Breadfarm in Edison, WA

Last July, I found myself reading a longform article by Joe Bernstein on Buzzfeed about a shocking regional event that occurred on Samish Island in July of 2017.  At the bottom of the article, Bernstein wrote, “I left the jail and drove northwest into the Skagit Valley, past potato farms and through a tiny town known for its artisanal graham crackers. ” 

Artisanal what now?! In my backyard? Article finished, I turned my attention to the pursuit of the identity of this mystery boulangerie, suddenly acting like a master detective who specializes in the geolocation of baked goods, and in no time found my way to Molly Wizenberg’s Saveur article about the trip-worthy graham crackers in Edison, Washington, which “smelled like browned butter and cinnamon and comfort. ” Edison! 💡 The only thing left for this detective to do to seal the case closed was slap a graham cracker in my mouth, and that involved a pleasant drive on gently winding roads through green farmlands, observing hawks dotting the telephone lines, scanning the grounds below for prey. 

Edison, much like Madrid, New Mexico, is a town that has had many identities and has most recently been taken over by an influx of hippies who rebuilt the community in their image. There are more restaurants with good food than you’d think a town of just over 100 people could support. And this is good food, the kind of food that that I wouldn’t feel guilty describing to Gwyneth Paltrow as “whole food” even though I’m talking about fried local oysters, pastries rich with butter, and fresh goat cheese eaten by the spoonful. As I approach Edison on West Bow Hill road, a small white sign on the right reads “Welcome to Edison, the kindness town”. It is immediately charming.

Breadfarm’s graham crackers are everything Wizenberg said they were. I had never eaten a non commercially produced graham cracker before, and had also never really given a thought to the idea that they were something someone could bake and were something people did bake before everyone decided that this sort of cardboardy tasteless substitute in a blue box were graham crackers, period. The graham crackers at Breadfarm were a revelation, crisp to the tooth but with a melting texture on the tongue, rich and warm with a depth of flavor. I paired them with some homemade marshmallows as part of a s’mores bar at my Labor Day weekend barbeque, and it ruined me for traditional backyard s’mores.  Pro tip: homemade marshmallows toast gorgeously with a kitchen torch, I’m talking deeply caramelized on all sides perfection

Graham crackers aren’t the only noteworthy item at Breadfarm–over the course of our visits, Jason and I have eaten our way through most everything in the shop save their dog biscuits. Their squat round shortbread cookies sing with a cup of tea, all of the seasonal pastries (pear galettes, pumpkin cream danishes, orange currant brioche) have been well-balanced, flavorful and never too sweet, and their croissant and pain au chocolat rival any that I had in France: flaky, buttery, and tender. Their decadent kouign-amann are only available for those brave enough to wait to go until afternoon, which means I’ve generally missed them. Breadfarm’s pastries are so good that I would rather take the mini road trip to Edison than settle for the pastry shop down the road that used to be my favorite, and that’s saying something, because Jason and I used to be at that one down the street so often we knew all the employees and they all knew us. Now, about once a month, we hop in the car, fire up a podcast, and take the scenic route to Edison. This time, I’m planning on branching out and dining at the Old Edison Inn. If I get their Bow Burger, made with local beef and cheese, I’d still be getting a Breadfarm fix: they bake the buns.

2018 in Horses

It was about a year ago that I dove back into the horse world. I started learning with my friend Marita’s horse Poppy in late October 2017, and it really helped me deal with some of the grief I was feeling over the loss of Napoleon. Even though I don’t really think Poppy liked me all that much (good lord that horse tried to bite me so many times, for offenses including “attempted to brush my dirty belly”, “made me walk somewhere”,  and “stood within range”), working with her gave me something I didn’t know I was missing. Something more than just being around horses and smelling their horsey smell, it was being outside and having to move and work my body in order to properly work the horse…it has tethered me to the physical world in a way that I needed, pulling me out of my own head where I tend to otherwise live. 

Poppy

Still, by the time Poppy moved to her new home in February, she had threatened to bite me enough times that I’d started to become a little afraid of horses, which is something Marita noticed when Poppy turned her head toward me curiously one day and I damn near jumped to the moon, expecting bared teeth approaching my person. It was then that Marita decided that I should start working with Africa, a half-blind Arabian mare being stabled at the same barn. Fresh off the Poppy fear and nervous about Africa’s blindness and what it might mean for her predictability, it didn’t help matters at all that Africa was extremely herd bound and so when I led her away from the other horses into her stall, she backed me into a corner and started screaming at full volume. I didn’t know that she was just upset about wanting to be with the other horses and was pretty convinced that she was going to rear up and knock my head off in the stall that day…and yet I STILL kept coming back to the barn so clearly, afraid or not, I had the bug. 

Africa

Over time, Africa and I became really good pals. At first she’d call and call and call for the other horses after I’d catch her and bring her in, careless if whether she was yelling at full volume directly into my ear (she was). After  a while and a number of disapproving looks, she settled on a hilarious compromise where she’d decide she wanted to yell, would look at me first, open her mouth wide and then issue this tiny whispery ⁿᵉᶦᵍʰ that no one heard or responded to. The best days were when she wouldn’t call for other horses at all, content to be with me and do whatever.  And we did a lot! I started learning to ride properly on her, I gave her her first all-over bath (her coat got this amazing metallic sheen), and we got to know one another through some games and liberty work. But I was getting a little anxious for more–Africa is not my horse, and I was not allowed to handle her when Marita was not present. That’s perfectly reasonable but I was itching to get some unsupervised/more horse time, and that’s when I started looking at leasing a horse.

Tiede Z, a Friesian gelding I looked at leasing 

…I stopped looking at leasing a horse shortly thereafter, because nothing felt like a good match, training philosophy wise or riding style or personality. Likewise with a co-op barn where people pay a monthly fee and get to hang out and work with their horses–I tracked them down, filled out an application, went for a three hour tour, and ultimately didn’t sign up because it still wasn’t what I wanted. None of these places or people or horses were bad, it was still just another situation where I would get to be with a horse but it wouldn’t be my horse. 

In the meanwhile, I had struck a deal with Africa’s owner–that I could take Africa off property on trail rides so long as I was accompanied by the barn owner, and the barn owner would haul us off to those trails if I helped her bring in and feed the horses once a week. You mean I get to pay for something I love with something else I love? SIGN. ME. UP. I got to go on a lot of fun trail rides this summer, and I got to pay for those rides by leveling up my horse handling skills, learning to lead two at a time through gates, deal with rearers and rope biters and one gal who was so tall I had to stand on my tippy toes to get her halter on (while she snapped at the rope). Unfortunately, the barn owner broke her ankle in the most horse person way possible, by falling down a few stairs while looking at a picture of a horse, and that was the end of our trail riding. I had already been doing some horse shopping, but this got me looking in earnest, because while I enjoyed my lessons in the arena, I had gotten a taste of the outdoors on horseback and I was loathe to give it up.

But when I started horse shopping, I was very picky because I wanted a fancy horse, a dream horse (and brother, I’ve had a lot of years in which to dream about this horse), on a medium-to-low fancy budget. A discount dream horse, because a dream horse requires a dream house modest apartment reasonable stall and dream tack and a dreamy vitamin intake and a dreamy massage regiment plus a pedicure every six weeks and no wonder my parents told me Santa had a prohibition against live animals on his sleigh!

If I’m going to be completely honest, while I was open to a lot of breeds and coats–I was looking at Halflingers and Fjord Horses and native ponies, what I wanted was a Friesian or a Friesian-Andalusian/Warlander. I adore the Friesian breed, especially the heavier, more baroque build. They’re almost always black, they have big, thick fairytale manes and tails, heavy graceful necks, a gorgeous floating trot and they’re known for their sweet puppydog in-your-pocket personalities. The whole package. Combined with the Andalusian, the horses tend to be that more baroque build, with beautiful movement and strong bone. A destrier-type, nimble and strong. But unless I won one or Santa changed his rules about live animals, my chances of owning a thirty to seventy five thousand dollar horse seem about as likely as my chances of being struck by lighting while riding the loch ness monster.

Free horses aside, although my heart would flutter for all those gorgeous Friesians for sale I’d see online, they tended to all be bred to be taller animals, maturing above 16h. This means that the top of their shoulder is 5’3″ from the ground. I’m 5’2″(barely, at the top of my head, not at the shoulder) and while I have the use of a mounting block when I first get on if I’m at the barn, if I have to get off at any point during a trail ride, getting back on can be a big issue. Plus, as a short person, I have short legs, and as such, my stirrups are short and thus hang higher above the ground. I don’t honestly know if I could ever be fit enough to be able to launch myself upward from the ground and onto a horse after somehow getting my toes into a stirrup that was dangling at face height. Like, at that point, I think you just have to be Superman and float yourself up while pretending you only used your insane core strength and buns of man-of-steel.

So my dream horse was fancy bred or the appearance of fancy bred, on the short side, heavier build, with strong bone, young but not green to middle aged, ideally dark coated, able to easily carry me and the additional burden of armor, brave, forward, friendly, a good awake mind, but on a budget. I can’t believe I didn’t add my childhood “wish upon a star” horse qualities of “doesn’t need to eat or pee or poop so it can live in my bedroom” for as exacting and needle-in-a-haystack as my wishes were.

The first horse I was really interested in was Shadowfax, a Morgan gelding. He’d already started training with mounted archery (which is a goal I am actively working toward), he was of a medium height (I can’t remember exactly, around 15 hands high) and what appeared to be a fit, heavier build. Unfortunately, I found him three days before I was set to leave for Atlanta and he was located in southern Oregon and I didn’t want to make a 13 hour there-and-back high pressure road trip snap decision. But that turned out to be my only chance to meet him, as he was sold by the time I got home.

Shadowfax

The next horse I looked at was Dragon, a 7 year old Percheron/Fell Pony gelding, 13.2 hands (“if he’s feeling himself that day”), built like a war horse in miniature, an absolute tank in pony form. I messaged the owner less than thirty minutes after the craigslist ad went up (my friend at Gnomeland Farm has an alert set to email her if any native pony breeds are listed), because I was head over heels about Dragon immediately.  This was just days before my trip to Chicago, and I told the owner that I’d be willing to pay earnest money for them to hold Dragon until I was home and able to drive to Portland to meet him. They were not willing to do that, but through luck in timing, I was still able to be the first to meet him.

He was charming and personable from the first moment, investigating my pants and playing with their fake motorcycle ribbing with his lip. He did OK in the crossties–he got impatient pretty quickly and started pawing at the ground but that’s not a dealbreaker. In the saddle, however, I could barely get him to walk around their indoor arena. “Kick him! Kick him! Kick him harder!” the owner called to me…but man, I don’t want a horse I have to wale on to move. That doesn’t feel like partnership. I don’t know if he got soured as a kids’ riding horse or what, and it’s possible that with time and training, his sensitivity would return, but it was a gamble I wasn’t ready to take. I didn’t ride him for very long to know that it wasn’t right, and when I got off so soon, the owner’s demeanor completely changed from nicey-nice to barely concealed hostility. I get that when you ride a horse you’re either training him or untraining him and getting off of him while he was being purposefully pokey (which is what he wanted) didn’t teach him anything good, but I also think it’s also not my responsibility to kick your horse into submission.

We hustled so fast outta there we ran out of gas, and I shopped my feelings away by buying a 13.2h stack of books at Powell’s.

Dragon

Things got really serious with Dante, a 7 year old 15.2 Andalusian/Friesian/Percheron stallion located about an hour north of me in Washington. His owner had bought him at auction after he’d been seized from his previous owners, but then she just let him sit for a few years aside from lungeing. I didn’t know a lot about him, and she didn’t know a lot about him. She knew he had been bred a few times and had gotten kicked in the jaw once which resulted in a cracked tooth, and that her vet was managing it with floats. Since he hadn’t been ridden for years I didn’t want to be the first to pop on his back, so I evaluated him from the ground. I liked him. When I worked him on the line, he was responsive and respectful. He loaded into a trailer easily, he picked up his feet willingly. His eyes were soft and sweet, and I felt quite certain that I wanted to buy him–here was the discount dream horse I was looking for! A horse fancy-bred for athleticism and looks that just needed someone to see his potential and get his brain and body working again! Hallmark Movie The Horse!

I started to make plans for Dante: he’d need to be gelded and recovered from the gelding before I could move him into my barn, and then I thought I might send him to Oregon to be retrained under saddle with other new geldings so he could learn to transition to a life of being with other horses rather than the solitary life he was living as a stallion. First, however, he’d need a pre-purchase examination, which was conducted at the big fancy equine veterinary hospital nearby, Pilchuck. Dante’s owner trailered him there from Edison, and I watched as the vet and his assistant put Dante through his paces, check his eyes, heart, lungs, and overall soundness. They asked me if I wanted to add the dental exam, and truth be told, I almost said no because so far the vet had found nothing out of the ordinary from what I expected–he was a bit underweight and undermuscled but he also hadn’t been working.

But the dental exam was such a reasonable additional fee and there was the aforementioned cracked tooth to consider. They anesthetized him a bit so he wouldn’t be stressed by the dental contraption that ratchets the horse’s mouth open, and he was a very good boy as he stood there and was inspected. Within two minutes the dental specialist vet told me that Dante’s cracked tooth had not been managed, had in fact broken and rotted in his head, almost penetrating the sinus cavity, causing several other teeth to turn and grow out of whack, which would require two to three dental surgeries at two thousand dollars apiece, all of which are extremely complicated as they have to go through the side of the horse’s face and since there were issues on both sides, they would have to be split up into separate surgeries. He needed the dental work immediately as he couldn’t chew properly: this is why he was losing weight and didn’t have a ton of interest in food. It probably also explained the empty-stomach-jouncing-up-and-down sound when he’d trot. The infection in his body meant that any of the surgeries had the potential to kill him and the vet emphasized that he would struggle for months in recovery if he ever recovered. With these dental issues unknown, he could have succumbed from being gelded.

Dante’s owner and I were left reeling, as this was obviously terrible news for us both. And poor Dante! At home, I cried myself sick over this horse who was a Very Good Boy despite all the pain he must have been feeling and what was likely to happen to him, how he’d been bred with hopes and went unnoticed until he was ruined. I thought on him and tried to justify “saving” him and cried some more. Ultimately, I did what I could and set his owner up with a few different horse rescue organizations that could potentially help with vet bills, including one with ties to my barn, but then I had to back off because he’s not mine and I’m not buying him and I’m just an overinvolved stranger. I hope that he got the treatment that he needed, but I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I think about him still. I hope a rescue helped with the bills and he’s alive and thriving.

Dante

Dante

Dante

Over the summer, I entered a raffle for a 3 year old Friesian Saddlebred cross mare, Ultra Heir, located in North Carolina. Raffle tickets were $65 apiece, with 100 tickets sold and the raffle taking place once the last ticket was sold, and numbers assigned in the order they were sold. I bought one ticket and strongly considered buying two but ultimately was too cheap, preferring the idea of “my $65 dream horse” to “my $130 dream horse” as though she wouldn’t have been an outstanding bargain at either price.

In late September the raffle board finally filled. My raffle number was 48. #49 won.

Realistically a 3 year old would have been too much horse for me to handle in addition to being on the tall to really too tall side for me but if I won her I would’ve considered using her as a broodmare for a perfectly baroque baby. After I figured out how to get her home from North Carolina.

Ultra Heir

After Dante, I had decided to pause looking for a horse for a while–I didn’t know how well I’d deal with another close disappointment, but my friends kept putting horses in my path, and ultimately I decided that I’d better shop for myself if I didn’t want other people to shop for me. I placed a couple of ads in northwest horse sale groups looking for “A heckin’ chonker or above” and got no bites that appealed–people pushing their unbroken, green, and in one memorable instance, the ugliest horse I’ve ever, ever seen at me. He looked like if Homer Simpson was an obese, flabby horse.

Continuing my search, I did a deep dive on Dreamhorse, dialing in my exacting parameters, and got so far back in the listings that the main photos expired and I could see was the thumbnail. But there was one that caught my eye. A 14.2 hand Friesian Sporthorse mare, 13 years old, located in Florence, Oregon. She was described as a talented, tractable, sweet mare with a great work ethic and lovely movement, with dressage movements built in such as collection/extension, leg yields at walk and trot, shoulder in/haunches in at walk, and pirouette at walk and trot. They also said she has a willing and engaged temperament and is eager to please, playful with just a hint of diva pizzazz, that she LOVES to jump, could be suited to the hunter ring, has no vices and that she loads easily and trailers quietly, is a lady for the farrier, ties, clips, bathes, and that she’s smart, athletic, and willing; a bargain at her asking price. My needle in the haystack.

I responded to the Dreamhorse message, but I didn’t know if the messages would actually go through since the ad had expired. The ad mentioned that I could find photos and video at the trainer’s personal facebook page,  and so I looked her up and dug through her photos until I found one that she’d posted publicly that looked like the mare in the ad so I could comment on it, asking if she still had her and if she could tell me any more about her. The trainer said that she no longer had the horse and that she’d gone back to her owners in Eugene and tagged the owner into the conversation. I messaged the owner AND commented to let her know that I’d messaged her and to check her filtered messages if she didn’t see it, because I was going to take no chance that this beauty was going to slip through my fingers. 

Navani

I drove to Eugene to meet her shortly thereafter. On the lead line she danced and called to the other horses. They lunged her briefly, and then their trainer showed up to ride her for me to demonstrate her movements and abilities, as she’s had significantly more dressage training than I have.  I climbed aboard and we did not communicate very well–she was used to being ridden with a lot more contact on the bit than I like to have, and at one point she broke into a trot and together we barreled down on the entire family who were seated and couldn’t easily flee, and my only option for not running over a person was running over my purse with my phone and camera inside that I thoughtlessly left on the ground near the mounting block. I hoped I remembered the way back to the highway in case my phone got smashed and did everything I could to turn her toward my purse.  After we managed to come to a stop and not kill anyone or break anything, I decided to buy her. I liked her gentle and interested energy, I liked that even though she didn’t understand what I was asking her, she kept trying. I felt confident that I could teach her an easier way of going and that we could be great partners. 

We set a date to come pick her up on November 3rd. Before that, I had a vet come out, check her teeth, and do a coggins test, which she needed in order to cross state lines. In the early dark hours of the morning, Marita, Jason and I rumbled away from her house with her truck and trailer attached and headed to Oregon to get my girl and bring her home. We made excellent time there. We made excellent time home. The three hours it took to load her on the trailer, on the other hand…

So that’s going to be something I work on with her over this winter so she’ll be ready to load up and go when it’s time to take her to some shows this summer. Or renaissance faires in the future. Or to rides on the beach. I’m excited to see the places we’ll go together, just us two chunky childfree middle aged goth ladies. I’ve renamed her Navani and she is wonderful. She’s taken to riding in a bitless side-pull really quickly, she sidepasses like a dream, and I know that once I get her focus and her trust, we are going to be great partners. I feel it in my bones. My dream horse.

A visit to Funko Pop Headquarters in Everett, WA

Wetmore Theatre Plaza

The only reason this photo is here is because I never want to forget “Duke of Churl”.

It’s appropriate that Funko’s logo contains a crown as they are the undisputed kings of the niche pop culture casual collector’s market (say that five times fast!). I see legions of their creepy blank dead eyes watching me from a surprisingly wide variety of retailers–not just comic shops and video game stores but also museum gift shops and the occasional grocery store (?!). They’re everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous that somehow even I have one and you know how I feel about them because I just called them creepy two sentences ago! And it really makes sense–they’ve got a product that taps into nostalgia and is easy to mass produce at a price point that people don’t think twice about. They’re like…licensed beanie babies, except there’s thousands of designs from nearly every tv, movie, and game that ever had its moment in the pop culture lexicon. There’s even a Princess Diana pop figure that you can add to your collection

Funko’s brand new world headquarters opened up in Everett in August 2017. Given their massive popularity and its relative proximity to my home,  and furthermore knowing I’ve escorted out of town visitors to the space needle approximately 1,354 times (it’s a very rough estimate but it feels right), I knew that I never needed to self-motivate toward the Funko headquarters but that someday I’d find myself there all the same. And sure enough, less than a year after opening, I found myself inside Funko’s world. 

I do have to say that world is very appealing: candy-colored and larger than life, everything for sale in a setting that feels like its natural environment. Because the company’s most well known products are all housed in virtually identical packaging, these larger setpieces are vital to create an atmosphere of play rather than of a warehouse. It’s also in these setpieces that Funko feels less calculated, less (in their own words) focused on “rapid growth in the licensed gift and novelty world” and more like a really big fan of that thing that you love–and not just a fan of media but a fan of fandom, a meta-fandom, if you will, one that celebrates a person’s ability to fork out ten bucks every time they see a slightly different piece of plastic that reminds them of something better they like.  Whew, that might be a speed record for sliding back into cynicism!

…because I know somewhere you can get a lot of it. Especially if you need an unbent wookiee.

This didn’t deserve its own post: Texas

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Texas.

There’s a donut shop in Round Rock that’ll sell you a donut the size of Texas for just under eight bucks. This behemoth, weighing in at around two pounds, is the equivalent of twelve regular donuts, and it absolutely dwarfs the largest donut I’d had prior, at Universal Studios. I may, in fact, never eat a larger donut in my life…but one can hope. Round Rock Donuts sells ’em glazed, chocolate frosted, and for the indecisive like myself, a split donut. Both sides had their charms, but ultimately I preferred the glazed half as the chocolate frosting can overwhelm the flavor of the donut itself, and it’s a donut worth tasting, tinted yellow from all the golden yolks of the farm-fresh eggs they use in their yeasted raised dough recipe. But y’know, maybe share it with a friend. I was particularly delighted to know that the donut could support its own weight when being picked up to do a size comparison selfie with, say, one’s own head.

I was so excited to go to Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon, which they do every Sunday between 4 and 8pm, in four rounds. There’s a live band, and an array of picnic tables around a central tent, providing shade and protection for a large chicken wire cage, lined with a board with 54 numbered spaces and littered with feed to encourage movement(s). The band announced a table number, and it was from that table that the first round of tickets were sold. Excuse me, “exchanged for a donation”. Tickets are sold exchanged first to kids under 13, then adults over 92 (with ID), and then they’re exchanged with whoever hustled over to the line fast enough, one per person. I saw a man straight vault over a table and determined that the only way for me to win was not to participate. When the chicken finally came out, people crowded around the cage six deep, shouting at the chicken and cheering. Between them and the whole camera crew in there, I could not see anything and I didn’t feel like elbowing a bunch of people to try and see a chicken take a shit, so I left.

I wandered by this place while waiting to get into my movie at the nearby Alamo Drafthouse. Or so I thought. You see, the nearby Alamo Drafthouse, on S Lamar, was busy with SXSW screenings, and the ticket I had purchased was actually for a movie showing at an Alamo Drafthouse in Fort Worth, which is also on S Lamar, just a mere three and a half hour drive away. 

In general, I really really liked Alamo Drafthouse and I’m pretty devastated that there aren’t any locations nearby. The food is delicious, the service is unobtrusive, and they’re serious about ensuring your good experience which includes none of the ubiquitous modern commercial advertising before the start of the movie, choosing instead to take you on a nostalgic tour through tv clips, movie clips, and old timey cartoons and ads for toys and candy, curated from what must be an extensive collection by someone who has love for media. And I cannot confirm this, but I think they may have invented the endless popcorn bowl, because I happily munched on herbed parmesan popcorn all throughout Annihilation and when the movie ended, I still had 70% of it left. Some of the volume left may have had to do with my drive to eat as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the other moviegoers with my excessive crunching. 

The Jackalope was…a bar. With a Jackalope. That I tragically had no one to take my photo riding.

Looking for dinner one night, neither Jason nor I could resist the allure of “Jason’s Deli” for obvious reasons. It was, sad to say, kind of mediocre. My baked potato was almost unfathomably big–it was like they crossed a potato with a loaf of bread and planted it in radioactive soil. But it was bland and the chili was unpleasantly sweet and I was glad I’d paid the extra whatever to have access to the salad bar.

We took a ferry from Galveston to Crystal Beach and regretted it almost immediately. Jason got some freezer burned ice cream, I used the bathroom, we laughed at the “BUY SHRIMP I NEED MONEY” sign, I witnessed a wholly brown wave crash onto the “crystal” trash-littered beach and turned around and headed back to the ferry. 

I wrote one word in my travel notebook for the Houston Space Center: “Yeesh.”  It’s almost like a chaotic evil engineer designed it so that the high pitched shrieks of children reverberate endlessly. 

I like that this building looks like a cockatoo.

Umlach Sculpture Garden

I saw lots of couples taking engagement and wedding photos in Mayfield park. It’s also a lovely place for a stroll or to sit and read a book, punctuated with the haunting, mournful screams of the two dozen peacocks and hens who have the run of the place.

\

Colorado River

And that’s it for Texas! Anything I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post.

Spotted on the Roadside Around Austin, TX

Giant couch potatoes spotted on N Interstate 35 Frontage Road in Austin, TX

World’s Largest Cowboy Boots (check out that ostrich skin, time for some new boot goofin’) spotted on I-410 access road in San Antonio

Giant fork spotted in front of Hyde Park Bar & Grill on Duvall St in Austin (The object being forked changes!)

Light Bulb Shop spotted on Burnet Rd in Austin (now permanently closed)

Nessy spotted on Simond Ave in Austin, TX

 

Of course someone would vandalize a sculpture meant to recognize the magnificence of all humanity. Of course they would.

 

Roadside America had Your Essential Magnificence listed as a “your face here” photo op, and there are indeed small cutouts where one could conceivably put one’s face, but it seems obvious to me that this sculpture is intended to be a throne for your magnificent ass, with roughened steps to ascend and a golden halo around your head instead of a dark hole where you could barely be seen.  Your Essential Magnificence spotted on Bartlett St in Austin, TX 

Gordough’s Big Fat Donuts in Austin, TX

Gordough’s is a public house, a food truck, an experience.  …An experience I had three times in two weeks, because DAMN. The first time, I went solo to the public house and ordered a Popeye’s Roids: spinach salad with grilled chicken, honey balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese crumbles, red grapes, roasted red peppers,  walnuts, and the star of the dish, the savory garlic donut that acted as the crouton. This glorious torus, this crispy-on-the-bottom still hot perfectly seasoned wonder of a vampire-repelling donut is the only thing about that salad that mattered.  The rest of the salad was mediocre and that’s being kind–the roasted red peppers were cold, slick, and obviously from a jar and they screwed up the entire flavor profile by fighting with every other ingredient. But that garlic donut, man. The bottom was crisp in a way that suggested it had been fried in garlic butter, and it tasted like the best garlic bread in the world. It is divine. I want THAT garlic donut with everything, especially if I can use it to mop up some kind of pasta sauce. That garlic donut is the best donut I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve blogged about donuts a lot (and I’m sure there’d be more results in that link if I was consistent with my spelling of doughnut), and will continue to blog about donuts in the future, because hard-hitting donut journalism is one of my niches, and also I just really fucking like donuts. And THIS donut is the best of the best. I’m so far behind on writing about the stuff I’ve done this year that there are donuts that I’m going to blog about in the near future, and you should know that none of them are as good as this garlic donut. 

That donut is why I went back to the public house after Jason joined me on the trip. He ordered a Dirty South: chicken fried steak, potato pancake, white gravy and a spicy cranberry jam served open face atop a piping hot donut, and for dessert, a Funky Monkey donut with cream cheese icing, grilled bananas, and brown sugar, and he really enjoyed both, despite traditionally not being a fan of the cranberry. I elected to try a donut sandwich this time, going for the Dirty Bird (I guess in addition to donuts, the theme of this visit was ‘dirty’): lemon pepper chicken with spinach, pesto, mozz, and roasted red peppers. For dessert, the Squealing Pig, with cream cheese icing, bacon, strawberry jalapeño jelly and candied jalapeños. My Dirty Bird was decent, but it didn’t really have the magic of that first garlic donut, and having had this one, I don’t think I’m down with the donut-as-a-bun experience in general. In fact, nothing I had at Gordough’s since came anywhere close to rivaling that first, perfect donut. 

It’s probably because with the exception of that salad, everything at Gordough’s is a LOT, seemingly under the guiding principle of “if some is good, more is better”. Like one donut? Have two as the bun for your sandwich! Enjoy the flavor of brown sugar? Have an entire handful on top of a thickly frosted donut! This is especially evident with the dessert donuts, even moreso with the donut hole dish I ordered at the food truck, the cherry bomb. These were served swimming in so much goo that they crossed the line from decadent to disgusting. Nothing else was disgusting–I do want to emphasize that the food at Gordough’s in general is very good, it’s just extremely decadent, even if it was being split among several people. It’s just a shame, because they have a great donut, a REALLY great donut, and in most instances you can’t even tell how great the donut is because of all the crap on top of it. And I’m getting to a point in my life where I don’t want to leave a restaurant feeling bad or throw away 90% of what I ordered because I know that eating any more of it will make me sick. The waste sickens me.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop going to restaurants like Gordough’s entirely–as previously mentioned, I just really fucking like donuts, and I’m coming to find that I also enjoy writing about food in more than a perfunctory “nom or vom” way.  I don’t know how all of this is going to affect where I go and how I eat and how I’ll write about it–who knows, maybe this change has been coming on so gradually all along that I’m the only one to whom it comes as a shock. 

Lick Honest Ice Cream in Austin, TX

Lick Honest Ice Cream is hyperlocal. All the milk and cream used to make their ice cream comes from one small central Texas dairy farm, and everything else is made on site–the waffle cones, the sauces, everything. They use no artificial flavorings whatsoever. And I earnestly believe that everything served at Lick is among the best in its class. Waffle cones are available in chocolate and vanilla, and they have an addictive quality: tender but crisp. The scoops sizes are petite, which I found delightful as it meant I could enjoy three flavors easily and comfortably. All three were excellent: Tequila lime hit the right balance of tequila so that the flavor of tequila warmed the mouth but didn’t overpower the cold cream and the acidity of the lime rounded out the bite. Lemon pink peppercorn similarly kept the peppercorns subtle to allow the sweeter meyer lemon to shine. My hands-down favorite, however, was their grapefruit ice cream with champagne marshmallows. The grapefruit flavor was utterly refreshing and delightful, and I appreciated that it the grapefruit flavor came across cleanly but was more creamy than sharp, a grapefruit creamsicle. The marshmallows were spoonably soft and their champagne flavor was light and dreamy. It’s the perfect scoop on a warm Texas evening.

Going Nutty for The World’s Largest Pecan(s) in Texas

Texans are proud of their pecans, as are Missourians. And so, for a time, Texas and Missouri engaged in a small skirmish about which state contained the largest pecan-shaped effigy. Texas built the world’s largest pecan first, then Missouri topped it with a larger pecan, then Texas struck back with an even larger one and several smaller ones on wheels, presumably to act as the larger pecan’s posse who just hang out in the background and say “YEAH” in the event of a pecan rumble.

The world’s largest mobile pecan

At the current World’s Largest Pecan in Seguin, Texas, I ran into a family with a young man named Logan. Logan was very interested in my camera, so I showed him how to use it and he took the next six photos–he has a natural eye, don’t you think? 

While Logan had my camera, I snapped some photos with my cell phone of the things that caught my eye in the museum, including the pecan that the world’s largest pecan was based on, and their collection of figurines made from pecans, prominently featuring a very well endowed Minnie Mouse.

This squirrel gonna cut ya

A worship service was setting up inside that Logan and his family were there for and it didn’t feel appropriate to be skulking around the pecan museum behind a religious service, so I prepared to skedaddle. Logan wanted to get a selfie with me so we took one:

and then I collected my camera, made sure I got a snap of the world’s largest pecan, and pointed my rental car in the direction of home, only to be confronted with another mandatory stop: The Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Shop. Not only do they have the world’s largest squirrel statue, the fourteen foot tall Ms. Pearl, they also have a pecan vending machine for people passing by after regular store hours (like me) so you don’t have to miss out on, say, an entire pecan pie. I tried to buy some pecan clusters but their card reader was broken and it wouldn’t accept my cash, so it’s more like a theoretical vending machine than an actual 24 hour pecan solution. 

Roegels BBQ in Houston, TX

We arrived at Roegels (ray-gels) early: early enough to grab a spot in their small parking lot, but not early enough to be first in line–which is fine, I needed a little time to look at the menu and listen to what other people were ordering and make up my mind. We each ordered a two meat plate and between us had pork ribs, brisket, smoked pork belly, turkey, mac and cheese, seasoned cucumbers, texas caviar*, coleslaw, bourbon banana pudding, and pecan cobbler. Or in other words, half the menu. We also had access to a self-serve pickle bar with two types of pickled cucumbers (spicy and non), both with big swags of dill laid across the top, as well as pickled onions and jalapeños. Portions of everything were very very generous, especially the sides: huge scoops overwhelmed the plate, and I suspect that without the tray, the plate would struggle to support the weight of the food.

The pork ribs at Roegels were the best I had this trip, juicy with the perfect amount of peppery bark and toothiness, and the pecan cobbler (buttery nutty brown sugar heaven)  and bourbon banana pudding were both mindblowingly great, but everything else I couldn’t help but feel I’d had a bit better elsewhere. The primary issue was dryness–the brisket and turkey both had dry bites, and the smoked pork belly’s texture was flaky like fish and somehow also dry. Roegels also had two sauces to accompany the meats, both with the same thin base, tangy with vinegar, one kicking up the heat with jalapeños, and those did a great job masking any dryness I experienced. I have to assume I caught them on a bad day, and if I was in the area again, I’d give them another try because they’re rated so consistently highly among reviewers of Texas barbeque, and their turkey came recommended so highly by my friend and favorite food writer in the game, Erika of Calling All Fats. My meal was overall very good, but I arrived expecting greatness and didn’t quite get there.

 

*A bean, corn, pepper and onion salad, lightly dressed and served cold.