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Monday, June 29, 2009

Search for the Holey Grail

Doug and I both love pastries in general -- we've been known to get into repeated, heated arguments about the best chocolate croissant in Minneapolis. But we both hold doughnuts especially close to our hearts.

I've raved about Doughnut Plant to Doug for years, but he's never had a chance to visit New York. He ran across an article last fall where the author listed what she felt were the 13 best doughnuts in NYC. Increasingly convinced that New York is the center of the doughnut universe (or at least a major life-sustaining solar system), he suggested that we "someday" embark upon an "epic quest" to visit all the doughnut places listed. Well, someday is now! Or, at least, mid-August. Doug, Alex, and I will spend a long weekend consuming an obscene number of calories to see how we think they stack up.

I've plotted our target doughnuts on a Google map. We want to make sure we aren't missing any other places in the city with great doughnuts -- do you know of any bakeries we should visit as part of Doughnut Quest 2009? (I am also soliciting alternative names for Doughnut Quest 2009.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I've developed a taste for chai in the last few years. It's a great blend of flavors, and every chai is a bit different. Of course, it's actually somewhat difficult to get good chai in the U.S. The chai lattes at Starbucks and most other coffee shops are made from powder or concentrate, and are usually way too sweet and not very flavorful or spicy. I've tried it at a few restaurants (some of them Indian), and it's usually pretty good, but not great. Strangely, the best chai I've had is at Doughnut Plant in New York. (Between the best doughnuts and best chai, the place is basically the center of my universe.) The best chai I've had in DC is at Teaism, though it's a bit heavier on anise than I prefer. They sell packages of their blend so that you can make it at home, which is nice.

But I have chai at work every afternoon, and I have thus far deemed using loose tea too labor-intensive for a tea break. So a focus of my chai exploration has been identifying the best chai teabags. I've tried a bunch of brands, including Bigelow, Good Earth, Twinings, Stash, and Tazo. They're mostly pretty unsatisfying, and because I'm allergic to artificial cinnamon flavor (weird, I know), I can tell you that Good Earth and Stash both use artificial cinnamon flavor, even though it's ambiguously identified on the label. But Celestial Seasonings chai, I'm happy to report, is really good. It's not like a real cup of long-simmered chai, of course, but it's great for a tea bag.

This is on my mind because the Celestial Seasonings chai has mysteriously disappeared from the local grocery stores, making me very grumpy. I bought some Numi brand chai from Whole Foods last week (for more than twice the cost), and it's decent, but doesn't make a very strong cup of tea. I may have to mail order...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Crooked Fingers - Cannibals
> Lymbyc Systym - Carved By Glaciers [mp3]
> Flaming Lips - Suddenly Everything Has Changed
> Modest Mouse - Teeth Like God's Shoeshine
> Radiohead - You and Whose Army
> Ben Folds Five - Don't Change Your Plans
> Beta Band - Dry the Rain

I went to the Lymbyc Systym show a couple months ago because Mike happened to know one of the guys in the band from middle school and figured he'd see them while they were in town. I ended up really liking the show, and I bought a record (yes, vinyl!). It's great, and I always love discovering a band by seeing them live.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No so alert

The Metro Red Line accident yesterday left the city a bit stunned, and there will be plenty of time to figure out how something this gruesome happened during a normal rush hour commute. But meanwhile, I noted an item in the Post today listing all the official alerts Metro sent out during yesterday evening, i.e. email and SMS messages that riders sign up to receive so that they can find out about service problems and adjust plans accordingly.

The alerts following the crash were symptomatic of problems with Metro's approach to communications. A sample alert from last evening:

6:07 p.m.: WMATA Alert: (ID 55699) Disruption at Fort Totten. Trains are turning back at Rhode Island Ave and Silver Spring stations due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties outside of Fort Totten station. Shuttle Bus service has been established. Customers should add an additional 30 minutes to their travel time.

Never mind that one should add a lot more than 30 minutes of travel time under the circumstances (it took a colleague 2.5 hours to make what is normally a 20-minute commute). An hour after two trains collided, and after having sent out several press releases on the crash to the media, why on earth would Metro continue to call it "a train experiencing technical difficulties"? These alerts are their direct line to customers, and they just pass along useless euphemisms. It fails to communicate the seriousness of the disruption, which riders need to know is substantial enough that they should make alternate plans, and it's patronizing that Metro is simply unwilling to say that there has been an accident, as if riders can't handle the news.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Grammar disagreement

From a month or so ago, when I was departing from Dulles airport on vacation:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chesapeake & Ohio

I had the day off on Friday, and I took maximum advantage by not getting up until 11 am and then taking a 60-mile bike ride up the C&O Canal. It's wonderful that I can take a 60+ mile bike ride from my house in DC and never encounter a car (or even a road crossing) for 55 of those miles. Naturally, Congress tried to make the canal into a highway in the 1950s, but Justice Douglas of the Supreme Court led a walk along all 185 miles to galvanize opposition, and it was eventually designated a national park.

The canal trail goes past Great Falls on the Potomac, and it was really rushing yesterday, with all the rain we've had:

I'll be taking a two-night bike camping trip over July 4th weekend with Aron and some other folks, of which a large part will be on the C&O. And Aron, Mike and I have tentative plans to take the train to Pittsburgh and bike back sometime in the fall, using the Great Allegheny Passage trail, which links up with the C&O at Cumberland, MD.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Some great news for those of us in DC: WMATA is rolling out real-time bus arrival information for all its routes.

The NextBus system, in case you're not familiar, has GPS transmitters on each bus, and combines their location with information on traffic patterns to estimate arrival times at a given stop. This is great because it reduces the information hurdle to riding the bus, which is higher than rail. Not only are bus schedules less accurate because of traffic, but outside of routes you use all the time, it's often not even clear if the bus you want comes by the stop, if it runs on Sundays, etc. Now, there are ID numbers posted at each stop, and you can just plug it into your phone and find out if it's worth waiting. (The graphic on the sign looks a bit like a bus saying "Whaaa?".)

I still prefer my bike, though...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Vacation photos

England and Croatia pictures are now up on Flickr.

I had a wonderful time, and it was great to have a chance to hang out with far-away friends.  A few highlights from my trip:
  • Biking around Oxford.  The city is amazingly bike-friendly, and I borrowed Karen's bike for the day while she was at work.  It was a great way to see the city, and allowed me to get out into the countryside a bit, too.
  • Cherry strudel.  There are bakeries everywhere in Croatia, and most sell excellent cherry strudels that, unlike their American cousins, are tart and have an even ratio of filling to pastry.  Despite the fact that Croatia is not necessarily inexpensive overall, the strudels are only a bit more than a dollar apiece.
  • Driving around Croatia.  We rented a car for the last three days in Croatia, and it was great to see a few out-of-the-way places and the generally spectacular Croatian countryside in Zagorje and Istria.  Also, I rather enjoyed driving a VW Golf stick shift on curvy country roads.  (It was the first time I'd driven a manual transmission that was less than a decade old.)
  • Gnocchi in Groznjan.  I like gnocchi, and that was some really good gnocchi.  (I also like saying gnocchi.)
As a postscript, a coincidence:  I went to a happy hour a couple days ago, and a friend of Louise's was there...when he found out I went to Carleton, he asked if I knew Laura.  I said yes, I just got back from visiting her in Croatia.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


As seen in Zagreb:

Watch out! Exploding schoolchildren!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Listening, telling

I hosted the DC Listening Lounge at our house this evening. A good gathering, as usual. In any case, I mention this for two reasons: One, the website has been revamped so that individual members can upload their own audio. So it's worth visiting site occasionally to see what's up.

Two, some folks in the group are involved with the Place + Memory Project, which seeks to gather memories of places that no longer exist. The end result will be a wiki map on the website, and audio pieces that air on Weekend Edition. To contribute to the audio side of it, you can share a memory of a vanished place by calling 1-888-910-2555 and leaving a voicemail describing it. Nothing polished, just talk about it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Croatian observations

My trip is almost over -- I fly out from Zagreb tomorrow (to London, then home). I will probably write a bit more about it later, and certainly post some pictures, but a few quick observations about Croatia while they're on my mind:

- Croatia is much more Western European than most Americans (i.e. me) realize.
- While driving our rented car in the last few days (VW Golf stick shift!), there was ample time to flip through Croatian radio. Obama, Obama, Obama -- the Middle East speech goosed the coverage a bit, but Laura said it wasn't much more than normal.
- Why does almost every other country have better pastries than we do?
- Why does every other country have better yogurt than we do?