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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. 

District: Donuts Sliders Brew

 district donuts sliders

 

“I’d like four donuts, a cinnamon roll, two biscuits, and three coffees…for here.”

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As the words left my mouth, there was no doubt in my mind I was the fattest person alive. However, I feel that if you only have time to visit District once, you’d do the same. It helped that I had two willing partners in donut-eating to try the bounty that you see before you.

 

district donutsClockwise from the upper left (ignoring the coffees): banana pudding donut, pad thai donut, plain glazed donut, buttermilk drop, maple praline donut, buttermilk biscuit, brûléed cinnamon roll.

It is a goddamn good thing this place is outside of easy driving distance for me or I would be dead inside of a month. Did you even know that a cinnamon roll could be brûléed?! Because I didn’t, and that shit is a revelation. Cinnamon rolls are basically already the perfect pastry,  and adding the crisp crackle of torched sugar on top takes it up into the stratosphere.  What kind of mad science is this?! Is it possible to make something too delicious for your tastebuds to even perceive it? I feel like if any donut shop has a chance of making that discovery, it’s District.

In terms of the donuts themselves, the pad thai donut was my clear favorite. Sweet but not as sweet as the others, it definitely had the distinctive flavors that made you think of pad thai without crossing over into “Oh weird, this is too much” territory. Next was the banana pudding donut, which was aaamazing but so dense and rich that a bite was enough. The maple praline and the plain glazed were both good donuts, but I felt like neither really compared to the other two in terms of flavor impact. Following up all that sweet donut and cinnamon roll with a savory biscuit is necessary to pull yourself out of the too-much-sugar zone–I preferred the standard buttermilk biscuit to the buttermilk drop in both texture and flavor. I need to go back to District and try their sliders. All of them. Maybe with a donut bun.

donut

 

The Portland Donut Throwdown: Voodoo Doughnut vs Blue Star Donuts

portland doughnut throwdown

Voodoo Doughnuts and Blue Star Donuts: Both monsters in the Portland breakfast pastry scene, with diametrically opposed positions on just about everything, including how to spell the product they sell. My initial idea for this doughnut challenge was to buy an asston of doughnuts from both, bring them back to a secure location (also known as the hotel room) and compare them head to head, bite for bite. This plan failed for a number of different reasons. First and foremost, while I don’t doubt that a person exists who can eat bites of twenty different doughnuts and not feel horrifically, violently ill for the rest of the day, that person is not me. Second, while I may not always want to wear pants, I would like for them to continue to be an option.

Here’s the breakdown:

Voodoo Doughnut specializes in raised yeast doughnuts with quirky toppings (think cereal), unusual shapes (think cock and balls), and punn-y names. They’re expensive, there’s almost always a line, and they’re cash only. They’ve got a huge variety of doughnuts on their menu, including a maple bacon doughnut in a bar style with entire strips of bacon on top.  You’re going to see a lot of people carrying their distinctive pink box throughout the streets of Portland.

Blue Star Donuts specializes in brioche donuts featuring local, sustainable toppings and flavors, traditional shapes, and basic, descriptive names. They’re expensive (even a little moreso than Voodoo), there’s almost always a line, and they take cards. They’ve got a much smaller variety of doughnuts on their menu, including a maple bacon donut in a circle style with crumbled bacon on top. You’re going to see a lot of people carrying their distinctive white box throughout the streets of Portland.

 

I went to Blue Star Donuts first because I’d never been there before, and I’ve been to Voodoo several times (I’ve even tried their voodoo wedding!). The shop was packed to the gills, but the line moved relatively quickly, and we bought and tried six different varieties: classic buttermilk, vanilla and cinnamon sugar, maple bacon, blueberry bourbon basil, key lime lemon curd, and a still-warm hard apple cider fritter.

Holy shit. Holy shit holy shit holy shit. I want to say that it took more than one bite to determine that I didn’t need to go back to Voodoo to declare a victor, but that isn’t true. One bite of the blueberry bourbon basil was all it took, and the bites I took of each of the others only confirmed it. Blue Star Donuts sells the superior donut by a landslide. While both shops sell perfectly fluffy pastries, the natural flavors and gourmet pairings Blue Star uses makes all the difference. Granted, I still felt ill after eating bites of everything, but I regret nothing. Sorry, Voodoo. You and Kenny Rogers will always have a place in my heart, but Blue Star has claimed my waistline.

This didn’t deserve its own post: Atlanta, oh nah nah

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 Atlanta.

We walked Walter in his stroller to Venkman’s to grab a light brunch and make an art deal

R. Land

This feels like a trap. Is it just me?

Hodgepodge Coffee

Other than the joy of slapping my peepers on a real life blue whale, I did not really enjoy my time at the Georgia aquarium. The bloodcurdling screams to lookin’ at stuff ratio was suboptimal, and surprisingly, my dolphin show experience wasn’t enhanced by being kicked in the back constantly which came as a total surprise. 

Dooley, Spirit of Emory, Lady of Misrule, and officially my favorite college mascot.

Before going to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, we fueled up at Sublime Doughnuts. Clockwise from upper left: Sweet potato cake, salt & vinegar, fresh strawberry & cream, I do not remember this donut at all, chocolate banana fritter. I’m not usually a fan of the cake donut, but the sweet potato cake was the standout of the bunch, moist and spiced with a swirl of cream cheese frosting. It’s full on cake for breakfast but I’m not complaining. 

I have no photos of the most fabulous meal I had in Atlanta, at Atlas in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood. Atlas is located in the St. Regis Hotel, with Christopher Grossman as their Executive Chef. It’s a swanky place, beautifully decorated, with art by masters on the walls, and it’s precisely the sort of place that I feel intimidated pulling out my camera to photograph the interior or my meal, because I guess I feel like I can either maintain the shabby illusion that I am the sort of person who eats in nice restaurants all the time OR I can photograph my meal from three angles but not both. I did the mental math and since I’ve really leaned into Seattle Casual™ the last few years in terms of my ill-fitting regular wardrobe, I landed on “I’m just lucky they let me inside” and left my phone in my purse.

But the food there. THE FOOD. I ate two entrees that evening. Every bite of both. I’m not ashamed. I would be ashamed to leave even a scrap of something that life-alteringly delicious behind. It’s like all of the picky, halfhearted eating I’d done over the few days prior all served to prepare me for this one beautiful meal. I’d never eaten softshell crab before I ate it at Atlas and now if I was to order it somewhere else, Atlas would be the sole point of comparison which isn’t fair to anyone involved, including the crab. My other entree, Atlas’ famous wagyu burger, was breathtaking. It’s a classic American cheeseburger with every component done to its zenith: fresh ground wagyu, cooked medium rare on a brioche bun with house ketchup, American cheese, sliced pickles, and pickled ramp thousand island dressing, with a side of perfectly crispy fries.  It is “treat yo self” expensive (for a burger) but for a meal at a AAA four diamond restaurant, it’s damn reasonable. 

Afterward, we went to a bar in east Atlanta (na na na) at the peak of Havana oversaturation and played it on the jukebox and laughed and laughed.

 

 

And that’s it for Atlanta! All the stuff I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post. 

A closer look at 2018: An Oregon Weekend

As I’ve talked about before, Navani is from Eugene, Oregon, which meant a road trip to meet her to decide if I wanted to buy her and another when it was time to bring her home. Jason had already gone with me on a couple of trips to meet horses I didn’t buy, and so he elected not to come this time. I could’ve done it in a one day there-and-back trip, but I also didn’t have the kind of time pressure that would make that exhausting round trip necessary. Instead, I drove to Portland the night before which was its own ordeal (driving Seattle to Portland on a Friday afternoon: just don’t do it) and stayed in my favorite hotel for immediate highway access: the Red Lion on the River Jantzen Beach. The hotel itself is fine,  but really it’s that ability to immediately launch myself onto the highway from, essentially, the parking lot that makes it my go-to for this kind of waypoint trip. 

I left early enough in the morning to allow for a couple of stops along the way and still be on time, ideally a bit early. One of the horse-buying tips I learned from the more seasoned people in my circle is that you should try to be early enough that the seller can’t hide or otherwise mask the horse’s behavior. Very high-tempered horses might be worked hard beforehand or even administered a sedative. Horses that are hard to catch in the pasture or are cinchy are already brought in and saddled up. Turning up a little early gives you a better opportunity to observe more about the horse. Hence, blasting straight out of the hotel parking lot onto the highway instead of grabbing breakfast at some amazing Portland restaurant. 

Instead, my first stop was to Sesame Donuts in Sherwood, where I purchased their namesake donut plus a pumpkin spice donut, and a fancy latte that was definitely seasonally flavored, I just cannot remember exactly what those flavors were. The sesame seeds did impart an interesting nuttiness to their cake donut base and really helps fill in that gap in the breakfast spectrum where you aren’t in the mood for a bagel but you still want to get a bunch of sesame seeds stuck in your teeth.

My other pre-Navani stop was at Grove of the States, located off French Prairie Rest area near Wilsonville. Here, they have (or had) the state tree of every tree in the United States along with a plaque featuring the state and the tree name. The grove was initially planted in the mid 1960s to honor Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act (which I got to learn a bit more about at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center when I visited there last spring),  and its creation involved a visit from the attorney general of every state in the nation. Unfortunately, it was planted “in symbolic geographical locations” (I presume in the shape of the United States) without accounting for the long term space and light needs of these non native specimen trees and as a result many of the original plantings have failed over the ensuing fifty years.  

To ensure that the symbolic project lives on for future generations to enjoy, a grove restoration project began in 2016.  Now, new saplings strive upward among the beautiful mature trees of Grove of the States. It’s wonderful to have such a fine place to stretch your legs at a rest stop. I hadn’t known before that several states share the same tree as their state tree–I don’t know why I assumed that each state had to choose a unique state tree and if their favorite was drafted already, too bad, Vermont. Maple is taken.  

I see now that my home state of Wisconsin has taken the initiative of designating a state pastry, which sounds exactly like something my people would do. I can only hope the rest of the states follow suit and then I’ll be able to go to Bakery of the States. That’s how America is going to achieve unity: every single state pastry mashed together in my stomach like the mighty globe of fat, carbohydrates, and sugar I knew it could be.

After meeting Navani and calling everyone to tell them about the horse I was going to buy, I was wiped out, so I drove back to my convenient highway side hotel, ate the other half of the sandwich I’d bought on the harrowing drive there the night before, and passed out.  The next morning, I immediately headed over to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, where the line was already out the door at 8:30am.

I wasn’t bothered by the existence of a line itself but rather people’s shocking behavior in the line, specifically the family behind me, the adult members of which said and did nothing when their 6 or 7ish year old son pressed his face and hands against the glass and then smeared himself like human butter across the entirety of the case, in the style of a Japanese novel, right to left, shoving past me and several other people to make certain he got it all, because nothing makes a pastry look more appetizing than through a film of oily secretions. This child then attempted to scale the structure because surely nothing is more loadbearing than the thin glass on the front of a pastry case, it’s probably the same kind of glass you can stand out on over the Grand Canyon, or that they use to contain the more venomous snakes. It was at this point the dad took decisive action, by picking up his coughing baby and hoisting her completely over the glass barrier, presumably because the glass was no longer serving its function as a clear window to the food beyond. A little known fact is that this glass performs a secondary sanitary role, acting as a physical barrier between the mouth  of the customer (and/or sack of crap strapped to its waist) and unpackaged food so as to reduce the risk of contamination. It cannot provide this function when you lift your baby over the glass to cough directly on the bread. Why not just cough into my open mouth, save us some time? 

I made my selections away from where the coughing action went down and ended up with a couple of marionberry croissants, a maple pecan croissant, and two canneles, since I knew I’d be home by afternoon to share with Jason. Of those items, the marionberry croissants were a standout, the fat juicy berries studding the flaky pastry and making it a luscious pie-like experience.  Plus anything sprinkled with pearl sugar earns bonus points in my book. 

A thick fog blanketed the road near Sauvie Island  that morning, and when I saw a sign advertising a pumpkin patch, I had to pull off to check out what a field of pumpkins looked like in that much atmosphere. 

I don’t know how this ATM works, I assume you tell the witches your pin number and then money shoots up into the cauldron. 

Everything looks super spooky in this much fog. Everything including this cow train, which felt like a Twilight Zone episode where you’d find out that these are the cars the cows, who are now in charge of society, use to cart humans to the abattoir.  Bovine University.

From Sauvie Island, I drove to St Helens, also known as Halloweentown. Halloweentown festivities were in full swing, and I had a blast getting my photo taken in the upside down photo studio, checking out all of the awesome vintage Halloween stuff at the 2CS vendor mall, and catching up with my friend Kat while I went ham buying fancy candles and chocolates at Woodland Cottage Handpicked

From St. Helens, I drove to Longview, the place where I’d once attempted to eat the largest cinnamon roll in the world (with help!). Longview has a series of squirrel bridges up throughout town  to help prevent car and squirrel related accidents. The first was called the Nutty Narrows and it was installed in 1963 for the cost of a thousand dollars.  Every time I have occasion to come through town, I find my way to at least one squirrel bridge to see if I can observe it in action and each time I have been disappointed by no-show squirrels. What I’d really love to see are some webcams monitoring the comings and goings of the bridge, which seems like it’d be even easier than booking Cherry Poppin’ Daddies for their annual SquirrelFest which is in fact a real thing and not something I just made up, where you can “Enjoy: no car/squirrel fatalities!” Thanks, will do!

I walked alongside Lake Sacajawea, enjoying the sunshine, petting dogs, and playing Pokemon until my cell phone battery got low enough that it threatened my ability to listen to Spotify the entire way home, as in their wisdom, Google’s decision to remove the aux jack and route sound through the USB port means that I cannot charge my phone and listen to music at the same time.  All these phone manufacturers arbitrarily removing the aux jack really jacked up my road trip flow, where I want to use battery-heavy GPS and listen to music or podcasts for hours at a time. I like to keep the phone plugged in to a charging source so that I don’t have to worry about the state of the battery and, in the event of some kind of incident, I know that I have a full charge regardless of my location. That’s a thing I can’t do with my Pixel 2.  I can listen to music in my car now if I have a usb-c to aux adaptor (they’re so easy to lose, I asked Santa for three, he brought me one, and I’ve lost it already) and an aux cable, but now that phone aux jacks are going away, they’re going away in newer models of cars, too. The last loaner I had from MINI, I couldn’t connect my phone and the car physically at all, and I don’t feel great about allowing a rental car access to my phone. 

You know what else isn’t a joke? Facing a road trip with no music. #bringbacktheauxjack

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.

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Colorado River

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

The murals and art around (a small sampling of) Texas

This fucking 3d mural, you guys. I drove to San Antonio to see it, among other things, including a shop where you could buy tacos AND donuts from the drive-through, because of course that’s a place I would go. The 3d mural, Vision del Futuro, has its own permanent 3d glasses to view it, so naturally a helpful soul broke out both lenses. I suspected that might be the case beforehand, so I packed an old pair of 3D glasses from Halloween Horror Nights…and those only sort of worked. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t have my phone after frantically checking all of my pockets and every compartment of my purse. I then spotted it on the ground behind my rental car and dashed over: the screen was shattered and it seemed like it might have been run over by a car. Sigh. I suppose if it was going to happen, it’s better that it happened while Jason was there with his phone because otherwise I would have been alone and lost in an unfamiliar city. As it was, that was the end of the day I had planned and instead it became a tour of the endless strip mall that is San Antonio, first visiting my cell carrier’s store and not finding the phone I had intended to buy, and then visiting an electronics store only to find that they only sell the phone I wanted for other carriers because while you may be familiar with Murphy’s Law, Melissa’s Addendum states that not only will everything go wrong, but it needs to be the biggest, most expensive pain in the ass possible. I really did not want to buy a $600+ new phone that’s a runner up to the one I actually wanted, so I needed to find some other option. Eventually I found myself at San Antonio’s UBreakIFix, and while they didn’t have the screen for my (admittedly a couple generations old) phone, they called every other UBreakIFix in the greater San Antonio/Austin area and found ONE shop in the Austin area that had one. I begged them to hold it and told them I’d be there when the doors opened the next morning. It only took the better portion of the day and that’s why there’s practically no San Antonio to show for my efforts. 

This piece was made to draw attention to the critically endangered Houston toad, of which there is estimated only 3,000-4,000 remain in the total population worldwide.

This was near the churro food truck that I tried to visit three times that was always closed. I think it would take less effort to start my OWN churro food truck than actually catch this place open.

I don’t know what kind of armadillo centipede you’re trying to create here, sky prince, but I’m not here for it and I don’t think the people of Texas will stand for it.

No.

Art for the People is a cool gallery with a surprising amount of art packed inside at all price points.

Riding in the Sky: The Sandia Peak Tramway

The Sandia Peak Tramway was once the longest tramway in the world. Bumped to third place, it remains the longest in the United States. Construction started in 1964 and was completed two years later, with the second support tower requiring the aid of helicopters to construct. And not a little helicopter aid, either–it took some 5,000 helicopter trips to complete tower two and install the cables, which is probably more helicopters than you’ve ever seen in your life from all sources combined, even if you’re a dedicated fan of Steven Seagal’s oeuvre.  The span of the cables is 7,720 feet, which is long enough that that the cables and even the car itself seems to disappear as it moves away. It’s so long that a trip up or down takes a solid fifteen minutes, so it’s reassuring to know that over the course of their operation, every part of  the tram save for the towers themselves has been replaced at least twice. Less reassuring was our car operator’s description of our current elevation above the ground as a “seven and a half second freefall”, but even that gave me a small assurance: that I’d have enough time to shout “I waaaaaant aaaaa reeeeefuuuuuund” as I hurtled toward the ground. Petty until the very end, that’s me.

Healthier, more ambitious people than myself can choose to hike up or down, and thus tickets are sold at both the top and the bottom station in one way and round trip forms, so I was careful to not lose them in the depths of the abomination I call a travel purse: some forty pounds of anything I might need and no way to recover any of it without five to ten minutes of swirling my arm around in it up to my shoulder. I mean, yes, if I had lost the tickets it wouldn’t have been the end of the world to buy new ones or even hike down (let’s be honest, if you’re going to have to hike one of the directions, down is preferable), BUT then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pepper the tram operator with questions–they have a prepared spiel they give on the ride up, but not on the ride down. The kind of hard-hitting questions I’m known for, like ” Has the tram ever gotten stuck? For how long? If there always has to be an operator on the tram, who rides the first one down in the morning? What does that red handle do?” Answers: Yes. Usually no more than 15 minutes but it has been stopped for longer waiting for a car to stop swinging back and forth so it doesn’t risk collision with a tower. Someone actually has to spend the night up in the peak to ride down in the morning, which our (female) operator has never had to do, and for which she’s grateful (“I’m a women’s libber, but you get a bunch of weirdos showing up in the middle of the night.”). It’s an emergency brake that stops the tram completely, requiring the operator to have to strap into a harness and climb outside the tram to manually reset things–which, of course, spurred an inevitable follow up question of “Have you ever had to do that?”. Thankfully, the answer to that one was no, not outside of training. Just picturing being harnessed to the top of a swinging tram a seven and a half second freefall above the ground made my insides roil around a bit in a way that had nothing to do with the rebel donuts crammed in there. Can’t a helicopter do it instead?

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“Stay out of my territory”: Breaking Bad in Albuquerque

 

For as long as the show remains in pop culture memory*,  the city of Albuquerque will be tied to Breaking Bad. I’m not such a die-hard fan that I wanted to turn my trip into a Breaking Badcation, but if you’re familiar with the show at all, you’ll spot little nods and filming locations all over town. Like, for instance, the Crossroads Motel (or “crystal palace”), which was smack on the corner where we turned to go to our hotel (“Is that…? No, wow, it looked so much worse on the show.”). There was also a little nod to Heisenberg at Rebel Donut, with their “Blue Sky” donut, sprinkled with blue sugar crystals. There’s The Dog House, the hot dog joint where Jesse slings meth and buys a gun, and Garduños, where a waiter awkwardly presses tableside guacamole on the family, not reading the mood of the room. Jason and I got lunch/dinner at Garduños (their portions are, to put it mildly, gargantuan), including the aforementioned tableside guacamole, which Walt is frankly a fool for passing on**. We also found Walter White’s tombstone, which was initially placed in the Sunset Memorial Park cemetery, but was later removed to a strip mall*** after some families complained. I didn’t even consider swinging by the home portrayed as Walter White’s on the show because the real homeowner has had so many issues with people lurking outside her home and throwing pizzas on her roof and frankly, I don’t want to contribute to her stress  or be associated with a bunch of salty asshole fans when I’d seen plenty of Breaking Bad stuff around town anyway. I guess, for her, the sooner the memory of the show fades, the better.

*Not terribly long, if Forks is any indication.

**Like, in a show that’s essentially about a series of bad decisions, this might’ve been his worst one. They make it right at the table, man.

***There was some construction up at the strip mall and I didn’t know if we’d be able to pull into the parking lot, so I parked at nearby Dan’s Boots & Saddles. We wandered into the store afterward and ended up outfitting Jason with a bunch of new work shirts and a pretty bitchin’ cowboy hat. I want to say we were helped by the owner, and he was helpful and knowledgeable and friendly in a way that one doesn’t often see anymore which is why I’m plugging his store in this completely unrelated blog post. So if you’re in the area and in the market for some boots or a hat, definitely stop in!

This didn’t deserve its own post: Iceland Edition

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 Iceland.

For my stay in Reykjavik, I was booked at the Best Western. I don’t have any particular distaste for the Best Western chain in general–they’re serviceable if not particularly fancy, the sort of place that you maybe wouldn’t be too surprised to see duct tape patching a hole in the carpet. Frankly, I don’t need for my hotel room to be fancy, it’s the place that I crash out for a few hours in between doing more exciting things, unless I get sick and end up spending much more time there than anticipated. Free WiFi is nice, free breakfast is another good perk (even if I rarely avail myself of the option). This Best Western changed my opinion about Best Westerns. I wish they were ALL like this one. For one, the room was super nice. For two, the tub was super nice. For three, free breakfast is a wonderful thing when food is as expensive as it is in Iceland. For four, their toilet flushed with the force of a spectacular waterfall. For five, they have a kind of duvet I’ve never seen before, one that has the power to save marriages all over the world: split down the middle so no one needs to stab a covers hog in the middle of the night.

best wester reykjavik

tub

amazing comforter

The one area in which I was a little disappointed was Icelandic TV. I don’t know if my hotel had awful reception or what, but I am very much not into the club scene (as I am old, uncool, and disinclined to pay for bottle service) so if I wanted to veg a bit after everything closes at night (earlier than I would have expected), my options were limited. The news channel was frozen on that same frame for my entire visit.

One morning, I got a bug up my butt about going to see the sun voyager sculpture at dawn. I either severely overestimated the distance or underestimated my walking speed and how much I would hustle in the cold, because I got there a good thirty to forty minutes before sunrise. It was so cold, with strong winds whipping icy water up out of the harbor to sting our faces. I spent a good portion of that time huddling in a bus shelter, skittering out whenever I saw something that might be a bus coming so I wouldn’t inconvenience a driver by making him stop when he didn’t have to. A few other people with cameras showed up just before dawn. We were all red-cheeked and hopeful for a spectacular sunrise.  What we got was not the most spectacular one in the history of time (too much cloud cover that seemed like it was moving out of the way but didn’t), but it was pretty damn good, and worth the effort.

sun voyager

Afterward, we made our way to the Harpa Concert hall to check it out and escape the cold a bit while waiting for businesses to start opening.

harpa

harpa interior

jason harpa

mellzah harpa

harpa interior ceiling

I don’t know if this is the case everywhere in Iceland, but all of the public restrooms I used were stellar. Super private stalls, impeccably clean, all with those magnificent waterfall toilets, very unlike, say, the terrifying and filthy half-door stalls at Pike Place Market where you can make shame-filled eye contact with someone outside the stall while wiping, which I would only use if my death by exploding bladder was imminent and even then I would think twice.

public restroom

I like that construction at the harbor is so permanent that they’ve put it on their maps.

permanently under construction

I have mentioned before that food is really, really expensive in Iceland. One night, sans reservations, we wedged our way in at the bar at Public House. Our meal started off with a shot and a beer, and then we each got a selection of small plates, four each. I got something called the “taste of iceland”, and the two courses I remember were a tiny licorice puffin salad and some lamb stuffed inside a doughnut, the former which was a little weird even for a licorice lover like myself and the later being quite delicious. We both walked out still hungry, and our bill was over $230 USD. Oh, but that wasn’t all. While we were at the bar, a local came in, complaining of the cold, and grabbed each of our hands to show how cold she was. I, thinking this was an opportunity to connect, offered her my already-warmed hot hands packet in addition to a fresh unopened packet to use later, which she was very, very excited about, showing them off to everyone who worked at the restaurant. So far so good, right? Then she started in on a seriously intense speech about how people in Iceland are going to the harbor and killing themselves, repeating to us over and over again “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” It was deeply unsettling and I can still hear her voice in my head when I think about it. I’m trying not to think about it.

public house

public house puffin salad

public house reindeer donut

Baejarins beztu pylsur, on the other hand, is refreshingly cheap, and apparently the must-try Iceland place. It’s a hot dog stand that’s been open since the 1930s, and pretty much everyone stops there to eat eina með öllu (one with everything: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, raw onions, and crunchy fried onions). The lamb-based hot dog is delicious, and all that onion makes your breath truly remarkable for the better part of the afternoon. Frankly I don’t care what the hot dogs are actually made of to make them so inexpensive, whether it’s ground up rats with wooly lamb coats or what, I was just thrilled not to spend $60+ on a meal (another reason I loaded up at free breakfast every morning).

beztu

I’m not sure what Texas-style pizza is but I do wish I had stopped in to find out. Then again, maybe not as their food is decribed as “intestinal terrorism”.

texas pizza

Because I am a mature adult, I spent some time singing “a few times I’ve been around that track/ so it’s not just gonna happen like that/ because I ain’t no hlölla bátar / I ain’t no hlölla bátar

aint no hlolla batar

If they don’t give you a gun with which to shoot your selection on the menu, I don’t even know what to say.

american style

At the hotel, I saw an advertisement for a fish spa, the establishment where a bunch of hungry fish eat all of the gross dead skin off of your feet. This was something I’ve been keen to try for a while, and it’s been banned in the US (as there’s no way to sterilize the fish) so this was my first opportunity and I’d be damned if I was going to pass it up. While it’s true you can’t sterilize the fish, they do have you clean your feet well before you plop them in a tank, washing them and then squeezing on some kind of antiseptic. It wasn’t the super ticklish sensation I expected, more of a pins-and-needles type feeling, except when they squeezed between my toes to get at some particularly tasty foot crud–that was ticklish. My feet were baby soft afterward though that probably has a lot more to do with soaking them in water for an hour and then layering on some thick lotion than the fish themselves. I wouldn’t say that where the fish could hear, though, as I wouldn’t want to crush their tiny spirits.

iceland fish spa

fish spa

I liked how bright many of the houses were, it made the city feel quite cheerful.

  colorful houses

drekkin

street

single gloves speed dating  

This one little pond was absolutely stuffed to the gills with birds one evening. My favorite was obviously this little short-necked dude strutting around like he owned the place.

sunset bird pond   neckless bird

I never did get to try Icelandic meat soup, but not for lack of trying. Everywhere I went, every time I tried to order it, they were out. I’m not certain Icelandic meat soup actually exists.

eat meee  

And that wraps up Iceland! The stuff I didn’t talk about really doesn’t deserve its own post.