Category Travel

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.

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.

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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.

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.

The Elisabet Ney Museum of Austin, TX

Today you are going to learn about the absolute badass Elisabet Ney. Born in 1833 and educated in Germany, Elisabet was so certain she wanted to pursue sculpture as her life’s work that she went on a weeks-long hunger strike to otherwise persuade her reticent parents. They eventually relented, and Elisabet became the first female student at the Munich Academy of Art. She was a very talented sculptor; her forms are exquisite and her expressions are subtle and lifelike. Elisabet was also a dedicated and outspoken women’s rights activist, riding horses astride like men, refusing to take her husband’s name, and her dedication to avoiding housework was so strong that she slept in a hammock just so she wouldn’t have to make a bed. What. A. Badass.

After her death in her studio in Austin, the studio and its contents were donated to the University of Texas Austin, under the condition that the contents would not be removed. Now, these originals and replicas are on display for the public to view for free five days a week, and appears to be a popular place for artists to come and sketch the grounds and her work. How wonderful that although it’s no longer an artist’s studio, art continues unabated.