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Dallas Theater Center Takes Us All the Way (With LBJ)

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Dallas Theater Center
Shawn Hamilton, Brandon Potter. Photo by Karen Almond

Last Saturday night’s official opening of All the Way, written by Pulitzer-Prize winner Robert Schenkkan, drew a large crowd (including the playwright) to the Wyly Theatre. Directed by Dallas Theater Center’s artistic director Kevin Moriarty, the co-production with Houston’s Alley Theatre had already received outstanding reviews in that city.

The Houston Chronicle proclaimed All the Way a “fascinating portrait” of the Texas politician. Thrust into the Presidency when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, LBJ proved to be a most capable Chief Executive. He was able to pull together representatives from both sides of the aisle to accomplish his goal of bringing equal rights to the country.

Using a combination of Southern charm, old-fashioned horse-trading, outright bullying, and even hints of blackmail, LBJ formed a coalition. Composed of Democrats, Republicans, Union leaders, and Black leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael, he pushed the Civil Rights Act through legislation in 1964. He even managed to keep scheming FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on a tight leash.

In the role of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Brierley Resident Acting Company member Brandon Potter does a masterful job of showing the complexity of the civil rights hero. While LBJ could be scheming and manipulative, Potter shows his humanity as he recalls growing up in poverty in rural Texas. His sincere belief that all people in this country should have equal rights helps fuel his ambition.

Also outstanding in All the Way are Shawn Hamilton as Rev. Martin Luther King, Kieran Connolly as J. Edgar Hoover, Hassan El-Amin as Roy Wilkins, Chamblee Ferguson as Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Alex Organ as Stanley Levison, and Steven Michael Walter as Walter Jenkins. In an interesting twist this viewer never saw coming, it’s revealed that LBJ’s trusted aide, Jenkins, had a secret personal life that threatened the Presidency.

It’s important to pay close attention to this heavy-on-dialogue production, which runs almost three hours. It can be a tad confusing since, with the exception of Potter, everyone in the cast plays multiple roles. And there are a lot of different roles!

The impressive set design by Beowulf Boritt helps keep the timeline straight, if not the characters, as important dates are projected onto the massive white columns that serve as the backdrop. Lighting designer Clifton Taylor, projection designer Caite Hevner Kemp, and costume designer Jennifer Caprio also deserve praise for their contributions to the overall look of the production.

Looking back at these historic achievements, it’s interesting to note that women’s rights were apparently not up for discussion. This is mirrored by the absence of female roles in All the Way. Besides Lady Bird, perfectly played by Leah Spillman, the only females in this large ensemble cast were Sasha Davis as Coretta Scott King and Brooke Wilson as Lurleen Wallace and Muriel Humphrey.

Alley Resident Acting Company members include Paul Hope as Howard “Judge” Smith, David Rainey as Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and John Tyson as Sen. Richard Russell. SMU students who are featured include Timothy Paul Brown as Bob Moses and Ms. Davis.

Also worthy of applause: Adam A. Anderson is an angry young firebrand as Stokely Carmichael; Michael Brusasco creates a compelling portrait of Gov. George Wallace; and Chris Hutchison gives a spot-on portrayal of Robert McNamara.

All the Way has extended its Dallas run through April 3, and tickets are on sale atwww.DallasTheaterCenter.org or by calling 214-880-0202. There are numerous educational opportunities for history buffs who would like to know more about LBJ or his achievements.

DTC’s “Come Early” sponsored by Wells Fargo, offers a free talkback with Hassan El-Amin one hour before the show. DTC’s Stay Late, presented by Dr Pepper Snapple, takes place following each performance, led by Steven Michael Walters.

In addition, DTC has partnered with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza for a community conversation, “JFK-LBJ: Transition of Power” March 21 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the museum. Also, students who participate in Project Discovery are invited to experience The Sixth Floor Museum before seeing the show. It’s estimated that half of the students participating in Project Discovery will see professional theater productions for the first time during the program.

For more information about any of these programs, visit www.DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Original Pancake House Is Not Just Another Pancake House

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original pancake house

Until recently, I thought all pancake houses were pretty much the same. But then, a recent visit to the Original House of Pancakes in Irving/Las Colinas showed how badly mistaken I was.

The Original Pancake House (founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 by culinary experts Les Highet and Emma Huenekest) is a unique restaurant. They specialize in hand-crafted breakfast cakes. But, these are far removed from the rather bland and boring pancakes like most of us grew up eating.

As I recall, whether made from a box or bought at a chain restaurant, pancakes had to be covered with syrup to be palatable. These made-from-scratch cakes stand on their own, no syrup needed! Although it should be noted they also make their own syrups in house.

Case in point: OPH’s apple pancake, a light, fluffy, over-sized pancake stuffed with sauteed apples and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for a savory glaze. This cake is large enough to feed two hungry people.

A similar signature over-sized pancake is the Dutch Baby, baked with lemon, whipped butter and powdered sugar to achieve a delightfully tart taste. Add a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, or a cup of coffee or tea, and these baked cakes would guarantee a delectable way to start anyone’s day.

As owners of the new Irving OPH (their 7th location) Jonathan Soyoum and Mark Davis Bailey talked about honoring the founders’ traditions at a recent tasting brunch. Bailey said they take pride in maintaining the high standards that make their food outstanding.

To achieve this goal, they use only the finest ingredients. These include 93 score butter, 36% whipping cream, fresh grade AA eggs, hard wheat unbleached flour and a secret sourdough starter recipe to make their batters. It takes as long as four days to produce one of their pancakes.

These pancakes range from ancient grain to buttermilk or blueberry and other fruit flavors. Light and airy Swedish pancakes and minced potato pancakes served with sour cream or cinnamon applesauce are also on the menu for $8.19-$8.39. Buttermilk pancakes are $6.99 and plate-sized 49’er Flap Jacks are $8.09.

They also have a lunch menu that serves sandwiches. Choices include grilled ham and cheese, BLTs, chicken salad, club, and a new turkey avocado wrap. The basil wrap features a blend of cream cheese, green onions, mustard, honey and jalapeno dressing. Plus turkey, Swiss cheese, letter, tomato, avocado and bacon, all for $8.69. Soups and salads are also on the lunch menu.

For a really scrumptious dessert, Original Pancake House offers French crepes made with fresh strawberries. Coffee Maple Banana Crepes and Cherry Kijafa are also featured, as shown. This delicacy was simmered in Cherry Kijafa Wine sauce and topped with Montmorency cherries, priced at $8.59.

I was especially impressed by the large variety of omelets including a veggie omelet. There’s also an oven-baked mushroom omelet topped with a rich mushroom sherry sauce. An egg dish with special appeal for those who love a hearty breakfast was the Country Style Benedict. This unique twist paired two scrambled eggs and two sausage patties topping a “down home” style biscuit, all smothered in cream gravy.

The new Original Pancake House at 510 Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway in Irving serves breakfast all day, starting at 6:30 a.m. M-F or 7 a.m. weekends, with lunch from 11 am to 2 pm (3 pm on weekends). Any of their breakfast goodies can also be enjoyed throughout the day, which is always good news for breakfast lovers like me.

All The Way With LBJ Onstage At Wyly Theatre

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wyly theatre
Brandon Potter and Cast of All the Way. Photo by Karen Almond

Dallas Theater Center brings a Texas-sized production of the Tony Award®-winning play, All the Way, to the Wyly Theatre March 3. The co-production with the Alley Theatre will be directed by DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty and feature members from both companies.

“The Alley Theatre is one of the great, historic theaters in the state of Texas, whose work I have long admired. Their commitment to a resident acting company is unique in the American theatre and served as an inspiration to me when we created our own acting company at Dallas Theater Center in 2008,” said Moriarty. “All the Way is the perfect opportunity to bring these two great Texas theaters together to collaborate on an award-winning historical epic about Lyndon Johnson, Texas’ leading political figure of the 20th century. This play not only allows our companies to inspire each other, but also allows us to tell a thrilling, high impact story that, though it is history, feels as fresh and relevant as if it were ripped off the headlines today.”

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Texas native Robert Schenkkan, All the Way is a suspenseful new play about one of the most powerful Texans, Lyndon B. Johnson, from the moment of his accidental presidency in 1963 to his hard-won landslide election a year later. Performed in both Houston and Dallas, Robert Schenkkan’s masterful script paints a gripping portrayal of LBJ, civil rights hero, ruthless bully, and perhaps one of our greatest legislative presidents. With a title harkening back to the slogan for his 1964 campaign, All the Way is a searing and enthralling dramatization that explores political gridlock, strong-arm manipulation, and the morality of politics and power. The Houston Chronicle called the play “a fascinating portrait of one of the most colorful and complex figures in U.S. history.”

Brierley Resident Acting Company member Brandon Potter will play the role of President Lyndon Baines Johnson alongside company members Kieran “Michael” Connolly as J. Edgar Hoover/Reporter/Senator Robert Byrd; Hassan El-Amin as Roy Wilkins/James Harrison/Shoeshiner/Mourner/MFDP Activist/Aaron Henry/MFDP delegate; Chamblee Ferguson as Senator Hubert Humphrey/Senator Strom Thurmond/FBI Agent; Alex Organ as Stanley Levison/Representative John McCormack/Reporter/Network Correspondent/Seymore Trammell/Rev. Edwin King/MFDP organizer/Witness/Andrew Goodman; and Steven Michael Walters as Walter Jenkins/Representative William Colmer.

Alley Resident Acting Company members in the cast are Paul Hope as Cartha “Deke” DeLoach/Representative Howard “Judge” Smith/Senator Everett Dirksen/Gov. Carl Sanders/Vice Squad/Deputy Price; David Rainey as Rev. Ralph Abernathy/Butler/Mourner/MFDP Activist/Witness; and John Tyson as Senator Richard Russell/Representative Emanuel Celler/FBI Agent/Vice Squad.

Southern Methodist University students in the cast are Timothy Paul Brown as Bob Moses/Mourner/MFDP Activist, and Sasha Davis as Coretta Scott King/Mourner/MFDP Activist/Fannie Lou Hammer/Beautiful Woman. Additional cast members are Adam A. Anderson as Stokely Carmichael/David Dennis/MFDP Leader/Witness/James Cheny; Michael Brusasco as Representative James Corman/Governor George Wallace/Senator Mike Mansfield/Walter Reuther/FBI Agent/Witness/King of Norway; Shawn Hamilton as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Chris Hutchison as Robert McNamara/Senator James Eastland/William Moore McCulloch/Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr./Witness/New Orleans Announcer/Butler; Leah Spillman as Lady Bird Johnson/Katharine Graham/Representative Katharine St. George; and Brooke Wilson as Secretary/Lurleen Wallace/Muriel Humphrey/Delegate/Nurse.

This production will give the audience an inside look into historical moments both in and out of the Oval Office during LBJ’s presidency. Returning to DTC is Tony Award®-winning set designer and projection designer Beowulf Boritt who will bring the political world to life. Also returning to DTC is costume designer Jennifer Caprio , sound designer Broken Chord, and lighting designer Clifton Taylor. Joining them is projection designer Caite Kemp.

DTC’s Come Early sponsored by Wells Fargo will take place one hour before every performance and will be led by ElAmin. DTC’s Stay Late presented by Dr Pepper Snapple will take place after each performance and will be led by Walters.

DTC is partnering with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, located at 411 Elm St. for the production of All the Way. DTC and The Sixth Floor Museum will co-host a community conversation with a moderated panel from 6-7:30 pm on March 21.Tickets to All the Way are on sale now at www.DallasTheaterCenter.org .

Children 11 and under are FREE when accompanied by adult family member. Seniors over 65 or current military members (with valid military ID) receive $5 off all gate prices. Dogs are allowed in on a short leash with a $1 requested donation to animal rescue groups supported by the festival. Leprechauns (in full ceremonial dress and carrying pot of gold) are FREE.

Richardson’s Cottonwood Art Festival May 7-8

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art festival

The City of Richardson’s Cottonwood Art Festival has scheduled its 2016 events: May 7-8 and Oct. 1-2. Art lovers and collectors converge in this two-day event that brings together art, music, food, and family fun.

The free event held in Richardson’s scenic Cottonwood Park will exhibit the museum-quality work from more than 200 artists competing in a range of categories including painting, sculpture and ceramics. This is a rare opportunity to interact with artists in person, and learn about the creative process behind their work.

“Cottonwood Art Festival is a great place to find a one-of-a-kind piece of art for your home or office,” said Serri Ayers, director of the Cottonwood Art Festival. “The setting is beautiful, so you can do some shopping, watch the kids have an amazing art experience, and then relax in our courtyard with a bite to eat and a refreshing beverage—all while listening to live music.”

For the children and families, an interactive children’s area, ArtStop, offers mini-Monets a chance to experience the wonderful world of art first-hand. Complete with life-size paintbrushes and staffed by more than 100 volunteers, ArtStop offers dozens of activities for children and their families to encourage imaginations to run wild. At ArtStop, it’s OK for the kids to throw mud on an electric potter’s wheel, paint a masterpiece and chisel away on a large block of plaster.

Now in its 47th year, the semi-annual Cottonwood Art Festival is a juried show. Jurors have selected more than 240 artists to exhibit their museum-quality work at the festival. The artists compete in 14 categories: 2D Mixed Media, 3D Mixed Media, Ceramics, Digital, Drawings/Pastels, Fiber, Glass, Jewelry, Leather, Metalwork, Painting, Photography, Sculpture and Wood. Rated as one of the top art festivals in the United States, the prestigious show is the premier fine art event in North Texas.

The festival will be held Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday, May 8, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 2, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cottonwood Park is located at 1321 W. Belt Line Rd., one block east of Coit Road in Richardson, TX.

Parking and admission are free.

The artists’ works are available for purchase, as are food and beverages.

Whether shopping for art, listening to music, enjoying the outdoors, or making art of your own – Cottonwood has something for everyone. For more information, go to:www.CottonwoodArtFestival.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/CottonwoodArtFestival
Twitter www.twitter.com/CAFRichardson.

2016 Chevy Camaro Southern Road Trip: Find New Roads

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2016 Chevy Camaro Find New Roads

Road Tripping In The 2016 Chevy Camaro Find New Roads Campaign

The Camaro is turning 48 years old in 2016, to commemorate the event Chevrolet wanted to have a media drive through 48 states. Did I mention that they wanted to tackle this feat in a month?!

The moment the email hit my inbox, “Dear Camaro Road Warrior,” it began. I was challenged to “Find New Roads,” and thus the planning began. Chevrolet had designed an East and West route and we were to list our top four options AND we could bring along a photographer. Our route took us from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina. We had 36 hours to get from Point A to Point B, not a problem for a car as fast as the 2016 Camaro. With less weight and more power the 2016 Camaro has the right combination for performance success and we couldn’t wait to put it to the test.

We kicked things off at breakfast where we randomly drew for keys. My friend and fellow journalist let out a “YES” when he drew the keys to a Chevy Camaro SS V8. I was just as excited to end up with a V6 standard in bright yellow. Around 8:30 a.m. we were in the parking lot checking out our new ride and shooting pics. I might mention here…. what good is a road trip without travel games? We were given “Points of interest” to check-in for points, as well as extra points for stopping at a bonus state (a state that was somewhat out of our way). Our bonus state was New Jersey. Add 350 points to my score please!

First Stop A Raceway, But Not For The Track

Our first stop was Dover Raceway. Remember we had to #findnewroads and remember my aforementioned planning? I never knew the nation’s largest sports statue was a monster named Miles until I found him while surfing the internet. I quickly placed a phone call to the raceway and spoke to Mike. After an approval process, it was determined that we could indeed drive our flashy yellow car right up to the statue.

As excited as we were for the photo ops, we knew we wanted to do more to make this a memory that we wouldn’t forget. I know, you are guessing that we wanted to take the Camaro on the track, right? Wrong. Chevrolet rules stated that no vehicles would be driven on a track without supervision. So, we did the next best thing, we decided to dance. Miles after all is a monster and Halloween was fast approaching, so we did the “Monster Mash.” You can view that dance somewhere online using the hashtag #findnewroads.

So how did the car perform on the way to Dover, Delaware? Like a champ! While we did not enjoy the traffic from New Jersey to Delaware, once we were on the open highway we found the sixth generation Camaro to be refined and responsive. This generation has a leaner and stiffer platform to contribute to performance through reduced aerodynamic lift for better handling and efficiency. Chevy says 28% stiffer than the previous model and 223 pounds lighter. It’s the most efficient Camaro ever, delivering more than 30 mpg on the highway.

More Than A New Design

“Every Camaro model offers exceptional chassis strength and rigidity, but the modular design made the architecture more adaptable and mass-efficient, because we didn’t have to compensate for the unique demands of, say, the SS convertible when building a 2.0L Turbo coupe,” said Al Oppenheimer, Camaro chief engineer. “The result was an elegant engineering solution: 12 chassis components that could be combined to meet the structural requirements of each specific model, without adding unnecessary mass to other models.”

In Milton, Delaware we checked out a U.F.O. The owner who called the U.F.O. home came out to check out our car. We agreed both were “out of this world.” Bonus points for finding our own “point of interest” that was not included on Chevrolet’s list. We did stop at another checkpoint in Milton, the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Yes, you heard me, Chevy not only asked me to test drive the new 2016 Camaro but they let me stop at a Brewery along the way. Crazy huh?

I love my job. You should know that Dogfish Head Brewery was chosen because they created a philanthropic branch that supports charitable organizations with both grants and beer for fundraising events. After a quick stop in Rehoboth Beach for some of Thrasher’s Original French Fries, we called it a night in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
Chevrolet went above and beyond to talk to previous Camaro owners and enthusiasts.

Performance Designed For Camaro Enthusiasts

In doing so, they were able to develop this sixth generation that outperforms all predecessors. “Redesigning the Camaro is thrilling and challenging all at once, but the secret is to offer something more,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors executive vice president of Product Development. “For Camaro enthusiasts, it retains iconic design cues and offers even more performance. For a new generation of buyers, the 2016 Camaro incorporates our most innovative engineering ideas with finely honed performance and leading design.” We were lucky enough to attend one of these events while out on the road.

Tom Peters, design director likens the 2016 Camaro to a “T-shirt on a muscular physique”. He added, “From every angle, you’ll never mistake this for anything but a Camaro.”

Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and Magnetic Ride Control active suspension are available on the Camaro SS for the first time. All new Drive Mode Selector has four mode choices: Snow/Ice, Tour, Sport and on SS models, Track settings.

The morning brought rain from D.C. all the way to Charlottesville, Virginia. However, we didn’t let the weather put a damper on things. Some of our best pictures were taken in beautiful Monticello.

The designers went above and beyond to make this generation more personable to consumers. The 2016 Chevy Camaro offers consumers 10 exterior colors, five interior color combinations, lighting options and a plethora of accessories including wheels, and stripe packages.

The interior has a center console that is designed specifically for the driver. The controls are easy to reach and easy to use. The air vents have control rings around them that allow you to adjust the fan speed and temperature. This saves space and eliminates the need for extra controls. The flat bottom steering wheel and quality materials make the cabin complete. It is completely driver focused.

Chevrolet Adds Improved Technology

The 2016 Camaro has some serious technology. Operating from the Chevrolet MyLink system, Apple CarPlay is the smartest way to use your iPhone when on the road. Chevrolet is the first car brand to introduce Siri Eyes Free Functionality. Here’s a glance at what Apple CarPlay offers: View Apple Maps on the instrument panel and control via Siri. CarPlay can also predict where you might want to go using addresses from your email, texts, or calendar. Siri can read, send and reply to text messages for you so you don’t have to look at your phone. You can make calls, return calls and listen to voicemail just by asking Siri. Access your songs, playlists, artists and iTunes Radio using the car’s built in controls, or tell Siri your listening choice.

CarPlay works with any iPhone 5 or newer, and uses your phone’s data plan for Siri, navigation, and audio streaming.

Camaro’s instrument cluster features analog instruments as well as an 8-inch high definition center screen that can be configured to provide additional information including navigation, performance and infotainment features.

I love the dual heat and a/c controls with rings around the air ducts. No need for conventional buttons, the control rings are used for temperature and fan speed adjustments. This makes it handy and easy to keep your eyes on the road.

Another segment first and favorite of mine, the LED ambient lighting system integrated in the dash, door panels and center console. It offers 24 different colors as well as fade and transition effects that spread across the interior. No surprise, there’s even a theatrical “car show” mode that cycles randomly through the entire color spectrum when the Camaro is parked.

Chevy Camaro Engine Options & Pricing

The 2016 Chevy Camaro standard engine is a new 2.0L Turbo with 275 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Camaro I’m driving is the 3.6L V-6, available on the Camaro LT. It produces 335 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. That’s  the highest specific output of any naturally aspirated V6 in the segment.

The 2016 Chevy Camaros are built in Lansing Grand River, Michigan. The car I was driving begins with a base price of $26, 695. That extra “YES” that my friend let out earlier cost approximately an extra $10,000. The base price for the SS is $37, 395.

Happy 48th birthday Camaro. Now I anxiously await to see where Chevrolet will send me to test out the new 2016 Camaro Convertible. Stay tuned…

Luxury Boosts 2016 Hyundai Elantra

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2016 Hyundai Elantra

2016 Hyundai Elantra First Drive

The week couldn’t have begun more perfectly. The fantastic Pier South Resort-Hotel situated in the beautiful Imperial Beach – a short jaunt from one of my favorite California cities, San Diego. It could hardly get any better than this, could it?

Well, actually it could! The windows to the door on my luxurious suite had line art renderings of the sexy silhouette of the 2016 Hyundai Elantra (as did the windows on all the doors) since Hyundai had taken over the entire hotel. Even the outside of Pier One, the elevator doors, the restaurant doors, the bar – the entire property screamed Hyundai Elantra!

So, was that it? No, not even close. The next morning the presentations by Hyundai illustrated why the company is so proud of its new Elantra. North American President Dave Zukowski discussed the phenomenal growth record of the company in North America. Zukowski noted growth would continue with six more new vehicle launches in 2016. He pointed out growth in the CUV/SUV market was not lost on the company. As Hyundai has seen sales of its popular Tucson more than double in the last three years. Was that a hint of more great things to come in this market segment ? I’d bet on it but … onward with the Elantra for today.

Hyundai Defines Objectives

Scott Morgason, Director of Product Planning, discussed the objectives the company was achieving with the new Elantra. He noted that it comprises 30% of Hyundai sales in America. A full 34% of compact car buyers remain loyal, so it is important that buyers of the Elantra are not just satisfied, but ecstatic with their purchase and the vehicle’s performance. Enter, the newest Elantra.

All the stops were pulled out in designing and building the new Elantra. Morgason reported high strength steel is more than doubled in the new Elantra – from 21% to 53% in this generation with greatly improved body rigidity. Torsion is nearly double (26.8%) that of previous Toyota Corollas (15.1 in 2014) and Ford Focus (17.3 in 2012). Even the previous 2016 Elantra was a superior 20.7.

It’s important to drive the new Elantra. This is really the only way to know if this makes a difference. Hyundai could have chosen a few city streets and a freeway for our first drive, but they had so much confidence they set us free on some very twisty mountain roads. Switchbacks were the rule of the day. I could hardly contain myself I was so happy sailing into each curve and accelerating through it as I felt the Elantra hugging the pavement. There is real power under the hood and it’s powered by a real transmission!

Hyundai Elantra Powertrain Options

Consumers can choose from two powertrains. The standard engine is a two-liter-cylinder gob with 147 horses and 132 lb ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual transmission for $17,150 or a six-speed automatic for a grand more.

Those wanting to add more zip to their lives can go the turbo route with a 1.4 liter GDI Four (available this spring). It will churn 128 horses at 5,500 rpm with 156 lb ft of torque from 1,400 rpm. It will be mated to an EcoShift seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Hyundai projects it will deliver a fantastic 35 mpg overall with combined city and highway driving.

The things that turned my head most during the presentation and the actual drive of the Elantra were the many features that are available on the Elantra. I had to check Hyundai files to make sure so many features were available and to look really carefully to insure I was reading correctly when a slide said the most I would pay for a fully decked out Elantra with every bell and whistle was only $26,750 when was chose their Loaded Ultimate model.

Features, Tons of Available Features

The list of attributes is long, so you may want to pour yourself another cup of coffee before continuing in this paragraph. You’ve heard of many of these features, but you were not able to get them all on a compact at this price level. Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist and a Rearview Camera with Dynamic Guidance.

That’s still not all. Elantra sports a hands-free Smart Trunk, a Dynamic Bending Light and Smart Cruise Control. Dynamic Bending Light works with the headlights. They turn with the direction of the steering wheel for better nighttime visibility and safety. Another added touch is automatic high beam/low beam switching when oncoming traffic is detected. Smart Cruise Control uses radar to maintain your distance from vehicles ahead by adjusting vehicle speed according to other traffic.

Hyundai Keeps You Connected

Smart people instantly recognize the importance of all the above safety features but everyone will enjoy the extensive connectivity and other technological convenience and safety features one finds in the new Elantra.

All 2016 Hyundai Elantra models come standard with iPhone USB and auxiliary input jacks. Or course, my “can’t live without feature” Sirius XM radio is on board with two infotainment systems available. Depending on the model there’s  a 7 inch display audio touchscreen or an 8 inch navigation touchscreen system. Both have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Support using app-based navigation, streaming audio, voice controlled search, etc.

Blue Link enhances these systems even more with remote start and climate control, destination search, remote door lock and unlock, car finder, enhanced roadside assistance and even stolen vehicle recovery.

Regardless of what vehicle you may be shopping for or the price you are willing to pay; regardless of any and all previous prejudices you may have … when you visit your car dealer I would ask if the vehicle you are being offered has all these attributes and if its “Ultimate” model boasts an MSRP of $26,750.

Cinco Tacos Cocina & Tequila Review

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Cinco Tacos Cocina & Tequila Addison Walk’s Restaurant Row

I recently took my Mexican-food loving husband with me to a relaunch celebration for Cinco Tacos Cocina & Tequila in North Dallas. It’s always good to have him drive me to events like this one, in case I’m tempted to sample a free Margarita. Since he’s strictly a Dr. Pepper man, I have the perfect chauffeur.

The celebration was open to the public for a happy hour event, hosted by Chef Antonio Marquez (pictured) and GM Mario Letay.

Judging from the quality of the food we tried, and the throngs of people who turned out to mingle and chat, Cinco Tacos will be a very popular addition to Addison Walk’s restaurant row.

Of course, free beer and margaritas are always big draws, but the quality of the appetizers convinced many first-timers to stay over and make dinner reservations.

Chef Antonio Marquez proved his mastery with a dinner menu featuring such delicious and authentic dishes as Duck Barbacoa sope with Ancho pepper mole.

Since I’m such a sucker for a good mole sauce, I was especially impressed with the dense, lovely Ancho pepper mole. The presentation of each dish was so artistic and picturesque that cameras were flashing as each course was served.

I remember the first time I had lunch with a food-writer friend who took photos of her food and beverages before tasting them, I was quite taken aback. But now, everyone does it!

Other dishes we sampled included rib eye tacos that were exceptionally tender, and a Durango beef tenderloin with mushroom sauce.

A vegan friend at our table shared some of the specially prepared dishes the Chef brought out for her to try since she didn’t eat meat or fish dishes. My husband (who is definitely a committed carnivore) discovered such a liking for her pinto beans with cauliflower, the waiter brought him an extra plate of the vegetarian special.

My personal favorite was Bolo’s Mahi Mahi with hot avocado salsa. The salsa made a piquant relish that brought out the delicate flavor of the grilled fish.

A dessert trio consisting of grilled corncake, cajeta crepe and Cinco vanilla flan put the finishing touches on a fine meal. My husband and I share a weakness for flan, and agreed this tiny but tasty morsel was one of the most mouth-watering examples of flan we’d ever tasted.

Although the restaurant is a little far to travel for people who live downtown or south of Dallas, this kind of sublime dining experience is well worth the drive. And for those of you who live in the area, what are you waiting for?

For reservations or more information call 972-866-8900.

Homegrown Flavor from Indoor Garden

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indoor garden tips
Photo credit: Gardeners Supply Company

By Melinda Myers – Special to Focus Daily News

Add some homegrown flavor to your winter meals. From microgreens to tomatoes, it is possible to grow produce indoors.

Microgreens are a quick and easy way to add some flavor and crunch to your plate. Just plant seeds labeled for sprouting or microgreens in a shallow container filled with a sterile potting or seed starting mix. Within two weeks you will be harvesting nutritious mini vegetable and herb leaves for salads, sandwiches or snacking.

Take it one step further and grow a few of your favorite herbs on a warm sunny windowsill. Select a container with drainage holes and set on the appropriate size saucer to protect your woodwork. Fill the container with well-drained potting mix and plant seeds or transplants. Purchase basil, chives, parsley, oregano and rosemary plants from your local garden center or the produce department.

Greens, like lettuce and spinach, will also grow in a sunny window or better yet under artificial lights.

Grow them in a container filled with a well-drained potting mix similar to your windowsill herb garden. Plant seeds according to the seed packet. Continually harvest the outer leaves when they are four to six inches tall.

Those that like a bit of a challenge may want to try growing a compact tomato, pepper or eggplant. You’ll get the best production with a combination of natural and artificial light or full spectrum lights.

Natural sunlight and full spectrum lights contain the variety of light plants need to grow, flower and fruit. Blue light promotes leaf and stem growth, while red combined with blue promotes flowering. Consider investing in energy efficient and long lasting high intensity grow lights for the greatest yields when growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other fruiting plants indoors.

Leave lights on for 14, but no more than 16 hours each day. Plants need a dark period as well as bright light each day to grow and thrive. Use a timer to ensure the plants receive the right duration of light.

Most flowering and fruiting plants need a high intensity of light, so keep the lights six to twelve inches above your plants. Use reflective surfaces under and around the plants to bounce light back into larger plants.

Increase your indoor growing space by going vertical. Shelf units with built-in light fixtures like the Stack-n-Grow Light System (gardeners.com) provide multiple layers of growing space.

And once your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants start flowering, you will need to shake things up a bit. Gently shake the plants several times a week, better yet daily, to move the pollen from the female to the male parts of the flower so fruit will develop. A gentle breeze from a fan or vibrations from a battery-operated toothbrush work well.

Indoor gardening won’t yield the same results as a sunny outdoor garden, but the flavor can’t be beat when gardening outdoors is not an option.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers has a partnership with Gardener’s Supply Company and is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

Valentine Dining In Dallas

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romantic restaurants in Dallas

It’s that time of year, and for every box of chocolate or over-sized stuffed animal you give the one you love, just as many men and women are going to be thinking where is the “perfect” place for the Valentine meal not to be forgotten. We’ve summed it up for you here so you can just make a reservation and be done.

Checkered Past Winery
When Checkered Past Winery located in Dallas on Lamar Street opened in early December in the historic South Side building the owners already knew they wanted their little wine establishment to be much more than just a place to drink just any ‘ol wine.

Nope, co-founder, owner and winemaker Sandro DiSanto, who is a first generation American with roots in Sicily wanted the place to promote Texas wines.

With that in mind he and his partner/General Manager, Carolynne Chancellor looked for not only Texas wines, but Texas wines that are easy to drink.

DiSanto, Chancellor and a third partner have been working toward opening Checkered Past Winery since 2008 and with the doors now open folks can enjoy wines from Red Caboose in Meridian, Texas as well as wines from not only Burleson and Texoma, but also the popular Central Texas town of Fredericksburg. Of course, there are also wine choices from outside of Texas and as far away as Italy and France.

Chancellor also has a vineyard in nearby Tyler, Texas so the wines at Checkered Past Winery also emphasis that and you can even find organic wines on the menu too.

Don’t mistake Checkered Past Winery for just a tasting room either, it’s more than that. With a menu that serves a cheese and charcuterie board, scrumptious Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppadew Skewers and even a Baby Arugula Salad for finicky eaters, there is something everyone can enjoy.

Beer is also served alongside the wine and food. It’s local too from Fort Worth’s Rahr and Son’s Brewing Company, Lakewood Brewing, Community Beer Co. and Deep Ellum Brewing Co.

Billed as an underground bar expect lots of metal and wood used for the table tops, large concrete pillars in the middle of the floor and the artwork is worth checking out in this 2,500-square-foot space too. There are not only recycled tires on the walls, but scooters too, sort of the logo for the place overall. The industrial feel suits the Checkered Past Winery well complete with a laid-back vibe and a good place to hang for the evening.

Julia Pearl
What type of city would Dallas be without some good ‘ol Southern cooking? Comfort food is all about feeling good and at Julia Pearl Southern Kitchen there’s no way you will feel anything but good after you have eaten there. Well, good and satiated after a serving of Deviled Eggs complete with crispy chicken skin or maybe the Balsamic-Honey Glazed Pork Belly with sweet potatoes shaved with apple Cole slaw.

And that all before you even dig in for the good part.

Sure, there might be other southern style kitchens around, but “Top Chef” contestant Tre Wilcox isn’t involved in those restaurants is he? Neither is Julia Pearl Chef Jermaine Brown who is officially helming the kitchen.

Both chef’s haul from Chef Kent Rathbun’s Abacus Dallas, but they have a long list of successes otherwise on their resume. Chef Brown began his days at Brennan’s in Houston and has worked his way up at some impressive award-winning restaurants in the area. As for Chef Wilcox, he also spent time at Loft610 and Marquee Bar and Grill before landing at a place that even your granny would approve.

Actually located in Plano, Wilcox created the menu at Julia Pearl with a nod to southern inspired family recipes that come straight from head guy Darcy Dudley and his wife’s family matriarchs, Julia and Pearl.

The Julia part of the menu is traditional southern cooking, but the Pearl part of the equation cooks in a more modern taste for folks to enjoy.

Entrees are rich in flavor like the Julia Pearl’s Southern Fried Chicken, Cornmeal Crusted Catfish and there is even Grilled King Salmon. Add to that a smattering of biscuits, fried okra, whipped potatoes and collard greens, just to name a few sides and you have a full-on down home meal.

The dessert of choice is Pearl’s Red Velvet Cake with white chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream to top it off, but the Lemon Pound Cake or the Banana Bread Pudding is also worth saving room for too.

In the 6,000-square-foot space the dining room is charming, but the bar will also be calling your name. Special southern-inspired drinks rate high like Pearl’s Old Fashioned mixed with Jacob’s Ghost (Jim Beam) White Bourbon, Bitters and Orange Slice or Julia’s Ruby Red Cocktail featuring grapefruit juice, Deep Eddy Vodka and St Germain.

Located at 2301 N. Central Expressway off I75 and Parker Road check Julia Pearl Southern Kitchen out for a meal that you will definitely be inspired to try and recreate at home.

Hickory
Much loved Executive Chef and creator of Dallas restaurants Abacus and Jasper, Kent Rathbun is at it again with his latest offering, a new restaurant called Hickory. Located in the perfect location off the North Dallas Tollway in Plano’s Shops at Granite Park, it’s not burgers and barbeque as usual here since these Rathbun favorites are served up in a 6,500 square-foot restaurant that has the perfect roadhouse vibe. Lots of wood and metal combined with custom lighting and an overall industrial aesthetic was included in the design as were 50-inch screens hanging on the walls throughout so customers don’t have to miss any game or sporting event ever.

No stranger to the Rathbun concept, General Manager Dennis Egert and Chef Cuisine Jeff Qualls are at the helm here handpicked for their unique brand of leadership that fits well with Rathbun’s latest concept.

“We’re excited to bring together these two great staples of Texas cooking in an elevated, full-service setting,” Rathbun said.

With a 1,374 square-foot patio for enjoying the menu and the bar options, there is not only a fireplace to set the laid back mood outside, but also picnic tables and a lounge area. Inside it’s community and high top tables as well as banquettes for dining.

Menu items include burger options that go from hamburgers or cheeseburgers to a higher end Farmhouse Burger that comes with pepper-crusted apple wood smoked bacon and a fresh farm egg. For barbeque lovers you aren’t being overlooked with a smorgasbord of choices prepared in-house on the “Little Red Smokehouse” aka an indoor smoker. The Texas-style barbeque options include not only the smoked brisket, ribs and pork shoulder, but a hickory smoked turkey breast or Wagyu basket. Hickory is proud of the sides they offer too like the Granny Smith apple coleslaw, the burnt end baked beans, waffle-cut Maytag blue cheese fries and the buttermilk onion rings. You also get bread and butter and spicy dill pickles and a whole variety of sauces to choose from for the meat.

Craft beers and cocktails are high on the list and standouts include the barrel-aged Old Fashioned and the popular Killin’ Thyme with vodka, cucumber, lime, soda and thyme. For beer drinkers there are draft selections that include seven from Texas brewers and whiskey drinkers can have a selection of bourbon flights, all chosen to pair perfectly with the barbeque and burgers on the tasty and well-thought out menu.

Ten 50 Barbecue
It’s a Texas-size barbecue experience with authentic Texas barbecue that is slow roasted for up to 16 hours and the taste says it all. The pit master at Ten 50 BBQ, Darren Willis, takes his job seriously and it’s a 24-hour day to make sure the meat is just right.

Hickory, oak, pecan and mesquite charcoal are used for cooking and guests walk through the service line choosing their meat of choice while it is still cooking. The owners are also all about locally sourced with choices like brisket, ribs, sausage, turkey and pulled pork. One special on the menu that will really make your mouth come alive try the Torpedoes; chicken and brisket filled jalapeno that is hotter than a summer afternoon in the big D.

Sides are made from scratch, everything from fresh cut fries, coleslaw, onion rings, potato salad, friend okra and the best of the best, the 4 cheese mac and cheese. What isn’t made from scratch on the premises comes from the popular Village Bakery bread and of course, the homemade pie and banana pudding is always a crowd pleaser. And if you think you know banana pudding, Ten 50 offers a twist, which is a chocolate banana pudding that really is worth saving room for as the end to a hearty meal.

While you won’t go hungry at Ten 50 BBQ the folks there also make sure you won’t go thirsty either with 24 craft beers to choose from and most are locally selected. Think Revolver Blood and Honey or the Lakewood Temptress to name a few, the beers rotate and are chosen to make for the perfect pairing.

Get your party on with you and 50 of your closet friends, barbeque just seems to bring people together and the Ten 50 BBQ décor is perfect with rows and rows of tables and wooden chairs and a full bar. To round out the experience an old truck is situated inside to make sure guests not only taste an authentic Texas meal, but also feel the Texas BBQ vibe at the same time.

Pink Magnolia
When Dallas Chef Blythe Beck opened Pink Magnolia near the Bishop Art’s District last summer she had a plan. It included Southern cooking in an upscale dining environment with a menu that featured Deviled Eggs, Biscuits and Butter and even Texas Lamb Chop Lollipops for an opener. If you still have room, and you should save room, the entrees are diverse and wickedly tasteful too like the Cayenne Garlic Shrimp and Grits, Candied Orange Smoked Duck Breast or Cornmeal Fried Catfish.

Yep, tasty to say the least, but Beck knows tasty well since she did an eight-month stint at Kitchen LTO. Prior to that spent time at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Hector’s on Henderson and Central 214 in Hotel Palomar.

Located in the old Driftwood space in Oak Cliff, Pink Magnolia sees Beck partnering with Restaurateur Casie Caldwell. Caldwell was the brainchild behind the permanent pop-up restaurant idea Kitchen LTO incorporating rotating chefs and designers at Trinity Groves and it is where she met Beck too.

Fast forward to Pink Magnolia and remember, Beck has been coined the Naughty Chef since it was while at Central 214 that she worked on the television project The Naughty Kitchen with Chef Blythe Beck. She was also featured on Beat Bobby Flay – Season 3 on the Food Network in 2014 and through it all she has kept her cooking style as naughty as her previous show.

Earthy with cayenne red hair, Beck talks the talk and also walks the walk with her menu options and while her choices are about pleasing the taste buds, she goes for the soul as well. The name Pink Magnolia was inspired by the magnolia flower as a nod to southern strength and hospitality, which Beck has in spades. It is also all about her “pink positivity” a southern favorite, much like her latest venture has become.

The Revenant Film Review, Not For Faint Of Heart

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The Revenant

The Revenant, Inspired by true story of Hugh Glass

“The Revenant” is a drama/action/adventure film directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman) and written by Inarritu and Mark L. Smith. The film is based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Opening Friday Jan. 8 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, rated R for strong combat, violence and gory images (including a Grizzly bear attacking a man in a horrendously realistic and seemingly endless wrestling match) as well as language, a sexual assault and brief nudity.

In other words, this film—inspired but not necessarily faithful to the true story of Hugh Glass, a legendary explorer, fur trapper and sometime Indian fighter—is not for the faint of heart.

But it is a film that begs to be seen on the big screen, since the epic survival tale takes place in an untamed American wilderness that’s bigger and more expansive than anything most of us will ever experience. It is, as press releases insist, an immersive experience. Emmanuel Lubezki’s dazzling cinematography will make you gasp almost as much as the violent action.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Glass. He’s left for dead by his fellow fur-trapping colleagues after being brutally mauled by a female Grizzly bear. Its ultimately a story of survival against incredible, even unbelievable odds. DiCaprio is fantastic as the bearded, filthy, severely injured survivor who crawls on his belly until he finally can stand again. He’s a strong contender for another Oscar nomination.

Avenging Apparition

The term Revenant means an avenging apparition who rises from the dead seeking revenge. In a drastic departure from the real story of the frontiersman who survived the bear’s attack and being left for dead by his companions, the unscrupulous John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and naive young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), Glass becomes a creature totally focused on revenge for being left alone to die.

When the real-life Glass finally staggered back to the fort after a 200-mile trek through blizzards, Indian attacks and other near-death experiences, he did confront his former friends. But then he forgave them, which actually seems to this viewer like a better story. Especially since it is true.

But Hollywood filmmakers, even highly respected award-winning ones like Inarritu, don’t always stick too close to the truth when drama demands a more spectacular, gorier climax. So the film drags on for about 20 minutes longer than necessary. The extra time allows the relentless Glass to whip his betrayer, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) into a bloody pulp. Afterwards, Glass shoves him downstream for an Indian chief to scalp.

However, the film also has some tender moments of love and loyalty. These moments are shown in flashbacks of Glass with his Pawnee Indian wife and son, both later killed. A wandering Pawnee who’s lost his own family and tribe to soldiers shows friendship and compassion to Glass, keeping him alive during a fierce blizzard and helping to heal his wounds. These acts of nobility, however, are few and far between.

The real Hugh Glass died in 1833 at the age of 53. He had survived more near-death experiences than an entire army of battle-scarred soldiers. Personally, I found his history more interesting and far more satisfying than the film version.

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