Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Donut Lover's Guide To Bicycle Commuting: Michael Jackson Donuts at Market

Two years ago this week Michael Jackson died, and I couldn't think of a better way to mark the occasion than riding to Market in Stamford and eating the donuts that were served at his funeral.

Let me back up a second.

Market is a restaurant in Stamford at 249 Main Street across from Columbus Park. With a menu described as New American it has been on Fairfield County Weekly's 'Best Restaurant Overall' list at least a couple of times. I've gone there for dinner several times and it's the kind of place UBS executives need to dine before they consider leaving town.

On the dessert menu sits donuts that were served at Michael Jackson's funeral. Really. The family ordered $250 worth and had them shipped to California in time for the service. It was covered on TMZ and all over the local news. I remember thinking that between great beaches, great restaurants, Jerry Springer and Maury Povich being taped here and the now famous donuts, Stamford truly has it all.

Why these donuts? According to legend,* Michael Jackson was passing through Stamford late one night many years ago when he and his driver stopped at Market for a treat. When ordering the donuts, Jackson was so taken by the sight and smell of them he immediately removed a glove to pick one up. At that moment, his driver said: "No, Michael. Just use this little fork they give you."

Jackson used the fork and was so distracted by the sugary dessert he forgot to put his glove back on. But he never forgot Market in Stamford.

So I got to ride to work on the Dahon Matrix. But I was so early I knew I would miss the elusive 'donut window' at the Bedford Street Diner and I didn't have time to go elsewhere. But at the end of the day, I realized there wasn't any reason why donuts should be always be confined to the morning hours. So I decided to stop at Market on the way home, chaining the bike to the parking meter.

Since I arrived before 5:30, I was able to pick out any seat I wanted at the bar where I promptly ordered a drink and asked for a dessert menu. Right there on the menu, there they were. Although they weren't always called this (I believe the pre-Michael Jackson funeral name was 'Ricotta Donuts') the description does not them justice.

I placed my order with the friendly bartender and waited a short while for my donuts, which as you can see from the picture, cost $8. True, you can buy quite a few Dunkin Donuts Munchkins for that amount but remember: they come in a cardboard box. These donuts come like this.

How they appear on the plate is one thing, but I was reading an email when the bartender brought them over, and the smell of cinnamon and sugar alerted me to their presence and contribute to the great presentation.

If you have MJ's Famous Donuts at Market, it is a great idea to use the little metal fork. But I don't recommend picking up an entire donut all at once. Instead, carefully use the fork to cut each donut in half (skilled aficionados can even cut them into 1/3rds) so you have the maximum amount of surface area available to soak up the crème angalaise. Ideally, you want to twist the fork in such a way you can't see the surface of the donut. Regardless of how you proceed with the Market donuts, the outcome is the same.

I stayed at the bar a little while before settling the bill. Then I left Market planning to return for dinner soon with my wife – possibly to get the arrangement of miniature ice cream cones along with the Michael Jackson donuts as dessert.

I recommend dining at Market anytime, but if you do it this week be sure to have 'MJ's Famous Doughnuts'. Riding there and back wearing one cycling glove is up to you.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

* that I just made up

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let My People Go (Get Some Ice Cream)

This morning, I rode the Dahon Matrix to work. I was pretty sure I was going to have a long day but I was happy in the knowledge I could ride my bike to work and, even more importantly, back again.

But I wanted to do a side trip to Fairway Market on the way back because my wife was out of town and I felt like getting sushi, specifically the Red Hot Roll, and bringing it home to eat. While at work I worried that the sushi wouldn't favor riding in the better bike box in 80 degree weather, so I hatched a plan: I took my frozen Udupi dosas from the office freezer (only $1.99 for four) and put it in the box thinking it would make an effective ice pack.

At the end of the day that was just as long as I expected I did what I wanted to do: I rode to Fairway, got my sushi and headed back to where I had left the bike (a small digression: I think Fairway in Stamford has the best bike rack compared to most grocery stores: right in front, clearly visible, easily accessed, and there's a security camera nearby).

I secured the sushi on the dosas - there's something I never thought I would write - and closed the bike box. I then unlocked the Matrix, put the nerdy-but-useful reflective band around my right trouser cuff and was ready to pull the bike away from the rack when I heard a voice.

“Excuse me. Do you know if there is an ice cream place around here?”

I turned around and saw a smiling woman in a white nun's habit sitting in the passenger side of a slightly battered 15 passenger Ford van. Except for the male driver, from what I could see the van was filled with others wearing the same thing.

I stepped up to her while processing what to say. I knew exactly what ice cream place they could visit: It was on Shippan avenue, just over a mile away. I began to give turn-by-turn directions but it's not as easy as it sounds and this group was clearly not from around Stamford.

“What's the name of the ice cream place?” She asked.

I blanked, embarrassed I had forgotten the name of the one and only ice cream parlor within walking distance of my house that I had been to several times. I also realized she may have been fishing for that information in case they got lost heading there. So I hit upon an idea.

“I'm heading in that direction now,” I said. “How about you just follow me there?”

The woman and the driver agreed, and I stepped back to the Dahon and put on my helmet. I had plenty of time to walk the bike to the entrance to Canal Street while the driver turned the beast around to get behind me.

I pedaled up Canal as fast as I could manage, all the while keeping the old van in my rearview mirror. It quickly became apparent the van, covered with fading religious and anti-abortion bumper stickers, might give out before my legs, so I eased up a bit.

When I got to the intersection of Jefferson Street I waited for them to catch up and waited for the light to change. I realized that if I turned right on red or otherwise rode quickly through the streets of Stamford during rush hour I could easily lose them.

Soon we came to one of Stamford's annoying new traffic lights on the corner of Jefferson and Harborview. It's always a coin toss on which is faster: going straight through to Magee or heading down Harborview to connect with Magee between the under construction Hyundai dealership and the sewage treatment plant. Since the van was right next to me at the red light, I signaled the driver, determined to lead my people to frozen treats as quickly as possible.

“Follow me. We can go this way.”

I used the polite hand signal (as always) and turned near where I dropped the McDonald's cup during the Coffee Cup Challenge. Before long we were rolling down Magee. At the intersection with Shippan Avenue I moved into the left lane and signaled left at the light. When the light was green I rolled through and moments later pulled up to a big fiberglass ice cream cone and signaled left. A kind motorist coming in the other direction stopped and waved me (and the van) through. The parking lot of Sunny Daes was mostly empty and the van easily found a space. I stopped to take a picture, positive I would never forget the name of Sunny Daes at 633 Shippan Avenue ever again.

The van doors opened and the driver set up a couple of small wooden steps so it would be easy for the women to step out. The one who had asked me directions walked right up to me to say thanks and introduce herself. She and her group had come from Groton and were on an outing of some kind. I couldn't hear much of what she was saying because the other women were all thanking me as they were heading inside. They must have really wanted some ice cream, I thought.

Two of them gave me some literature, which made me wish I had some literature of my own, or at least a DIYBIKING.COM business card. Hey, they bear their good news so I should bear mine.

I did tell them about this web site, and the driver was so impressed he took a picture of the better bike box, which of course has diybiking.com printed on it. I briefly thought about staying to have ice cream myself, but I was tired, I was still wearing my work clothes and I had raw fish in the bike box. Something had to give.

“It was nice to meet you,” I said. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

“We'll pray for you!” one of the women said happily as she walked to Sunny Daes.

“Please pray for all cyclists,” I said. “Enjoy your ice cream.”

I pedaled away, arrived home without incident, and discovered my improvised ice pack had worked. As I ate my delicious sushi, two things struck me: I really wanted some ice cream...and my mother is probably going to like this post. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Riding In The City That Never Sleeps (Unless It's Tired)

I usually take a bike ride on Sunday mornings. If it's raining, I mumble an obscenity or two and head into the workshop instead. 

If I wake up expecting rain and it turns out that it isn't, I do go on a ride but it usually has a Beat the Clock mentality attached to it. Take today. The sky looked like it was ready to open up at any moment but I put my trust into weather.com and hustled to get out the door to get a good ride in before the rain. I didn't have a destination and didn't want to go far from home so I decided to ride within the city of Stamford

This meant I was on the roads much earlier than usual, and Stamford wasn't awake yet. I liked that.

That's part of what makes Stamford interesting. Because you can have times of day like this you actually feel like the city wakes up and goes to sleep just like a person.

Riding with few cars on Bedford Street is awfully nice, too. For fun I cut across to Summer Street (where I once had an apartment) to see if that thoroughfare was equally quiet. It was. 

If you live in Stamford and you think about Ridgeway Plaza, you wonder why the video game industry hasn't yet created a game where the goal is to find a parking space there. But before 8:00am on a Sunday morning you can take your pick.

Riding car-free between Bed, Bath & Beyond and Staples I finally came across life: Cafe Oo La La which is one of the few places in Stamford that is open early enough for breakfast. And from what I was learning, it was going to be serving Gelato.
On a normal day I would have stopped for a coffee but I wanted to stay ahead of the rain. So I cut through to Washington Boulevard and headed north into Bulls Head near my office.

I continued north on High Ridge, and I can assure you this stretch looks much different during lunch hour on weekdays.

Soon I came across an unhappy sight: the north Stamford Borders' Book Shop had closed a few weeks before. The company, which had filed for bankruptcy in the wake of bad luck and bad decisions, had recently shuttered that and over 200 other locations around the country.

Behind the stretch of shops near Borders I came across this and liked it for some reason.

I decided to ride up to the great Stamford Museum and Nature Center before turning back, but first I came to Nico's Foreign Car Repair just beyond the Merritt Parkway.

There is always a few interesting cars on tlot, including this: a Rolls Royce. It isn't a Corniche with coachwork from H.J. Mulliner Park Ward, because it has four doors. But it's not a bad looking Rolls whatever it is. I'm sure James May from Top Gear would know.

On the lot was another British car: a Morgan of unknown vintage. I want to send Nico's an e-mail and see if it is for sale. Not that I would know how to fix it or even have a place to do so.

After allowing my inner Petrolhead a few minutes of daylight I went back to riding up to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center before turning around and looping through some of the random neighborhoods before finding myself in Newfield, where I learned the existence of the Newfiled Swim and Tennis club as my ride became less urgent and more aimless (the sky was looking better).

I meandered toward Newfield Avenue stopping at an estate sale to buy a baggie of L-brackets to put in the 304 plus a road atlas of Fairfield County. I figured with the latter I can plan some more trips. With a heavier bike box I pulled back into Shippan Point shortly after 10:00am.

A good ride, and I still have the whole day ahead of me.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Welcome to Washington D.C. Take a ride.

If you ever move to the Washington D.C. area from another state, there something you have to do before you find the nearest grocery store, figure out when garbage day is or locate the perfect take-out restaurant: join the Potomac Pedalers.

I have not moved to the nation's capitol (Stamford Connecticut is my home) but I can testify to the value of the Potomac Pedalers. After a particularly difficult week, I found myself heading to Maryland on a business trip that would occupy my time for only a few hours one Saturday afternoon. Though that did mean I'd have a few hours of freedom in the morning, I had little idea where to go and not a lot of time to plan anything. All I knew was that my wife was coming with me and we were going to bring the Dahon Matrix and the modified tandem attachment which served us so well in our trip through Branford, Connecticut.

I'm not sure what series of  things I typed into Google ("biking in Gaithersburg Maryland") but one of the first links I came to was Potomac Pedalers. It didn't take me long to be reassured the organization was run by my kind of people: the emphasis of the group is to create rides - they claim to offer over 1,000 annually - and the ride speeds range from 8mph to "more than 20 mph."

Since I didn't have enough time to sift through the links from the gazillion search results, I decided to send a note to the Potomac Pedalers introducing myself and letting them know I was going to be in Gaithersburg and looking for a place to ride - preferably car free and close to my hotel.

So the Potomac Pedaler who received my email did not simply send me a response. Instead he forwarded my e-mail to other Potomac Pedalers who responded to him and he sent their responses to me. It was one of those going-above-and-beyond moments that you normally get at an independent bookstore when you're looking for that book by that guy that was on that radio show last week.

Thanks to the Potomac Pedalers and their friendliness, I had a place to ride in early hours of Saturday morning in Maryland:

The start of the Rock Creek trail wasn't but a few miles from the hotel, and it looked like it was going to be a peaceful ride. I was sure we wouldn't be traveling all the way to D.C. because of time restraints, but we mounted the tandem and set off, determined to make the most of our time.

This is a trail for untangling one's mind - at least in the early hours of a Saturday. It isn't a long, flat runway like a lot of rail trails as it does have its share of curves, very slight hills, and a few details along the way just to make it interesting.

As with any rail trail there are places where it does have to cross the road. Maybe it is because motorists are expecting cyclists more often in that part of the country, maybe it was because they wanted a look at the tandem, but we found it easy to cross each road on this ride.

We really were enjoying the peace of this ride, even when we came to an area of the trail that contained an ominous warning.

As we weaved our way slowly through the trees, we'd occasionally cross or ride along the stream and would sometimes see trees that looked like they were pulled from the set of Pan's Labyrinth.

Mostly though, we saw nothing but sunlight streaming through the trees and the occasional jogger - which was fine by us.

Soon we had to pass over a very busy road, and the Rock Creek trail (and its supporters) do provide a very nice way of doing so.

After crossing the bridge we came to a meadow where we made the unfortunate but necessary decision to turn back. I can't say I wasn't tempted to blow off the rest of the afternoon and just keep riding on one of the most peaceful rail trails on which I have ever ridden.

On the way back, one of the pedals fell off the tandem. Though I should have made sure it was screwed on tight before we set off I did have the proper tools to put it back into place. This meant we'd be spending a few more minutes on the trail.

Once we had finished the ride, I was feeling much better about the difficult week I had experienced and was feeling more confident about the week ahead.

I was also feeling thankful for those who do the hard and important work of designing and maintaining trails, and you can visit http://www.parksvolunteers.org/ to help out. We ride hundreds of miles and can each help maintain a few feet.

Finally, I was - and still am - grateful for the help of the Potomac Pedalers and will be sure to check their ride schedule before my next visit to the area, which will hopefully involve several days, a few bicycles, many more miles and no business meetings.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)