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The Pho-ndamentals

A beginner's guide to Vietnamese cuisine.

Tommy Neal of Neal's Farm & Farmers Market explains that dewberries are ripe right now and blackberries will be two or three weeks from now.

"Taste-wise, they are almost identical," Neal says. "The amount of juice compared to the amount of seeds is drastically different."

As fun as it is to pick dewberries on the side of the road with the family, you should definitely wait a few more weeks to pick blackberries at local farmers' markets.

Rick Matt of Matt Family Orchards notes what blackberries should look and feel like when they're ready to be picked.

"When the berry turns the color black and it becomes shiny," Matt says. "It is not a dull color. It is still firm to the touch, but all of the fruit bits are full of juice — they are swollen. Those are the ones you want to pick."

Matt also notes that the best time to pick blackberries is in the morning. "It is cool and it is comfortable for the berry and you. It has rested all night long, and it is not dehydrated," he says.

Other than just using the appearance of the blackberries to determine if they are ready to be picked, Neal suggests grabbing them a particular way when pulling them off the bush.

"You grab a blackberry, rip the blackberry and twist it 90 degrees," Neal says. "If it comes off, it is ripe; if you have to pull on it, then it is not ripe. That is how you get the sweetest berries. They just snap right off when you turn them sideways."

Take the whole family out to one of these locations to pick fresh and sweet blackberries. The berries should be ripe in the next two or three weeks.

Matt Family Orchard

21110 Bauer Hockley Rd., Tomball

281-351-7676

Neal's Berry Farm & Farmers Market

24527 1/2 Gosling Rd., Spring

281-255-3699

P-6 Farms

9963 Poole's Rd., Montgomery

936-597-6062

Blackberries of Houston

19531 Cypress Church Rd., Cypress

281-373-5357

E & B Orchards

28268 Clark Bottom Rd., Hempstead

979-826-6303

As soon as you get your fresh blackberries, you're going to have to whip up something in the kitchen with them. Here are five ideas.

5. Blackberry Pie

It wouldn't be summer without a pie. Whether you're hosting a family get-together over the summer or celebrating a birthday, or you just want to make a pie, a blackberry pie is always a crowd pleaser. Try adding lemon juice and lemon zest for a complementary citrus touch.

4. Blackberry Smoothie

You can throw just about any fruit into a blender with some blackberries for a refreshing breakfast or afternoon treat. Mangoes, bananas, oranges and other berries like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries all complement the sweet and juicy blackberries. Blend any combination of fruits with some yogurt or milk for a delicious summer snack.

3. Blackberry Glaze

Grill pork chops and baby back ribs for a summer cookout, and top with a blackberry glaze for a sweet finish. You can also incorporate some chipotle or other spicy ingredients to give the glaze a kick.

2. Blackberry Mojito

A little bit of mint, citrus, sugar, rum or vodka, and blackberries make for a refreshing and tasty summer drink. Sit poolside with this beverage, and you'll definitely feel like you're on a relaxing beach vacation.

1. Blackberry Cobbler

You can't pick blackberries without making a cobbler out of them. My mom always likes to add two fruits to her cobblers. Peaches and blackberries work perfectly together because they are both sweet yet a little tart, and their complementary colors make for a great presentation. Finish each bowl with a scoop of ice cream, and you have summer's best dessert.
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Top 10

Houston's 10 Best Bistros
Far more modern, far less French.

Katharine Shilcutt

How do you define a bistro?

If you're going to stick to the traditional Parisian definition, a bistro (or bistrot) is a small, tidy restaurant that serves inexpensive wine and simple dishes in a modest price range. Those dishes are traditionally French "comfort food" recipes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and steak-frites.

In a modern American city, the concept of a bistro goes beyond its Gallic roots but still — I think — stays true to form even if it's not serving remotely French food. I consider a bistro in Houston to be a small, unpretentious restaurant — usually of the neighborhood-restaurant variety — serving hearty, simple food and a selection of alcoholic beverages.

For this reason, I couldn't consider more upscale French restaurants such as L'Olivier, Aura or Philippe — places that draw audiences from all over the city, as opposed to the restaurants' immediate area. Nor could I consider too-casual spots that don't offer alcohol or a menu beyond a few sandwiches and pastries.

Bistros occupy a necessary middle ground between those two ends of a spectrum as restaurants that offer charming atmosphere and a thoughtful food and wine/beer selection with mid-range prices.

10. Zelko Bistro

This cozy converted house on 11th Street couldn't be more at home in the Heights, where most residents walk or bike to this neighborhood favorite. Owners Jamie and Dalia Zelko keep it local — with both their customers and the food. Produce, meat and fish are sourced locally when possible, while the restaurant even has its own beehives. Yes, the honey is for sale. Zelko also employs a very price-friendly wine list that allows for a bottle to be shared at even the most moderate of dinners.

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