Voodoo Doughnut

when I solicited things to do in Portland from my friends, Voodoo Doughnut was on more than a few lists. while I’d heard plenty about the shop (and it’s maple-bacon doughnuts), I still didn’t know what to expect when we made our way to the corner of SW 3rd and Ankeny.

a line was the first thing to anticipate. a neatly cordoned queue with an assortment of people – older, younger, nattily dressed, prepared for the weather, in strollers, in groups, alone. almost all conversing about which doughnuts they were going to pick out. we pulled up the menu from the website and read through all our options before we made it through the door, deciding on more than we could possibly eat in the three days we’d be in Oregon … and then ended up ordering an extra two on top of that. all very tasty, in the end.

two friends came up with the idea to open a doughnut shop in Old Town Portland in the early 2000 (reputedly between cans of beer on a tubing trip). they sought out some expert doughnut makers to provide guidance in how to become doughnut-makers (as neither had experience in that part of their proposed venture) and opened up their first location in 2003 in downtown Portland, just south of the Burnside Bridge. they’ve now expanded to four locations (another in Portland, one in Eugene, one in Denver) and a food cart.

in addition to its obvious doughnut function, Voodoo also offers wedding services and has collaborated with Rogue Ales to create some Voodoo-inspired beers. nothing that I’d ever be tempted to try, but then I’m not one for maple-bacon flavored anything.

beignets at Cafe Beignet in Royal St

two days in New Orleans naturally meant two days of beignets. our second tasting took us to Cafe Beignet in Royal Street. our guide book claimed there’s a heated debate as to which tourist cafe has the better beignets — this one or the Cafe du Monde we’d visited the day earlier.

it sits deeper into the French Quarter, rather than plopped next to the Mississippi River across from Lafayette Square, and benefits from it. the cafe has a bright but subterranean feel, which contrasted interestingly with the open-air, wall-less atmosphere of the previous day. we opted to take our beignets in the courtyard, shared by the police station next door. (in truth, while the courtyard was clearly designed for use by the cafe customers I wasn’t convinced we weren’t, technically, on city property.) we arrived in the mid-afternoon, meeting up for a cemetery tour schedule to depart from the sidewalk out side the cafe, but opted to work up an appetite on our walking tour before enjoying the slightly-less-powder-covered fried treat. while I can’t speak to the quality of the coffee, the iced tea was quite tasty — and a welcome option. the workers at this establishment seemed much less world-weary and notably more competent; perhaps a question of scale but certainly welcome. leaving this place, I was nigh-tempted to buy a box of their beignet mix; not so at the other place or when I saw offerings in gift shops along Royal Street. I may not have any kitchen appliance designed for frying, but I’m adventurous enough to try it out on my own, so long as I can find a good recipe when inspired.

while many cultures have variations of fried fritters, beignets came to New Orleans from France in the 18th century. (some believe the Ursuline nuns may have brought the recipe, though there isn’t evidence to substantiate the claim.) they became a staple of Creole cuisine, generally sweet though sometimes savory, and in 1986 were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana.

beignets at Cafe du Monde

consumption of beignets sat squarely atop our list of tourist-musts for our New Orleans adventure. our very first stop on Friday morning, after a breezy but pleasant walk from our hotel next to the convention center into the French Quarter, was the Cafe du Monde – perhaps the best known source of beignets in the city.

situated diagonally across the street from Jackson Square, Cafe du Monde has operated since the 1860s, originally a part of the French Market. capitalizing on the popularity of their signature treat, at one time Cafe du Monde locations ranged all over Louisiana and as far away as Atlanta. today, there are just under a dozen locations around the greater New Orleans area. the French Market cafe is open 24 hours a day year round, with the exception of Christmas day and whenever hurricanes threaten enough to necessitate closure. the cafe closed on August 27, 2005, in advance of Katrina and, though the venue was only slightly damaged by the storm, the property owners took two months following the storm to refurbish the cafe while visitor numbers were down.

we arrived about 10:00 a.m. on a Friday to stand in line. while the line moved quickly, getting us under the awning in about 10 or 15 minutes, the same couldn’t be said for getting our tasty fried treats and chicory-flavored cafe au lait. when the beignets arrived, they proved mostly worth the wait, though by the end of my order they seemed to be losing a crucial degree of their warmth, if not their tasty, fried (and sugar-drenched) sweetness. not the best beignets I had on our trip, but still mighty tasty.

pupol: a Galician delicacy

on day 32 we came to Melide, the first town of notable size in our last province of the Camino — A Coruña — and had our first opportunity to try one of the regional specialties: pupol! (disclaimer that will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me: I did not try the pupol. I wasn’t tempted in the slightest no matter how novel it looked from the open window to the street.) we reached Melide about lunchtime and had planned to stop anyway and I had a vague recollection of reading something about it being known for the regional specialty of octopus so, duly intrigued buy the guy hoisting the nearly-ready-to-eat for other inquisitive peregrinos, we stepped into the first place offering pulpol.

while I went with some tasty Galician soup, Andy opted for the smallest portion of pulpol, served on a small, round, wooden plate. when he ordered, the guy at the front window hoisted the steamed pulpol from the pot, snipped off pieces from the tentacles and sauteed them on a grill beneath the window. in just a few minutes, the delicacy was sitting in the middle of our table, toothpicks ready and waiting. verdict from across the table: it was good, interesting. but more than you’d want to eat without something to go along with it. I suppose maybe it’s like eating a solitary hot dog — no condiments or bun, just a chopped-up hot dog. 

the approach to Melide came over a medieval bridge crossing the rio Furelos. the village once belonged to the Hospitallers of San Juan dating back to the 12th century. on the near side of the bridge stood a man offering to stamp credencials with a homemade stamp. throughout Galicia it wasn’t uncommon to see stamps out in all manner of peregrino-oriented establishments or even on the side of the road. this particular guy stood out in my memory, though, because of his location, but because he had his stamp stand set up on the back of his bicycle and part of one of his legs was prosthetic. we didn’t avail ourselves of this stamping opportunity, however, because by this point of our Camino our credencials were nearly filled up. we had to ration our remaining space, unlike those who started from Sarria or thereabouts.

around Melide, Neolitic dolmens and other sites attest to the fact the area was densely settled in prehistoric times; during the Roman occupation the town served as a crucial transportation hub where the Via Traiana and Catabrian roads crossed. despite its strategic importance at this crossroads, however, there’s little in the way of defenses as we saw elsewhere along the Camino. no enormous wall or castles or barracks erected to fend off would-be invaders; perhaps it was far enough out that most enemy forces didn’t bother. even when residents received permission to erect a wall to enclose the city, they never finished it. all their efforts went into providing lodging and food for pereginos flowing through the town. in 1375 the town notary and his wife donated funds to Franciscans to run an albergue on the outskirts of town which was favored by Castillian monarchs and remained in use until the mid-19th century. by then, however, the diminished demand from peregrinos prompted its conversion into a military barracks.

menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.

our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.

my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.

Wall, South Dakota

the rest stop on I-90

anyone who’s driven towards, through, or around South Dakota has seen signs for Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. I’ve seen billboards for it in Minnesota and Iowa, not to mention all across the length of South Dakota.  we started joking about whether or not to visit the famous Drug Store somewhere between Sioux Falls and the Missouri River, in spite of the fact that none of us had any interest in diverting off the road for the quintessential interstate tourist trap. I’d say “give ’em a giant ball of twine and they’ve got kitchiest road side attraction west of the Missouri sewn up” except I don’t think they need a giant ball of twine, really.

perhaps I’m not being fair to Wall Drug. I know we stopped there on my earlier westward trek to the Black Hills, but on pain of death and dismemberment I couldn’t produce any concrete memories of the place. all I know is that Wall Drug started up during the Depression (in 1931) by a Nebraska pharmacist who struggled to make his business work. his wife got the idea to offer and advertise free ice water for visitors of the newly-opened Mount Rushmore and, 80 years later, they boast handing out something near 20,000 cups of water a day during peak tourist season.

anyway, despite swearing we wouldn’t set foot in Wall, we did have to grace the city limits to get back onto the Interstate after diverting through the Badlands. and, leaving the Black Hills around 3 p.m., it turned out to be a decent place to stop and get some dinner. the local restaurant we found even had passable veggie options! (mostly because they had an extensive appetizer menu of fried foods.) in a town of 766, it might have been the only game besides the Subway and when a party of nearly two dozen people started showing up (a caravan of indeterminate make-up and origin) it stretched capacity to the limit. thankfully, we got in and out just in time and got out of Wall, bellies full and not a single Drug Store seen.

golden raspberry white-chocolate torte

one reason I chose to travel when I did this year was to have something memorable to say about my golden birthday. three years ago, I went to a club in North Park with two friends who were California natives. two years ago I went to the San Diego Zoo, then out to one of my favorite places in San Diego — the beach in Coronado. last year, I went out to Blue Mounds State Park with my parents for a hike on what was a decidedly, wonderfully fall day.

this year, I was in Prague. lovely, lovely Prague (even if it was sprinkling most of the day). I certainly didn’t want to go without some special birthday treat to mark the occasion, so after a morning of wandering around the city I popped into the Prague Bakeshop just a few blocks the fashionable Pařížská and Old Town Square. there, I enjoyed a cup of reasonable Earl Gray tea (the Czech Republic is not known for either its coffee or its tea) and a perfectly delectable white chocolate torte with chocolate crumb crust and fresh raspberries. I was never been much of a white chocolate person, but I do believe the Czech Republic might have me swayed in its favor now and forever.

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once you reach the top of El Ávila, activity options are somewhat limited. apart from the somewhat kitchy, boardwalk-arcade-like attractions in the teleférico station, options include walking up to the Hotel Humboldt (named for Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist who explored and described Venezuelan fauna at the turn of the 19th century) and hiking or taking a “shuttle” down the northern face of the mountain to the village of Galipán.

after walking up to the Hotel Humboldt, which was mostly obscured by the cloud that sat atop the mountain through the duration of my visit, I decided to take advantage of the vehicular transportation down to Galipán (as I did not yet have my fabulous Keen hiking boots…).

the road down to Galipán is a rugged dirt track, rutted by rainwater streaming down the mountain and the trucks that drive you down the often steep incline are retrofitted flatbeds — two benches along each side, some with covering, some with more secure protection from the elements, all readily providing you with a sense of a true off-road adventure. eight other people and I squished into one of these vehicles for the 15 minute descent down the coastal side of the mountain, passing those more intrepid than us who’d elected to hike down the path to Galipán.

the town of Galipán has been around more than 200 years, when settlers from the Canary Islands established the town on the slope facing the ocean. it’s largely touristy now, with shops full of tourist trinkets and treats, like honey harvested from local bees or preserved limes. the reason I decided to visit Galipán, in fact, was because of some such limes. one of the people staying in the same apartment as I during the first part of my trip was an American who’d spent a lot of time in Caracas over several years, as a tourist and as a student. before we headed out to a dance club one night, she made wonderful rum & cokes for us, the magic ingredient to which was candied limes and nectar from Galipán. the drink was fantastic and, in addition to giving me an affinity to rum, I knew I wanted some of those special limes for myself. thus, up and over El Ávila to find some. I even still have a few left, and I suspect that I’ll never want to put them into a drink and use the last of them!

tacos & enchiladas

while much of the cliche about Texas and size panned out in monuments, animals, and trucks, the food portions weren’t as astronomical as I anticipated. and while I wouldn’t say the taste was “bigger,” everything I ate was quite delicious and often quite inventive. note to self: always get recommendations from a friend who grew up in the area and knows what a good vegetarian meal ought to look like.

first up: a surprisingly sweet black bean burger at The Hobbit Cafe, where many of the dishes were named after locations, characters, and things from the series. My sandwich didn’t have a fun name, but it certainly made up for the oversight with the taste. Made pretty good (and again quite interesting) leftovers on Sunday!

on Monday, we drove up to Austin and our first stop was Torchy’s Tacos, where I encountered the wonder that was a taco with fried avocado. really, what did I do with my life before I ate avocado? I do not know!
lastly, we tried out Teala’s for some Tex-Mex on a rainy Tuesday night. pretty standard fare, but wonderful bean dip and a unique peanut mole sauce, inspired by the restaurant owner’s first property, a Thai restaurant.