I know it seems like civilization is falling to pieces, and that we cannot agree on anything, and that uncertainty can fill up a little too much real estate in your head.
And that even though Houston seems far away from Paris and Beirut and Tel Aviv, that things are so terrible all over, and that perhaps more turmoil is heading our way. It seems that chaos and pain are as close as a television, or a radio, because in a way, they are.
But sometimes, you can have an adventure, take a break from the debates in our heads, and allow the people who are doing good take center stage, distract you from the tragic, take your breath away. Fate can lead you upward—it does not always bring you to your knees.
This is what happened to me, in November, when so much pain was in Paris, Beirut, Tel Aviv, well, all over.
So first of all, the weather sent us a message: that it can be cloudless and sunny and 65 in November, a reminder that we can’t mess up everything here on earth. Sometimes, things are gorgeous and fantastic and we haven’t done a thing to deserve it. But we are grateful for the gift.
So I turned off the talking heads, turned off my radio, accepted an invitation to remember that while terrorists get so much press, there are quiet deeds going on all around us in Houston, Texas, America, and we need to make sure those get enough air time to sustain us, let us breathe.
I had gotten an invitation from Kerr Taylor to attend a benefit at The Houstonian for his charity, Pathways for Little Feet. They provide financial assistance to parents who want to adopt orphans, and they have helped well over 300 children find homes and are already committed to helping many more. Kerr and his wife, Jill, adopted a daughter from Russia, and were inspired by a young boy they met who was not adopted (“he had a look that said, ‘what about me?’”) to help other children find families.
When I realized that Kerr and Jill Taylor had been doing this for about a decade, I thought about the images of refugees we have seen this week, the tumult of war, the wages of conflict. But children need homes in times of peace and war, and I marveled at how the Taylors went for the jugular, and realized that money was the number one reason that adoptions could often not be completed. By offering no-interest loans to potential parents, the Taylors and Pathways for Little Feet does something we need more of: making the seemingly impossible possible.
I get caught in traffic, fear I will be too late, but then I am not—things turn around. I walk into the beautiful Houstonian, a place where I interviewed David McCullough on how he writes about people who “don’t quit,” met Jackie Collins, who was beautiful and gracious, there to promote literacy for the Barbara Bush foundation she was reading for that night. She did this even as she was suffering from cancer, before she died. I find the place inspiring—and there is nowhere quite like it in Texas.
When I do arrive, things are busy. I am looking for my friend, William Stubbs, the designer who has been in Architectural Digest many times, does many charity events for Houston. He in on the board of Pathways, has already donated hosting a fancy dinner for the silent auction. He has been in Los Angeles this morning, but doesn’t miss this evening—he is all on board with this cause. You can see why: we have so many issues that divide us, but no matter where you fall on the political or religious spectrum, who is against adoption? Try no one. Like art, certain causes bring us together rather than driving us apart. We need to focus on more of these issues that ease rather than create tension: adoption, literacy, safety.
So many of my friends are extremists—both liberal and conservative—that is part of the political and cultural diversity of Texas. So it makes me deliriously happy thinking of all them attending a pro-adoption rally and using their considerable rhetorical skills agreeing with each other. When something is good for everyone, it is exhilarating to figure out how to accomplish it instead of being stuck in the pothole of conflict. Then you just feel, well, stuck.
The person honored that night for raising so much money for Pathways for Little Feet is Fran Fauntleroy—about five feet tall, but a force of nature. When she accepts her flowers and gift, the first thing she does is deflect credit away from herself and to the Lord. In a culture obsessed with self-congratulation (how many award shows for music and acting do we really need?) it is inspiring to watch someone who has given so much be utterly and entirely modest about it.
Here was the entertainment—my favorite kind! Yes, food.
The evening was called “Little Plates for Little Feet” and now is the time where I pretend to be a food critic just because I have a key board. Yay me. (You should know that once I went for an entire year without watching a film until I took my son to see “Maleficent” with Angie Jolie, and then I wrote about it as if I were Pauline Kael or something.)
Above, the best chefs in Houston.
So the set up is the best chefs in HOUSTON, (which, if you have not heard, is being touted as being the best city for food now by the likes of the New York Times and other big-deal news outlets, mainly because they actually travelled to Houston and ate the food, and VOILA we are getting the recognition that we already so richly deserved) prepare their best appetizers and/or desserts, and sometimes, luckily, both.
Live vicariously through me: I go by the Mark’s American Cuisine station, and there is Mark Cox! I kid you not. I didn’t even have to contact his publicist—he is right there! He has duck carnitas, no lie. I think how this is a charity event, and although I am all pepped up about adoption, I really don’t want to share his shrimp sausage either. Yay me because you just eat it, experience nirvana, and then on to the next one. You have to go to all of them because the event planner wants you to vote for the best dishes, and it would not be fair not to try everything, amirite?
Then there is Neal Cox (are he and Mark Cox related? I need a fact checker! But, I am busy eating.) He and his team including pasty chef Catherine Rodriquez, offer jalapeno bacon wrapped quail and this dreamy Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with apricot, honey cremeaux (which is dremeaux) and some kind of almond element and the only reason I did not die of sheer happiness is because I had to try the Southern Oyster Stew at Brennan’s, which was also deliceaux—thank you, Danny Trace!
The winner for most unique I think ends up being the Bison Slider from Kiran’s, and I was able to tell Kiran Verma that the sweet hot tea at Kiran’s is also amazing and you don’t see Bison Sliders every day so if they did not get most unique I demand a recount! Also, I don’t think something is MOST UNIQUE but just “unique”; however, who cares? Unique is good.
David Denis of Le Mistal is there and I want to have an entire conversation with him about Paris—how does he feel about everything? I want to tell him that Paris is beloved by those who have been there—not just Hemingway and his ‘moveable feast,” but by anyone with a pulse who has seen those lights, looked up at that tower, walked the streets, sat in the cafes, breathed the air. It is also beloved by those who have not been: the Paris in our collective heads, the wish for experience that covers everything at once: art, music, nature, food, wine, love, life. But, I don’t: he is busy serving exquisite ravioli, and some delicious dessert criminally named “smores” (but trust me I have had a real “smore” camping with cub scouts and I assure you this is not it but something ethereal and way better and in need of another name—just sayin.’) I mean, vraiment!!
Uchi’s Kaz Edwards has pork belly and delicious ocean trout, Mark Holley wins a big vote from the crowd for peanut soup, crab and kimchi rolls, and the best coconut cake I have ever had in my life, and I am no rookie.
Junnajet Hurapan of Songkran offers short ribs and lettuce wraps while Micheal Pellegrino of Anejo has the most beautiful ceviche nachos and now I am pretty sure I want all ceviche to be served in nacho form from now until, well, eternity.
Omar Pereney also offers black ceviche, which I have never had before, and pumpkin cheesecake, with which I am intimately familiar, except his is better, and just forget whatever you were going to make for Thanksgiving, and get thee to Peska for some pumpkin cheesecake: I promise you will be extra thankful.
The Mockingbird Bistro’s John Sheely surprised everyone with lamb sliders with the best BBQ pork crostini ever made in the history of Houston. That is all. And Claire Smith (how does she do it?) represented Shade AND Canopy AND Woodbar with spicy ginger crab salad and some nirvana-inducing mini-duck confit banh mi dish, and I am not really a duck person or I wasn’t but maybe I should be okay I am now.
So as you can see, this was an embarrassment of riches and if all these chefs from all over Houston, which feels like all over the world, can all cook so exquisitely for Pathways for Little Feet, then maybe we CAN INDEED find pathways that we can all agree on, some of the time, some days, and fight the divisions that keep us from finding our place in this world, exercising the freedom that allows us to create the next new thing, whether it is a succulent, life changing dish, or a comforting, family changing addition of a person who needs a parent and a home, and the joie de vivre that the French may have invented, but they have shared with us, in both example and in what their gift of the Statue of Liberty represents, reminding us to value our freedom, choose life and liberty, protect those who need it the most.
Once more thing: I had not met Kerr and Jill Taylor until this event, but when I did and they realized that I taught at Houston Baptist University, they asked me if I knew a student who sang like an angel, was amazing at tennis, grew up in Houston, and was friends with their daughter.
I know this seems like a long shot, maybe even a miracle, but I did. She sits on the front row of my Great Texts class, just got back from a singing competition, is doing great in every category of life you can possibly imagine.
She too, was adopted. Her name? “Hope.”