The Five Best Spots in Houston for Take-Out and a Picnic

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Photo courtesy Google Earth
Bring your burgers to Watonga Park in Garden Oaks, and soak up some sun.
What is up with this Spring?

Usually by this time of year we're all cranking up the ACs as high as they can go and wishing we had oxygen masks when we go outside so we could breathe a little easier in the hot soup-like air. But something weird is going on this year. It's actually still kind of nice outside. Of course, putting that in print is bound to jinx it, but while there's still a nice breeze happening and temperatures in the 75 to 85-degree range, I say we get out and soak it up.

Instead of slaving over the perfect picnic, though, why not let someone else do the work for you? Here are the best spots in town where you can get food to-go and dine al fresco.

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10 Best Things to Christen Your Grill With on Memorial Day (or Whenever)

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Photo by mccun934
Yes, you can grill peaches.
Memorial Day is just around the corner, and you know what that means -- it's grilling time. You might have used your grill here and there throughout the spring season, but as the summer months approach, get ready for back-to-back weekends (and even weeknights) of grilling your food.

Of course, you could start the grilling season by sizzling a nice juicy steak or simple beef patty for a burger on the grill, but why not get a bit creative and spice things up (literally and metaphorically). Here are ten foods you should throw on the grill to kick off grilling season.

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Beekeeping 101: Put on the White Suit & Head For the Hive, Honey

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Photos by Molly Dunn
Get up close and personal with bees at the Round Rock Honey Beekeeping Academy in Porter.
Sure, going to the beach or a water park is the typical and standard summer activity, but have you ever thought to sign up for a beekeeping class? Round Rock Honey Beekeeping Academy in Porter teaches you everything you need to know about beekeeping.

Konrad Bouffard, founder and Master Beekeeper, began these beekeeping classes in 2007 and now has several locations throughout the United States., mainly in Texas. He hopes to expand the academies to more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the U.K.

"There's a talk that we give at the beginning -- basic info, vocabulary, what to expect when you get into the yard, all the way up to the intricate parts of bee biology," Bouffard says, "communication of bees, how they make honey, how the annual cycle of a bee's life works and then from there we put on bee suits, open up a hive and break it down as much as possible."

Check out our slideshow on the beekeeping class.


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How To: Throw a Summer Outdoor Dinner Party

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petit hiboux
Follow these guidelines to host a wonderful outdoor dinner party this summer.
The unfortunate part about summer in Texas, more specifically in Houston, is that you want to go outside but it's just too dang hot to stay out there for more than five minutes without breaking into a sweat.

My family loves to grill during the summertime, and we love taking our food from the grill to the patio table. Sometimes the weather is our friend and we can stand the heat of not only the grill but also the season itself; however, most of the time the weather is our worst enemy.

But if you're still determined -- and why shouldn't you be? -- to throw an outdoor dinner party, or just an outdoor dinner, this summer, here are some tips on keeping the food fresh, you cool and your guests comfortable.

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The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Patios

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Photo by Jeff Balke
The patio at our No. 1 pick.
For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.

Nope, Tiny Boxwood's didn't make the list. Let's just get that out of the way right now. This awesome, pantsless kid notwithstanding.

That said, there are so many truly fabulous patios in Houston that it's difficult to limit the list to only ten. So this isn't a definitive list of the city's best patios for all time -- but rather a list of the places where I'm enjoying dining al fresco at the moment. I hope you will, too.

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Backyard Chickens and Fresh Eggs: Why You Should Have Both

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Patrise Shuttlesworth
The wizened cook of The Whistlestop Café, Sipsey, said about the local sheriff, "Oh it don't make no kind of sense. Big ol' ox like Grady won't sit next to a colored child. But he eats eggs- shoot right outta chicken's ass!" Grady, in Fried Green Tomatoes, may have been a little bit racist, but he knew the virtue of fresh eggs.

Americans, even urban ones, have been sidling up to the idea of growing their own food, sparked by a yen for better-tasting, healthier fare, food safety concerns, and economic necessity. With backyard gardens more common, the idea of backyard poultry has begun to sneak through the gate. This is a big step. I doubt there is a single country, besides ours, that views the city chicken as a complete aberration.

For us, many miles and many layers of plastic, Styrofoam and abstraction separate city dwellers from the places where their food is grown, so the sound of crowing and clucking has come as a shock. It also flies in the face of local ordinances, which vary widely from one state or municipality to the next. Houston's Municipal Code , for example, spells out the particulars of chicken ownership within city limits. It's not hard to meet the code requirements.

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10 Tips for Eating MREs, from a Pro

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The Beef Ravioli Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) was the best option on my post Hurricane Katrina menu.
Six years ago, citizens of the Gulf Coast were starting to understand the immediate implications of their world post Hurricane Katrina. Power had been out since the storm made landfall, which meant that refrigeration systems were inoperable, food was spoiling, and people were hungry. Eventually federal, local and volunteer aid agencies started to distribute cooked meals to those affected by the storm.

In the interim, the National Guard and police distributed MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) at filling stations and by Humvee. MREs are a full day's calories consisting of an entree, appetizer, dessert, beverage and accessories (i.e. a heater, condiments, gum and toilet paper) packaged in a waterproof vinyl pouch.

A deputy sheriff delivered two cases (12 per case) of MREs to Mom and me at her home in the dense, piney woods 20 minutes north of Lake Pontchartrain. It was finally time to take a break from our cans of cold Chef Boyardee ravioli.

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State Fair Fare: Checking Out the Competition in Minnesota

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foodanddrinkdigital.com
Big Tex, State Fair mascot who turns 59 this year, wears a 75 gallon hat and size 70 boots.
As soon as you walk through the gates of a state fair, whatever "diet" you may be on becomes null and void. If you're watching your carbs, trying to stay away from fried foods or cutting back on sweets, you may as well just stay home. Golden-battered goodies and chocolate-covered everything can be found around every corner, and most are served on sticks for your convenience. Forks? Psshhhttt. But a state fair is like the Louvre. Try as you might, you just can't see (or eat) everything in one day.

The State Fair of Texas, the largest in the country, kicks off in Dallas on the 30th of this month. Each year, food vendors compete for the Big Tex Choice Award, an honor bestowed upon only the tastiest and most creative edible inventions. With past winners like fried beer and fried butter, the bar is set pretty high. On Labor Day, the votes were tallied and the winners announced.

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The Drought War of 2011: 5 Tips for the Urban Garden

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bikeracer
The sun is angry.
Every day so far in August, we've watched the mercury climb over 100 degrees. Combined with the lack of rain, this summer has been brutal not only to us but also to our botanicals. My husband and I had planted our first urban garden this spring with the hopes of harvesting ingredients for some truly fresh home-cooked meals. Unfortunately, with the way the climate has been going this summer, we got little more than burnt tomatoes and dying lemons.

The scorching son has decided to prematurely dry our herbs for us, but we have no fresh fruits and vegetables with which to eat them--only wizened, half-dead stumps where vegetables used to be. This year, we'll attribute our brown thumbs to our status as unseasoned gardeners, but next year, I swear our garden will be a rainforest of vegetation--with or without that rain--thanks to these five gardening tips for when the sun is plenty but the rain runs scarce.

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Get Your Grill Face On: The Eating Our Words Memorial Day Contest

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Photo by Randy Robertson
Bonus points if you can get someone at your party to wear a hat just like this.
Many of you will no doubt be spending Memorial Day in a backyard somewhere -- maybe not even your own -- grilling and barbecuing the day away.

And since you're already going to be doing both of these activities, we want you to snap a photo of your festivities and send it in to us at hpcontest at houstonpress.com. We're holding a contest over Memorial Day Weekend to see who has the grandest grill set-up (or the baddest barbecue pit) and who has the most tantalizing tablescape.

A $50 gift card to Randall's, to stock up on more supplies for your next big party, will be awarded to the person who sends in the best grilling or barbecuing photo.

And another $50 gift card to Randall's will be awarded to the person who sends in the best photo of their Memorial Day dining or party setup.

Even if you don't win one of our grand prizes, your photos will be featured in our Memorial Day slideshow on Tuesday. Winners will also be announced on Tuesday, so make sure your photos are in to hpcontest at houstonpress.com by 6 p.m. on Monday, May 30.


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