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Alberto Lama Photography

John Nechman and Richie Ruiz waited 20 years to get married, but when they did, it was an affair to remember.

When the Supreme Court ruled last June that same sex couples could legally marry in Texas, John Nechman and Richi Ruiz didn't rush to the altar although they have been a couple for nearly 20 years. Nechman, an attorney who is a leader in the fight for LGBT rights (his law firm [http://www.lawkn.com/practice-areas/glbt-family-law/glbtlawrence-v-texas] was instrumental in challenging the Texas sodomy law which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in 2003), and Ruiz, an elementary school teacher, decided to wait until the day that had special meaning in their lives — February 21, 2016 — to tie the knot. It was on that day exactly two decades ago that they had started dating after Nechman wrote Ruiz a poem, which Ruiz still carries in his wallet. Their families and hundreds of friends took over El Real [http://elrealtexmex.com/]restaurant for the nuptials, which longtime activist Ray Hill called "the largest gay wedding in Houston." Afterwards, the happy couple and guests gathered in front of the restaurant for a group photograph.

Alberto Lama Photography
When the Supreme Court ruled last June that same sex couples could legally marry in Texas, John Nechman and Richi Ruiz didn't rush to the altar although they have been a couple for nearly 20 years. Nechman, an attorney who is a leader in the fight for LGBT rights (his law firm [http://www.lawkn.com/practice-areas/glbt-family-law/glbtlawrence-v-texas] was instrumental in challenging the Texas sodomy law which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in 2003), and Ruiz, an elementary school teacher, decided to wait until the day that had special meaning in their lives — February 21, 2016 — to tie the knot. It was on that day exactly two decades ago that they had started dating after Nechman wrote Ruiz a poem, which Ruiz still carries in his wallet. Their families and hundreds of friends took over El Real [http://elrealtexmex.com/]restaurant for the nuptials, which longtime activist Ray Hill called "the largest gay wedding in Houston." Afterwards, the happy couple and guests gathered in front of the restaurant for a group photograph.
Photo by Steven David

Fantasy fairytale weddings at Texas Renaissance Festival offer the royal touch with Old World ambience

Fairytale Weddings

For those who dream of a true fairytale wedding, the 16th century with lords and ladies, knights and nobles awaits you each fall, a short drive north of Houston at The Texas Renaissance Festival.

Photo by Steven David
For the bride who has always dreamed of a fairytale wedding, there is a place — not so far away — where kings and queens, lords and ladies and knights in shining armor await to make that dream come true. Each fall, young gents and their betrothed walk down the garden aisle at the Texas Renaissance Festival, [http://www.texrenfest.com] located about 50 miles northwest of Houston in Todd Mission, Texas, in a costumed storybook wedding carried out with Old World ambiance. Each Saturday and Sunday, October 8 through November 27, the festival hosts weddings [http://texrenfest.com/weddings/] with royal guard escorts, herald trumpeters, carriage rides and more depending on how much you wish to spend.
Photo by Chinh Phan/Fotowerk Group

Flash mob dancing, groom's rap serenade and traditions add up to the most fun wedding ever

Wedding Bash

At the outset, the wedding of Bethany Hartland and Matt Hibbetts looked fairly traditional. But that was before her 13 brothers and sisters got into the act.

Photo by Chinh Phan/Fotowerk Group
Romantic, playful and outrageously fun — the wedding of Bethany Hartland and Matt Hibbetts combined so many diverse elements that no one will ever forget that night. Think flash mob dancers, hoodies, rap tunes, margaritas and fajitas — and the white wedding dress, ceremony with priest, bridesmaids, groomsmen and the works. Matt says that he fell in love with Bethany the first day he met her when they were both working at Salient [http://www.salientpartners.com] and she popped her head into his office and said "What's up kid?" He never asked her out however, until she had landed a jobas a child life specialist at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital. One year later to the day of that first date, he proposed. It took at least that long for the Matt to meet Bethany's10 sisters and three brothers. Fast forward to Houston Oaks [http://www.houstonoaks.com/default.aspx?p=dynamicmodule&pageid=395390&ssid=317823&vnf=1] in Hockley where the wedding was held.
The New York Wedding Company

Catering trends to help you plan your wedding day celebration

Wedding Trends

If you're currently planning a wedding, then you know that making decisions about catering options for your guests is no simple task. Thanks to consumer service website Thumbtack, you can find out exactly what catering options are trending now with their 2016 Wedding Report, which compiled data from roughly 320,000 couples currently planning weddings.

One of the most noticeable catering trends this year is the increase in formal, seated wedding receptions, which 29 percent of couples are choosing in 2016 — up 7 percent from last year — and buffet catering is down from 82 percent in 2015 to 76 percent this year.

"This year we're seeing couples investing up to 20 percent more to create a memorable, classic affair," said Ashley Brasier, wedding director for Thumbtack. "The reception is the focus of this extra spending, with couples turning away from themed weddings and instead focusing on finer touches like formal plated dinners, laser-cut place settings, and bold floral choices."

As the popularity of formal receptions grows and couples are shying away from self-service receptions, requests for servers are up 25 percent and requests for bartenders are up 42 percent.

Couples are also upping the ante on cuisine choices as most are opting for Italian (38 percent) or formal American fare (35 percent).

"We're seeing a lot of couples request a full cocktail reception with hors d'oeuvres," says Heather Bublick, a senior certified wedding planner. "Passed apps all night means the party never stops. It's also an opportunity for couples to showcase foods that let their personalities shine through."

In fact, 25 percent of couples are choosing hors d'oeuvres for their wedding receptions this year. Other popular catering options include barbecue (25 percent), Mexican/Latin (19 percent), Mediterranean (14 percent), casual American (12 percent) and French (10 percent).

In addition to traditional reception fare, the report notes that "couples are increasingly looking to connect the cuisine offered at their wedding with their own heritage and family traditions, with many couples requesting that caterers recreate special family recipes."

As for wedding cakes, the report states that 80 percent of couples want traditional layered cakes and that they will be taller than ever this year with 57 percent of couples requesting three-layer cakes. Similarly, 21 percent of couples are choosing cakes with two layers and 15 percent with four layers. Cupcakes have also seen a spike in popularity with a 10 percent increase from last year.

According to a new report, more couples are shying away from self-service receptions and opting to use more servers and bartenders than ever before.

The New York Wedding Company
According to a new report, more couples are shying away from self-service receptions and opting to use more servers and bartenders than ever before.
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Here are the top 14 things to do in Houston this weekend

weekend event planner

This weekend gets jazzed up with the Broadway smash Chicago — starring a familiar Houston face — while Cirque du Soleil dazzles under the big top. Yet another cirque makes a splash with performances in 35,000 gallons of water.

A star-studded art show opens with iconic images of pop culture's biggest names, while a globally renowned troupe from Harlem dances into town. And is there anything better than ice cream for breakfast? (Read on.)

Enjoy; here are your best bets for the weekend.

Thursday, February 2

Holocaust Museum of Houston presents "The Life and Art of Alice Lok Cahana" opening reception

Artist and Holocaust survivor Alice Lok Cahana made a vow as she faced the horrors of Auschwitz, and later, the Bergen-Belsen camp - if she survived, she would not hate those who imprisoned her and those who murdered her family. Holocaust Museum Houston will celebrate Cahana (who died in 2017), not only as an artist, but as a devoted friend, loving mother and resilient survivor. Through Sunday, April 9. 6 pm.

Cirque du Soleil presents Kooza

A return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil, this traditional circus homage combines acrobatic performances and the art of clowning while exploring fear, identity, recognition, and power. The Innocent's journey brings him into contact with comic characters from an electrifying world full of surprises, thrills, audacity, and total involvement. Through Sunday, March 5. 7:30 pm (Noon, 3:30 & 7 pm Saturday; 1:30 & 4 pm Sunday).

Cirque Italia presents Water Circus

Cirque Italia presents their new show, featuring a stage that holds 35,000 gallons of water over which performers make dazzling moves, thrilling the audience with every feat. Cirque Italia has sought to bring a high-class experience to audiences all over the United States since its inception in 2012. This year will be no exception as they take you on an exhilarating expedition in search of a pirate’s booty. The event will be located in a tent in the parking lot of Houston Premium Outlets. 7:30 pm (1:30, 4:30 & 7:30 pm Saturday; 1:30 & 4:30 pm Sunday).

Friday, February 3

Truffle Masters Pre-Party at Central Market

DR Delicacy is slated to host their highly anticipated event, Truffle Masters. To mark the occasion, Houston chefs will take over the upstairs of Central Market to delight guests at this celebration of all things truffle. During the kick-off party, an assortment of wines and champagne will be served as guests sample bites that incorporate truffles. Participating chefs include Michelle Wallace (b’tween Sandwich Co.), Alex Au-Yeung (Phat Eatery), David Skinner (Eculent), Jassi Bindra (Amrina), and Joseph Geiskopf (Ciel), and more. 6:30 pm.

The History of YouGenious: Selected Stories and Acapella Songs

Come sit a spell and sip some BYOB alcohol as YouGenious (aka The Misfit of R&B) talks about how he became one of Houston’s most legendary, underground performance artists. (These are his words, BTW.) He will tell stories about his favorite performance antics, strip club encounters and lost loves. These are the tales that inspired the songs he’s been singing for the past 20 years (including his classic “Sex on a Spoon) and he will strip them down butt-bald-nekkid! 7 pm.

Performing Arts Houston presents Dance Theatre of Harlem

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company tours nationally and internationally, presenting a powerful vision for ballet in the 21st century. The 17-member, multi-ethnic company performs a forward-thinking repertoire that includes treasured classics, neoclassical works by George Balanchine and resident choreographer Robert Garland, as well as innovative contemporary works that use the language of ballet to celebrate African American culture. 7 pm (2 pm Saturday).

Theatre Under the Stars presents Chicago

20 years ago, the Miramax-produced film adaptation of the iconic Broadway musical won a bunch of Oscars. If you ever wanted to see the stage version, then here’s your chance. After 25 years, this is still the one musical with everything that makes Broadway shimmy-shake: a universal tale of fame, fortune, and all that jazz, with one show-stopping song after another and the most astonishing dancing you’ve ever seen. Through Sunday, February 12. 8 pm (2 & 8 pm Saturday; 2 & 7:30 pm Sunday).

Saturday, February 4

Jeni’s Ice Cream for Breakfast Day

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams will present their annual Ice Cream for Breakfast Day celebration. Last year's runaway hit flavor, Maple Soaked Pancakes, is returning for a limited time. The first 50 Splendid Rewards members will get a free, very limited Ice Cream for Breakfast Day mug. Visitors can also enter a giveaway for free ice cream for a year by taking a photo in your PJs at a Jeni’s shop, sharing it with the hashtag #icecreamforbreakfast, and tagging Jeni’s on social media.. 9 am.

Brave Little Company presents Grandpa's Garden

Meet Bebe and her grandpa, who’s a world champion gardener. If you’re ready to learn something new, he’ll teach you how to plant your own fruits and vegetables. But curious Bebe can’t stop wondering what’s in grandpa’s mysterious shed - and she needs your help to find the key. Bebe and her grandpa will explore the garden - and their own roots and legacy as African Americans - through song, senses, and stories. This musical will celebrate Black history through one family's story. 10 am and 1 pm.

Nicole Longnecker Gallery presents "ICONS KLINKO" opening reception

"ICONS KLINKO” will feature international photographer Markus Klinko. Klinko has photographed the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Naomi Campbell, and Iman. His editorial clients include Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, and Interview. Through Saturday, March 25. 4 pm.

14 Pews presents Carole King Home Again — Live in Central Park

This documentary presents the music icon’s triumphant, 1973 homecoming concert in Central Park, before an estimated audience of 100,000. The film presents the complete multi-camera 16mm footage filmed and recorded, but never before released. Alongside the complete performance footage is the behind-the-scenes story of King’s remarkable transformation from an in-demand staff songwriter to an iconic artist in her own right. 5 pm.

Sunday, February 5

The Modern Art Gallery and IYO Visuals present Southern Glory

The Modern Art Gallery (The MAG) and IYO Visuals present this collaborative exhibition, featuring more than 20 local and globally recognized visual artists. The exhibition will also serve as the grand opening exhibition for The MAG, a 23,000-square-foot contemporary art gallery located at GreenStreet, downtown Houston’s premier mixed-use district. The MAG aims to distinguish itself as an artist-first gallery concept, collaborating with artists and sharing their visionary work with local and global audiences. Through Friday, March 31. 11 am.

ReelAbilities: Houston Film and Arts Festival

ReelAbilities: Houston Film and Arts Festival, a free, city-wide festival that promotes inclusion and celebrates the lives, stories, and talents of people with disabilities, will offer a multi-faceted experience of art, music, speakers, and films that offer uplifting impressions for audiences about people living with disabilities. The ReelArt Opening Reception will take place this Sunday. Events take place at multiple locations; go to the festival website for more information. Through Thursday, February 23. 1 pm.

Main Street Theater presents Permanent Collection

African-American businessman Sterling North has been named the new director of the Morris Foundation. He soon discovers that this world-famous art collection includes several significant African sculptures tucked away in storage. His proposal to add them to the public galleries is opposed by the Foundation's long-time education director. Spurred on by a zealous local journalist, the clash quickly escalates to public accusations of racism and a bitter struggle for control of the collection. Through Sunday, March 5. 3 pm.

Thriving drive-thru salad restaurant freshens up Houston with first outpost and more on the way

salad news

A restaurant that sells salads via drive-thru has arrived in Houston. Salad and Go will open its first Houston-area location in Katy (5200 FM 1463) this Friday, February 3.

The Katy outpost will be followed by locations in Richmond (19110 West Bellfort Blvd.) on February 17 and League City (2590 E League City Parkway) on February 22. Salad and Go chose these location because they’re in rapidly growing areas, according to a release.

Founded in Arizona in 2013 by husband-and-wife Tony and Roushan Christofellis, Salad and Go serves salads, wraps, breakfast burritos, and soup along with beverages such as lemonade, tea, and cold brew. Price are affordable, with a basic salad that includes chicken or tofu costing less than $10. Steak and shrimp are available for an additional charge.

Signature dishes include familiar options such as Cobb, Caesar, and BBQ Ranch salad. Other options include a Thai salad, Buffalo chicken, and a "Sonoran," with mixed greens, poblanos, chickpeas, corn, pepitas, Pepper Jack, choice of protein, and more.

The restaurant is growing quickly across Texas. Since 2021, Salad and Go has opened more than 30 locations across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Overall, it plans to expand from 80 locations to 125 by the end of 2023.

Longtime Houston fast casual restaurant darts into The Woodlands with fresh new location

free sandwich friday

An enduring, Houston-based fast casual restaurant has arrived in The Woodlands. Café Express opened its new location at 3091 College Park Dr.

Created by Café Annie partners chef Robert Del Grande and restaurateur Lonnie Schiller (Schiller is also a CultureMap co-founder) after a trip to Europe, this Café Express location has a look that matches the recently-renovated River Oaks location. Details include European design elements and and a light fixture that spells out "The Woodlands."

“We’re honored to bring our European-inspired café menu to The Woodlands community,” Café Express Sarah McAloon said in a statement. “When we open a Café in a new neighborhood, our goal is to energize that community and create lifelong relationships.”

The new location also serves Café Express’ updated menu that includes additions such as tuna nicoise salad, Romesco chicken, and bavette steak with lemon-herb sauce. They join fan favorites like chicken deli salad, basil pesto chicken, and the signature condiment bar that includes olives and imported breadsticks.

Cafe Express bavette steak Get a steak at the new Cafe Express. Photo by Michael Anthony

Open for lunch and dinner daily, the restaurant offers online ordering and curbside pickup for speedy to-go orders. Family to-go packs offer entrees such as Mediterranean salmon and chicken pesto alfredo pasta in portions designed to feed four people.

Those who choose to dine-in will find a happy hour menu that’s served from 3-6 pm with drinks and bites priced around $5.

Café Express will celebrate its grand opening this Friday, February 3 with a free sandwich promotion. Available for dine-in only, diners may choose chicken salad, turkey Swiss, BLT, or tuna. Sides are available for an additional cost.

Cafe Express BLT Get a free BLT at Cafe Express on Friday.Photo by Michael Anthony

In addition to its Woodlands location, Cafe Express will debut a new location in Baybrook this summer. Overall, the restaurant plans to open 30 locations statewide by 2030.