quote her lyrics on social media, and even play a cartoon version of herself on a Netflix show.

But America’s favorite Hot Girl Coach also wants you and your friends to take care of each other mentally.

She recently joined the Seize the Awkward campaign to encourage young adults to reach out to their “strong” friends in a new PSA. In the video, Megan gets real about the pressures to be strong and the importance of peer-to-peer support. “No matter who you are,” she says in the video, “being vulnerable is what makes us whole.”

Seize the Awkward is a national campaign (first launched in 2018) that encourages young adults to start the conversation with friends about mental health. The campaign was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation in collaboration with the Ad Council.

With 76 percent of young adults turning to a peer for support in a time of crisis, how can more young adults join Megan and Seize the Awkward to get the conversation started?.

As Megan says in the PSA, you can visit SeizeTheAwkward.org and Megan’s website BadBitchesHaveBadDaysToo.com for more resources to check in on a friend. You can also follow @SeizeTheAwkward on Instagram.

Score free Shake Shack for one day only at juicy collab with charming Rice Village jeweler


Popular ear piercing barStuds made a name for itself by offering a customized piercing experience for those who aged out of places like Claire's but wanted an alternative to a tattoo parlor for piercings. With 19 locations nationwide, Studs offers a wide assortment of earrings that range from classic shapes, to huggies, flatbacks, and dangling charms.

Studs has once again added to their earring selection with their latest collaboration with Shake Shack. They created an adorably beefy earring to add to any burger lover's Earscape.

Studs and Shake Shack created a limited-edition Burger huggie earring and Earscape set. Photo by Studs

Retailing for $32, the limited edition Shake Shack burger huggie comes as a 14K gold-plated hoop with a loaded hamburger charm. Shoppers can opt for the $64 pair, but Studs is also currently offering a discount on the Shake Shack x Studs set. For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.

What's even better than cute earrings? Free Shake Shack! On Thursday, September 28th customers can enjoy free bites from Shake Shack while they shop the new Shake Shack Charm Huggie collection at Stud's Rice Village location.

For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.Photo by Studs

Shake Shack is known for their always made-to-order fare including ShackBurger, crinkle-cut fries, hand-spun shakes and their new Veggie Burger and non-dairy offerings.

Interested shoppers can RSVP here.

Studs Rice Village, 2567 Amherst St.; (832) 981-2869. RSVP here.

Pink-powered Barbie merch truck cruises into Houston on 'Dreamhouse Living Tour'

This Barbie Sells Merch

Hot on the heels — or wheels — of the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck comes another timely pink rolling shop for two Saturdays in October.

The Barbie Truck will stop in Friendswood and The Woodlands on its 2023 "Dreamhouse Living Tour," which celebrates the 60th anniversary of Barbie's ever more popular property, and will give visitors a chance to spice up their own homes.

Although this is all about the house, there are only a few homewares: things like coasters, glass tumblers, a glass mug, a throw blanket, and an "accessories cup." Visiting Barbies have more opportunities to take home wearable and on-the-go items like graphic tees, hoodies, and denim; a baseball cap; embroidered patches; and keychains.

Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living TourIt's a Barbie world in Houston.Photo courtesy of the Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Most people who have been awake and on social media in the past year have learned that Barbie's Dreamhouse has a more empowering history than many girls realized while orchestrating drama between the dolls.

A release announcing the arrival of the truck reminds fans (and detractors) that when the Dreamhouse came out, only a tenth of a percent of young women were independent homeowners, and states that someone buys a Dreamhouse every minute.

This year's Barbie truck tour should be in very high demand following the success of the 2023 movie.

Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Photo courtesy of the Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Dreamhouse aside, this is a dream ride.

The Barbie Truck will be in Friendswood on Saturday, October 21st, from 10 am to 7 pm at Baybrook Mall at the lawn near Gloria's. Arrive early in case of long lines.

The truck will then cruise to The Woodlands on Saturday, October 28th at The Woodlands Mall near Shake Shack from 10 am to 7 pm.

These Barbies will hit five other Texas cities on the tour:

  • September 30 – San Antonio
  • October 7 — Austin
  • October 14 — Laredo
  • November 4 — Plano (Dallas)
  • November 11 — Fort Worth

Follow along to see more stops on Instagram or Facebook.