Sunday, September 24, 2017

Watermark Hotel: Baton Rouge Boost


Watermark Hotel
150 3rd Avenue
Baton Rouge, LA 70801

By Jane Feehan

The Watermark Hotel joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection of boutique hotels in early 2017, a few months after historic flooding hit South Louisiana. Located in downtown Baton Rouge at the site of the old Louisiana Trust and Savings Bank (1927) the Watermark’s distinction lies in its stunning décor.  The touch of a master decorator can be seen everywhere, down to the table settings in The Gregory, its dining room named for New Orleans artist Angela Gregory. The magnificent entranceway or foyer pays homage to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 with face-to-face murals of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte, parties to that historic land transaction.

Elevator decor 
In its short history, the Watermark has attracted a loyal following that fills up the lobby bar (most uncomfortable bar stools, the only flawed decorative appointment) and its more comfortable sofa and chair seating areas. A choice of appetizers, small plates and burgers top visitor choices for casual get togethers. Special occasions and holidays draw local visitors to the more formal Gregory—an open room that flows into the bar. The chef works hard to please customers and will take suggestions. Staff will change up dishes at request. For a coffee shop setting with counter service, visit Milford’s on Third off the lobby. Over-sized sandwiches for about $10 command ooohs and ahhhs.

The rooms, as everything else, are beautiful, if not disparate in size and comfort, depending on the floor and location. I stayed in three different ones, different floors. A caveat: depending on festivities at a nearby park and the time of the year for mirth at the bars on Third Street, noise can be a problem into the wee hours. Get a room above the fourth floor (at least). Unfortunately, the best views of the Mississippi River are from rooms facing Third. Also, rooms vary widely in size. A corner room is ideal of course … and grand. My last room was a small one, which I have no problem with, but the window was covered to block sight of adjacent roofs, which I would have gladly taken over the block out pane.

Room with a pane (!) instead of a view
Parking runs about $20 a day but oftentimes street or lot parking is available for much less—something to keep in mind if planning a wedding or other occasion in one of the meeting rooms or for a long stay. There are plenty of places to walk to, including the river with its pleasant seating, the old Louisiana capitol building and one of the best restaurants in town, Strube’s. The Watermark Hotel does much for historic downtown Baton Rouge; it also gives the entire city some much-needed flair.

View of the Mississippi River from a room

Old Louisiana Capitol, now a museum

Tags: Marriott hotels, Marriott Autograph Collection, Baton Rouge hotels, Watermark Hotel, Louisiana travel, best hotel in Baton Rouge

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Principal, Staff, Students Help Each Other in Disaster Recovery - Louisiana

Teachers and parents collecting needed items
after the Louisiana flood

By Jane Feehan 

BATON ROUGE, La.—The flooding event of early August heightened first-day-of-school anxieties for many of the 700 students at Woodlawn Elementary School in Baton Rouge. Few had uniforms; floodwaters carried them away along with most or all of their possessions. Instead of looking forward to the first day in class, many children were left embarrassed about their circumstances.

But Woodlawn students, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, were not alone in their losses. Their principal, Janice Lindsey, and 12 of the school’s 44 teachers had sad flood stories to tell.

“My husband, three cats and I were rescued by boat,” said Lindsey who has served as principal for two years. Water rose from the yard to the steps of the house in about twenty minutes.” During the rescue, the cats and the principal went overboard. “I was pulled to safety, two of the cats swam to the carport and the third went up a tree and sat for a day and a half.” All are safe now, but Lindsey and her husband lost many of their belongings during the disaster.

There was more to think about than personal loss; the principal and her staff were determined to stay focused on the all-important first day of school. Going to school brought routine to everyone’s life. Routine was to serve as an important piece of the recovery process; it would be a beacon of order in their disaster-wrought chaos.

“We called each student to say ‘come in, uniforms are not required,’” said Lindsey.

Then 30-40 teachers and parents rolled up their sleeves and got to work supporting their school community. They helped their principal, other teachers and students at their water-logged homes in any way they could. And with assistance from neighboring Woodlawn Baptist Church, they obtained new uniforms for all—and then some.

 “They did such a good job raising awareness about the situation there were enough uniforms for all the students plus extras for another school,” said Lindsey who helped opened Woodlawn in 2009 when she was a teacher. 

When students arrived and saw many classmates and teachers—and even their principal—in the same situation, they were more at ease. Shared loss was to play an important role as they embarked upon an emotional rollercoaster.

For the first week of class most were in shock. The second week was about working to salvage what could be saved and to clean up some of the debris. Those first few weeks were punctuated by tearful breakdowns followed by firm resolutions to move ahead.

“We had to be gentle with students,” said Lindsey. “We assigned no major projects. All our activities had a positive focus.”

Homework was kept to a minimum. A guidance counselor was in place. In class, students were encouraged to express themselves by drawing emojis of their personal emotions or to show how they helped others. The sketches about helping others soon outnumbered those of personal loss. Links of the drawings were strung across classrooms to symbolize links of help.

Routine and positive focus serve as important steps in the recovery process of children in disasters. Both are recommended by a number of children-focused organizations working on the Louisiana recovery. In Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been working with federal partners, including the U.S. Department of Education, nongovernmental organizations, pediatric experts and external stakeholders to ensure the needs of children are considered and integrated into disaster related efforts initiated at the federal level. The work is underway and will continue for as long as it takes.

For children, losing possessions can include losing pets, a favorite toy or other cherished treasure. They may not understand why their parents want to dispose of what’s left of their belongings when they’re contaminated with dirty floodwater and mud.

“Children in disasters face different issues, but their recovery is important to the recovery success of the entire community,” said FEMA’s Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Tito Hernandez. “The community, federal family and FEMA must do what we can to help children in Louisiana affected by this flooding disaster. I applaud the terrific work of Ms. Lindsey and her Woodlawn Elementary staff.”

Useful Links

    • “Helping your Child Cope”
    • “Talking to Children about Disasters”
    • “How Children of Different Ages Respond to Disasters”
    • “How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning” and
    • “Flash Flood Recovery”
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network:
Tags: Disaster Recovery, Louisiana, Woodlawn Elementary School

Monday, May 30, 2016

Wonders of Oregon!

Mount Hood

By Jane Feehan 

I’ve had the good fortune to spend more than three months in this beautiful state. I’ve seen many of its sights and more remain on my list …

Some observations, tips and recommendations:

It rains here. A lot. Flowers and blooming trees command attention during the spring, and the landscape is the greenest you’ll see anywhere. When the sun shines, Oregonians get out and about. They’re impatient drivers through the narrow winding roads to the ocean and through the farm lands. Not a good thing for those taking in the view and suddenly find a tailgater at the bumper. Beware … even if you’re driving the speed limits.

A deer sighting from my hotel window in Salem
The rainy season abates in late spring. Some say summer really begins on July 5 when the rain stops. If you don’t mind the often-gentle rains, I suggest to get out and explore during the wet days. The roads and sights are less crowded. People hike on trails everywhere here, rain or shine. The landscape turns brown in some areas in the summer; I recommend a spring visit when flowers and trees burst with color.

Some farms grow flowers for markets and enthusiastic visitors willing to pick their own bouquets of iris, tulips and more. Oregon is also home to the grass seed capital of the world--Linn County, near Eugene.

The best strawberries you will ever taste come from Oregon. That can probably be said of many fruits and vegetables grown here.

Flower farms, stark and luscious scenery and easy-to-spot wildlife require you to be camera ready ...

What to see:

Mount Hood – Stop at Government Camp (1936-38 Works Project Administration construction) and its Timberline Lodge (the exterior was filmed for the movie, The Shining.) See the mountain up close and beautiful. It’s something to see or ski when draped in snow.

Cooper Spur Mountain Resort
About four miles from Government Camp lies the quiet Cooper Spur Mountain Resort. Great for weddings, reunions and just relaxing, Cooper Spur offers dining in a rustic setting and cabins for rent for a stay. See

Columbia River Gorge – Stunning. See it from the Vista House (built in 1917) on Historic Route 30 – off busy Route 84 (speed limit a dismaying 65 mph there along the Gorge).
Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls – Off Route 84 in the Gorge area. Beautiful, I hear, but difficult to get into with its lines of cars at peak hours on good weather days. I enjoyed Silver Falls, about 30 minutes out of Salem.

Vista House at the Gorge
Nearby is the town of Cascade Locks with lodging, gas stations, a few restaurants and a beautiful view of the Gorge. The Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge & Marine Park river cruise leaves from Portage Road. Food at the restaurant is terrible. The cruise, I’m sure, is much better.  

Town of Sisters on the way to Bend, the east Cascades. Loads of tourists in this village of fewer than 3,000. Most of the buildings look like new replicas of Wild West architecture. A little schmaltzy, a lot touristy, but fun.

Bend – a winter ski mecca at the edge of the high desert. Sophisticated and sunny, its downtown area offers a few good restaurants. Residents and visitors have a view of snow covered moutains. I highly recommend Drake—excellent food in this restaurant/pub and yes, you can dine with your dog outside. Two-hour free parking on the street behind Drake.

Smith Rock – About 20 miles from Bend. Do not miss. Amazing rocks and landscape and the 
Smith Rock
backdrop for a western movie or two. It's also a draw for hikers and rock climbers. Parking at this site is tough on holidays.

Lake Detroit and dam. On the western side of the Cascades along Route 22, on the way to and from Bend. Vacation housing, some lodging, lots of camping and fishing. A restaurant or two. Dazzling.
Lake Detroit

Canon Beach
North to central coast – Cannon Beach, Lincoln City and … a hiking trail with plenty of parking just north of Cannon Beach provides a spectacular vista of the ocean and coastal terrain. The Weather Channel liked a photo I took here and asked to use it. The jaw-dropping view, not this photographer, should be credited. The coast is chilly and windy most of the year. No highway to the sea but beautiful roads through farmlands and wine country.
Dunes near Florence and the Siuslaw River

Wineries – Oregon is home to Pinot Noir. Hundreds of wineries (more than 600 in the north) dot the landscape and welcome visitors (try Cherry Hill) for tastings. I don’t know how one manages tastings and drives home without a designated driver. Roads and Oregon police are tough.

View from path at Adobe Resort
Florence and surrounds  – Two hours and 10 minutes south of  Salem, Florence offers a slightly different landscape than points north. It’s near the 40-mle long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Sand dunes, not rocks claim the landscape. About 8,000 reside in Florence, a town popular with retirees and tourists who come for its Rhody or Rhododendron Festival in May. Rhodys—wild and cultivated—are ubiquitous here. Don’t miss its downtown and harbor, which reminds this writer of a New England seaside town. Friends-locals-took me to Adobe Resort in nearby Wachats where we sighted a whale and its calf from the dinning room. The patrons dashed to the window to watch the two frolicking there for quite a while. After dining, take a scenic walk on the hotel's short path along the ocean.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, 13 miles from Florence. This picturesque lighthouse is among the most photographed in the U.S. Visit and you’ll see why …
Heceta Head Lighthouse

Portland – Almost an afterthought. Traffic is miserable, parking is bad. And homeless youth are more than annoying; they’re aggressive and nasty. I feel safer in New York City. Visit Powell Books, in the Pearl District, a city landmark and among the world’s best book stores. (Portland is second in the U.S. for reading; Seattle ranks first, based on books sold in those cities.) They offer a parking garage (not free) adjacent to the store; it fills up early.

There's much more to see in Oregon ... stay tuned.

Lewis and Clark Expedition ...


Tags: Oregon sights, Oregon tourism, where to go in Oregon, Florence, whales, Smith Rock, OR, Lake Detroit, Bend, OR, travel writer, Columbia River Gorge

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fishing on foot with Steve Landcaptain Kantner

By Jane Feehan

In South Florida, I’ve visited all its fishing piers while growing up and was as intrigued by the activities of anglers on the boards as I was by the surrounding blue waters. Today, as a South Florida historian, I saw an opportunity to quench my interest in angling while learning a bit more about this area’s topography in reading Steve Kantner’s Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida on Foot. This book provided all that—and more.

A disclaimer: I am not an angler nor will ever be. But Kantner’s knowledge of these subtropical environs—the Everglades, canals, lakes, spillways, beaches, jetties, docks, and their ecosystemsimpresses anglers, tag-alongs and spectators like me.

Kantner's book is not only about the remote, secluded honey holes where he has guided both novice and expert fishing hopefuls but also about urban settings such as City of Oakland Park through which the natural Cherry Creek tributary runs. He considers this the “most pristine in-town waterway in all of South Florida.” Who knew. This is a must-read for anglers who call South Florida home.

The book also serves as a primer for anglers living near water in other parts of the state or country. He writes “current is what triggers the action” and it’s the “wave action that serves as catalyst for shoreline fishing." That's useful information for land or sea anglers nearly anywhere. Kantner, who has a biology degree, reveals where the places are, how to get there, where to park, what to bring, the species that inhabit each, what time to catch them and how. His book is also a trove of information about flies, lures, and rigging, some of which he's invented or developed and bear his name.

There’s something for everyone who loves South Florida in this guide. It’s well-written, informative, chock full of beautiful photos and more than anything, fascinating. Kantner cooks up a lot of what he catches. If only he could include his recipes in this tome ...

Tags: Fishing in South Florida, Steve Kantner, Landcaptain, Steve Landcaptain Kantner

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Table 57 at HEB: raising the bar for casual dining in Houston

Table 57@ HEB
5895 San Felipe, Houston 77057
Open daily for lunch and dinner; brunch on Sundays
Take out 

By Jane Feehan

It takes a bit of will power to grab a cart to shop for dinner at HEB when you know about Table 57, a casual restaurant with a beer and wine bar on the premises.  

Counter-order service may belie what’s ahead at this grocer-operated eatery: a hit parade of barbecued turkey, brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, chicken and other smoked Texas specialties or bistro-style sandwiches, spicy tostadas, classic salads, traditional or trendy burgers, prime beef sliders with brie, Korean fried chicken and an array of interesting palate pleasers.

There’s not much to describe as casual about the food. Take for example, a simple turkey burger. They transform it into majestic kitchen art. It’s delivered with an avocado kale mash, grilled red onion, solegiatti (slightly dried) tomatoes, feta, arugula and sunflower sprouts. Match it up (or not) with a side of sweet potato fries, eye-popping onion rings, the more exotic Tare-grilled okra, or German-style red cabbage and you’ll be talking about this meal for weeks.  

For more out-of-the-ordinary, there’s Korean Fried Chicken, a crispy fried half bird with a mild chili
Korean Fried Chicken
glaze, plated with kimchi mash and Asian braised greens. Sample Tuscan-grilled tuna atop cannellini beans and greens or the spinach, avocado and grapefruit salad. These dishes make it tough to believe this is grocery store dining.
Table 57 (named for the zip code in its address), offers barbeque by the plate or pound, smoked “with Texas Post oak for up to 13 hours,” a daily butcher’s cut featured on a chalk board at the counter, and small bites such as deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, fresh lobster salad or crispy Brussels sprouts. A hearty local beer or a decent wine is available to drink at the bar or to savor at a table.

Staff delivers food promptly, even during busy weekday lunch hours, and they get orders right. Several times I’ve asked them to omit an ingredient and each time it came as requested. The bar proves to be a friendly place to dine or to meet neighbors and new friends—despite uncomfortable bar stools and their struggle to pour even a half glass measure of wine (my only criticisms but it could be they don't want people to linger long). A live music lineup Friday evenings keeps the outdoor patio filled and patrons dancing.

With great food that includes mouth-watering desserts such as Texas Pecan Bread Pudding or Tres Leches, and a kids menu of hot dogs, mac n’ cheese, and chicken tenders, there’s little wonder so many would-be HEB shoppers never get past Table 57 …

Tags: HEB Grocery, Houston restaurants, Texas smoked barbeque, takeout food Houston Galleria. Tare-grilled, vegetarian-friendly in Houston

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Erawan, sad spin on "authentic Thai cuisine" - Houston Galleria

Authentic Thai Cuisine
Sage Plaza Shopping Center
5161 San Felipe, Houston 77056

Visualize a Sunday evening at prime dinner hour (about 7:15 p.m.) in a small, upscale shopping plaza with one restaurant abuzz with patrons and the eatery next door empty. I picked the empty one—Erawan.   

If I could see have seen from the outside that it was empty, I would not have entered but once inside the attractive establishment, I was hailed to sit down. OK, perhaps they do a bang-up takeout biz. But then a menu adorned with greasy finger prints was delivered, which is often a bad sign. It went downhill from there. 

Thawed-out-and-fried, dreary-tasting oversized spring rolls stuffed with shredded cabbage (and little else), accompanied by a thick, syrup-sweet, flourescent-pink bottled sauce proved to be a second warning salvo. 

The coup de grâce: what seemed to be a German interpretation of vegetable pad thai. By German, I refer to the heavy-handed use of vinegar with the noodles. That, and unappetizing chunks of tofu and a few, very few, sliced vegetables made for a nearly inedible mess. And where were the finely chopped peanuts? Not authentic Thai cuisine … not that evening anyway.

And nary a phone call or customer for takeout …and people waiting to get into the restaurant next door.

Tags: Thai restaurants in Houston Galleria, Houston restaurants, 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

True Foods Kitchen: Where healthy meets tasty in Houston

True Food Kitchen
1700 Post Oak Blvd., Ste 180 Houston, TX 77056
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; 
Saturday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Brunch Saturday and Sunday 
By Jane Feehan

At True Food Kitchen it’s not about tasteless bean sprouts—nor fatty fries and cheeseburgers—but healthy options for vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters and all those in between who like good food. That’s just about everyone.

Medical doctor, teacher and author Andrew Weil teamed up with Phoenix restaurateur Sam Fox a few years ago to develop restaurants (Houston was number nine) offering an anti-inflammatory dining concept. Inflammation, the result of a modern diet overloaded with sugar, saturated fats and processed foods, is blamed for a number of ailments including heart disease, several forms of cancer and even Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory approach to eating blends elements of Mediterranean and Asian diets with a Californian overlay of fresh ingredients and presentation. The True Foods menu embraces this philosophy offering whole grains (yes, even pizza) lean meat (try a turkey or bison burger), wild caught fish and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Kitchen wizards elevate health foods from dull to sparkling with healthful ginger, curry, and other worthy seasonings.

One of their most popular dishes, Red Chili Shrimp, sums up the True Kitchen approach.  An artful combination of shrimp, tossed with Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli), Shitake mushrooms and spinach over a bed of sesame noodles (a gluten free version also available) mildly accented with red chili spice could compete with dishes of a fine Thai eatery. 

Fellow diner ordered a light meal of a caramelized onion tart and salad of spinach, blueberry, beet, snap pea, cucumber, radish, goat cheese, and pistachio drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. More a flatbread presentation, the onion tart is complemented with thinly sliced fig.  Bursting with flavor, both plates deserve a curtain call.  Another diner sampled Turkey lasagna, not particularly savory or a good fit for the restaurant; it was recently (and wisely) removed from the menu. 

Only one of us wanted to venture into dessert nirvana with a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Replete with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, this confection was made to order and topped with oatmeal granola. Guiltless pleasure …

The menu offers a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks—all with a healthy yet flavorful spin. Patronized by a youngish crowd, and designed with high ceilings and open spaces, True Food Kitchen can get noisy at night, especially when the music is upped a few notches. A totally different fan club comes for takeout meals signaling hats off to their food if not the ambiance. If noise scares you away, dine outside or visit for lunch. Free parking is available and accessible from the front or the back of Boulevard Place, adjacent to Whole Foods.  (Post Oak and San Felipe)

Tags: Houston restaurants, Houston health food menu, Galleria area restaurants

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fort Lauderdale's Royal Pig Pub: Majestic fare

Royal Pig Pub
350 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Open: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-Midnight
          Friday/Saturday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
          Sunday Noon -11 p.m.

By Jane Feehan

Awesome: Royal Pig Pub. Atmospheric and handsome, if not typically pub-cozy, this eatery delivers creative, high quality, sophisticated food that sets the bar (no pun intended) for other SOFLA establishments that embrace the gastropub concept.

Executive Chef Stanton Bundy brings Texas and New Orleans influences to a menu that includes bounteous sandwiches, inspired salads and main course marvels. Consider the Free range Creole Chicken Club with cheddar cheese, a delicately fried and oh-so-tasty slice of avocado topped with chipotle aioli. Enthusiasm for this creation precluded relegating any to  a common Styrofoam
Free Range Creole Chicken Club
container for takeaway. Blasphemy. Down the hatch it went with most of a side of parmesan truffle fries. The same for dining companions blissfully munching on palate-teasing Prime Beef Sliders, and a BBQ Rotisserie Pulled Pork sandwich crowned with coleslaw spicy mustard, American cheese and a fried pickle. The Rotisserie Free Range Turkey Club, encased in cranberry walnut bread, topped with cranberry compote, Vermont cheddar, bacon and avocado, tasted like Thanksgiving on a bun … and ranks among the best sandwiches I’ve eaten.

The roster of main plates (served after 5 p.m.) include New Orleans inspired BBQ Shrimp, and Seafood Gumbo. Texas-influenced Rotisserie Ribs and prime steaks join Free Range Rotisserie Chicken, “Fish of the Moment” and tons more to accommodate any craving, any appetite. The Royal Pig Pub serves fabulous fare on many holidays. Wallet-friendly, this pub offers fine cocktails, excellent wines and craft beers. And yes, the service lives up to the food.
Sophisticated, airy and New Yorkish

Parking available on the street or in a nearby parking garage.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale pubs, gastropub, Las Olas restaurants