East Coast Christmas – Philadelphia Pt. II

Our next day in Philadelphia we hopped up and decided to take a long walk. Along the way we stopped in to see Elfreth’s Alley, which is the nation’s oldest continually inhabited street.DSCF0219DSCF0220The main goal of our walk was to reach Soy Cafe, which I couldn’t resist due to the name. It’s a tiny little cafe with a relaxed attitude and a ton of vegetarian/vegan options.DSCF0222I’m not usually a smoothie fan, but threw caution to the wind and got a Cookie Monster smoothie which had oats and vanilla in it. It was kind of like an oat-y tasting milkshake, which I thoroughly approved of.DSCF0230Peter got the Milli Vanilli (click here if you don’t know the duo this smoothie is named after) which had peach, banana, and vanilla in it.DSCF0229I was intrigued by wasabi hummus on the menu, so I got a hummus, avocado, and tomato sesame bagel! Guys, this was so good. I would have never (and I don’t know why not) thought to put wasabi in hummus, but now I’m definitely recreating this recipe at home. I mostly got the wasabi flavor with almost no heat, and it tasted like a bread-y sushi roll when combined with the avocado.DSCF0236Peter’s love of eggs held strong and he got a portabello mushroom omelette which came with a side salad. He gobbled down the omelette and described it as “Good and creamy, even though it’s soy cheese.” Which what else he expected from someplace with “soy” in the name, I’m not exactly sure.

The side salad was a flop that we left to wilt though, because (while beautifully presented) the ginger dressing was very lacking in flavor and a bit too thick to mix in properly.DSCF0234After brunch we visited the Eastern State Penitentiary, which is a looming remnant of the world’s first penitentiary. We got the audio tour and spent nearly two hours wandering around this behemoth of a building, hearing about both the good and the bad of it. Also Steve Buscemi narrated the tour, so props to Eastern State for the good choice!DSCF0289Even though there were other visitors, for the most part Peter and I had large sections of the building to ourselves. This resulted in some eerily quiet moments.DSCF0259The most moving part of the tour was this art installation “Other Absences” by Cindy Stockton Moore. The artist painted images of victims murdered by those who ended up living in the Penitentiary. DSCF0278The artist also wrote about how she had a very hard time finding photographs of victims who were minorities or lived in poverty, leaving her with no way to paint them or visually honor their memories.DSCF0277On a lighter note, a funny part of the visit was seeing Al Capone’s cell, which was dressed to the nines. The famous gangster, who was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, spent his first ever prison sentence in relative luxury.DSCF0286Just like with the Magic Gardens, I had way too many photos to share. So here are just a few highlights from our visit.

Next, we wanted to see around the Christ Church Burial Ground, which was sadly locked up. I’ve honestly never seen a cemetery that closed during the day or that charged money, so we left confused and disappointed. DSCF0294At least Benjamin Franklin’s grave was close enough to the fence that we could throw a penny onto it (because of his classic  quote “A penny saved is a penny earned”) before leaving.DSCF0290We spent more time just wandering around before heading to Blackbird Pizzeria, which has the reputation of having the best vegan Philly cheesesteak in town. DSCF0305The place was small and the staff a bit curt, but the food here was the best meal we had on this stop of the trip. DSCF0299Although I never ate them in my pre-vegan days, I really love buffalo wings. We decided to order several things off the menu with the plan to take leftovers back to the hostel for a late snack.

I made the mistake of assuming I could take the heat, and I ordered the smoked habanero wings. Now, before I get into the gory details, these were the best wings I’ve ever had. They were fried seitan with a crust that stayed crunchy despite the sauce and had a chewy flavorful inside. The dipping sauce that came with them was cucumber based and really deliciously creamy, but even that couldn’t save our mouths/esophaguses.

The wings weren’t so hot that you couldn’t taste anything (which I always hate) but you could taste the smoky flavor with a heat was so intense that I had a few tears rolling down my face by the finish. In the end (in this meal and when we took part home) we went through four containers of the creamy sauce to survive. I can say I’d happily order these again, but I’ll probably plan ahead and bring a half gallon of soymilk along next time.DSCF0300Peter is always happy with pizza, but when he naively said “Just two slices of the haymaker pizza.” I don’t think he expected them to be this large. The kind he chose came with seitan sausage, garlic butter, onions, and Daiya on top. DSCF0297Eventually, after sharing bites of the wings and pizza, we got around to the reason we came here: the Philly cheesesteak. As a disclaimer, I’ve never had a “real” cheesesteak, but I’m pretty positive this is close to the real-deal.

The seitan was thinly sliced and seared with garlic, rosemary, peppers, and onions. The accompanying cheese whiz was creamy and oozing out the sides of a thick and chewy buttered hoagie roll. So freakin’ good. I could only eat a few bites because of our previous snackings, but Peter ate a whole half. Throughout he kept exclaiming how much better it was than Carmen’s from the day before, which meant that Blackbird’s version must be amazing since he had just been talking about how he wasn’t sure you could find a better vegetarian version in town.DSCF0302

 

Honeymoon – Los Angeles 

I’m loving reading this year’s Vegan MoFo posts! Sadly, my last semster of school is taking main focus, but I’ve still got two more honeymoon posts left to share with you guys.

Los Angeles was interesting to say the least. Our overnight train arrived extremely early to the station (4:30 a.m. to be exact), which was too early for us to drop our bags in the hotel lobby and go see any attractions. So we ended up sleeping in the station with the huddled masses until about 9 when we knew the La Brea Tar Pits would be opening.

So slightly frazzled looking, but still excited, we set off to see LA. We took an Uber to the tar pits and our driver was this fascinating Armenian man who chatted with us about his home country, how he came here, and what we should do with our two days in town. I’m glad he was so friendly because it made our time stuck in LA’s notorious traffic seem less long.    

We stopped by the museum first before exploring the grounds. It was a bit pricey to get in, but ended up being worth it to see the massive amount of bones excavated from this site. There were tons of skeletons, each accompanied by paintings of their original state and visual timelines for those unfamiliar with the tar pits’ history. IMG_0844They have collected 100’s of dire wolf skulls and had a huge display of them on the wall. IMG_0831 After the museum we walked around the grounds to see the actual excavation sites. We could stand there and gawk at researchers as they tediously chipped away at the dirt and moved around the various fossil crates.
There were no researchers to be seen in this area, but according to nearby plaques they’re still currently finding bones in this section.Looking at the bones and drawings of giant sloths (here and at the Houston Museum of Natural Science) has caused me to develop a deep fear of them. So these sculptures were not my favorite part of the La Brea Tar Pits, but it was made up for by the lovely grounds and extremely friendly staff. A definite must see when visiting LA.

Our next stop was the Museum of Death in Hollywood. No photos are allowed inside, so the image below is all we’ve got from this stop. But it’s probably a good thing photos inside aren’t allowed, because it’s a very very gruesome museum.

We mostly went because of my morbid fascination with serial killers, which they greatly feature in their extensive collection, but some of the rooms were stomach churning with photographs of car crash or war crime victims. It was a bit too much for us and we walked through some rooms without looking at the images plastered on the walls. Although I’m glad we went, I wish we could’ve just picked and chosen the rooms we enjoyed in our visit (which would be the serial killers and Charles Manson displays) and not had to walk through some of the grislier areas. It was worth it though to see a quilt that was hand sewn by Manson’s followers which were cute floral prints made into a swastika pattern. Totally crazy.

So with the warning that they are 100% serious when they say it is a morbid affair, Museum of Death might be a good stop if you have a sick fascination or two.I could’ve sworn I had more photos, including our lunch, but they seem to have disappeared from my camera. So I’ll wow you with my description in lieu of visual evidence. After the museum, we walked down Sunset Boulevard (and saw the vastly over-rated stars on the sidewalk) to Veggie Grill, which is a chain in California that is totally vegan and has a ton of faux meat options.

I couldn’t resist the b-wing salad, which features a bed of lettuce topped with spicy buffalo wings, avocado, corn salsa, and a creamy ranch. Peter got a Santa Fe crispy chicken sandwich, which has a fried chicken patty with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, and a spicy mayo. Both of our meals were beyond amazing. I didn’t go in expecting too much because chains don’t always deliver quality, but we were very full and happy afterwards and kept repeating “That was just SO good.”

Afterwards we still quite tired from our lack of sleep, so we just watched a movie (Mad Max: Fury Road) at the theatre next door. Later we went back to the hotel, napped, woke up for dinner and realized that we were so tired we didn’t want to walk anywhere. So (lucky for us they deliver) we got Veggie Grill again! I got the crispy chicken plate which had sides of mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and garlic kale. Peter got the exact same sandwich because his earlier meal was so good. Once again, we were very happy with our dinner and it was made even better that we got to eat it while wearing pajamas in bed.

After a night of restful sleep, we set off early to see the beach. We went to Venice Beach first and rented a tandem bicycle for the afternoon. We rode it along the bike path and although it was a bit scary at first (especially since Peter was the “driver”) we had a great time whizzing by the beach goers. We stopped a few times to wander around the strange shops and avoid the scary tattoo parlors. Trust me, you don’t want that $20 bargain tattoo on you forever.
  Eventually we ended up at Santa Monica Pier, which has the Pacific Park amusement park. Pretty hungry from our journey, we stopped off to have lunch and take a ride on the Ferris wheel. I cannot remember which restaurant we went to (even after scouring the area in Google Maps), but it was nearby  and they ended up having black bean tacos that could be veganized and a vegetarian burger for Peter. We paid out the nose for eating so close to a tourist spot, but the food was good and the view of the ocean from the patio was great.We wandered the beach after lunch, picking up shells and being amused by the various types of birds that would jump around in the tide.For dinner we headed to China Town, which was only a 20 minutes walk from our hotel. Now I know ramen is Japanese and not Chinese, but we had to check out Ramen Champ for two reasons: 1. I’ve never eaten ramen made with fresh noodles 2. They had vegan optionsThe atmosphere in Ramen Champ was great. With art plastered on everything from the wall, to the menu, to the chopstick packaging, the visuals of the restaurant realy added to the meal. I got the house ramen with added tofu and I paid a bit extra to make it spicy. Peter got the same exact thing, minus the heat.  This was a bittersweet meal, both because the fresh noodles were amazingly chewy while the flavorful broth seared my mouth and because I knew that there’s no place that serves ramen like this in central Alabama. So we savored this delicious meal before heading back to the hotel to rest for our journey to San Diego the next day.

Honeymoon – El Paso

It was an adventure in itself even getting to El Paso. The train lines from Austin were obstructed by a fallen tree (thanks to a slew of storms) and we had to take a bus to San Antonio’s station. Once there, we sat around for about three hours while they prepared the trains to El Paso. While waiting we met a lot of nice people in line and had great conversations, so that made the time pass faster.

Once we arrived in the late afternoon from the overnight train, we were exhausted and hungry. We checked into  the Gardner Hotel, a dusty yet charming hotel that’s famous for being a rest stop of John Dillinger’s bank robbing spree. We were delighted to find that the pizza place directly next to the hotel, the Pizza Joint, had vegan options!

They were actually out of Daiya cheese that day and were extremely apologetic about it, and the wonderful staff were aware of what crusts and sauces were vegan-friendly. I ended up getting their thin crust pizza with garlic olive oil, kalamata olives, artichokes, red onion, and fresh basil. It actually didn’t even need the Daiya, I think it would’ve covered up the pizza’s nicely balanced flavor.Peter wanted to keep things simple and just ordered two slices of cheese pizza. Little did he know that those slices were each bigger than his head. Check out the awkward posed bite photo he insisted on me taking.Pizza Joint also had a small collection of board games, so we spent our lunch playing Battleship. While we waited on our Uber at the Austin train station, we met a lovely woman named Eva who was delighted that we were visiting Texas on our honeymoon. We later ran back into her at the Texas State Capital and she offfered her phone number and an “insider tour” if we were ever in El Paso. So while in town, we met up with her and she drove us all around.

Eva volunteers at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) so we got shown the campus, the library, and some of the recently renovated grounds. We also visited a tamale shop (which had dessert tamales that were vegan!), her former school, and some of El Paso’s other interesting sights.  Eva drove us up the mountain in the center of the city and we had an amazing view of El Paso and also Juarez, Mexico. According to her, the mountain writing on the Juarez side says “The Bible is good, read it”. Meeting Eva was such an awesome part of our trip, and we parted with a hug and her telling us “Have a good life, and take care of people you meet along the way.” Such a nice woman. For lunch, we stopped by the Green Ingredient, which was only about two blocks from the hotel. Be warned, it is on the ground floor of the Chase Building with no signage outside. We walked by twice before we stopped and asked a security guard who pointed us inside.

Inside was an airy and well-lit dining area, with a friendly staff. Peter wasn’t particularly hungry (from the earlier tamales), so he just got dessert. He chose the avocado chocolate mousse, which was actually vegan. I like avocado mousse just as much as any other vegan, but this stuff is unrivaled. Really creamy and rich, on top of a soft chocolate cookie and sprinkled with cacao nibs. I can’t resist anything with “buffalo” in the title, so I got the cauliflower wings with tofu ranch. Our waitress was nice enough to substitute broccoli for the celery since I abhor that vegetable. These were very spicy (a good thing in my book) and perfectly textured, just inbetween being too soft or crunchy. The ranch wasn’t as creamy as expected and had a very lemony flavor, but it worked well with the cauliflower.  After lunch we visited the Magoffin Home, a historic adobe home in downtown El Paso. We took the guided tour and it was a great way to spend an hour. We learned about how the adobe housing was made, a large amount of El Paso history, stories of the Magoffin family, and how this particular family impacted the growth and change of the town. A really neat place, just like El Paso itself.

Eating Through Rochester

I spent the last weekend of spring break visiting my sister in Rochester, New York. She’s moving from there soon and kept saying “Come visit me and eat all the good vegan food up here!” So I finally took her up on the offer.

I arrived early in the afternoon and we immediately went to John’s Tex Mex. The place was small, but not too cramped and with very friendly staff. We started off with chips and a flavorful chunky salsa.I ordered the un-beef burrito bowl with refried beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and olives. It was served with a side of Cholula hot sauce and two house-made salsa (salsa verde and chipotle) which were fantastic. I honestly expected it to be smaller, with about the size of burrito filling, but the meal was so ridiculously huge that I ended up getting two meals and a midnight snack out of the one bowl. Not that I’m complaining, we definitely got a bang for our buck here.

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Street art was prevalent throughout Rochester. The image below is just one of many I saw, including  illegal graffiti and several professional murals. Poor Kaitlin had to deal with me pressing my face up to the window every time we drove somewhere or trying to roll down the window to snap a picture.

Dinner was at Spot Coffee, a nifty café inside a renovated Chevrolet service station. The atmosphere inside was great, with a tall ceiling and a large selection of seating areas. Plus the staff was very knowledgeable on what was and wasn’t vegan (parmesan cheese in the dressing, eggs in the bread, etc.)

I settled for the one vegan menu item, the hummus wrap. Apparently their hummus flavor changes on a daily basis, and that day was chipotle. I was pleasantly surprised with how this one turned out. I’ve had a few too many hummus wraps that were under-flavored with sad wilted vegetables stuffed inside. But this wrap was nicely toasted and stuffed with mixed greens, tomato, and cucumber. It was served with a side of balsamic tossed greens.For entertainment that night we stopped by The Little Theatre to see It Follows. The theatre was adorable and plays mostly independent movies.

Before I left Alabama, I’d heard multiple times to go eat at Dogtown when I got to NY. Since my life dream is to own a vegan hot dog cart, I think it makes sense to take any opportunity to try a new veggie dog.

I found out upon walking into the place that Dogtown was honorably mentioned in the Top Five Vegan Hot Dogs contest. I’ve actually been to the restaurant that won 4th, Dreamy Weenie’s in New Orleans. I may need to make a travel itinerary based around eating at all the other winners too…

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Inside the restaurant was pretty packed, so we ended up ordering our food to-go. The décor (and menu names) were all dog themed, and even included this adorable wall of  customers’ dogs.

What I ended up ordering, after staring open-mouthed at the menu board and the plethora of options for a while, was the vegan German Shepard. It was a veggie dog with sauerkraut, yellow mustard, and cooked onions. The bun was also phenomenally hearty (soggy buns make me sad) and didn’t fall apart before I finished the hot dog. Served on the side were fries and ketchup.

The East End area had a ton of cute little shops. One of which was Greenwood Books, a used bookstore with books ranging in topic from vintage piano sheet music to Appalachian herbal medicine.

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Unsurprisingly, I found a book that I needed. This vegetarian cookbook combined two things I love: food and travel. What’s not to like? Since returning home, I’ve already tried the beer battered tofu recipe (from the England section) and it was fantastic. We’ll see, soon we may have a monthly “travel” meal to other countries.

On my final night in Rochester we ate at the Red Fern, an entirely vegan restaurant. I ordered the Compost Plate, a nice play on the garbage plates that Rochester is famous for. All piled together, it featured pasta salad, a chilled sweet potato salad, balsamic tossed mixed greens, and buffalo tempeh. Everything tasted fantastic, my only complaint was that the buffalo was not hot at all. Kaitlin said that she’s had a hard time finding anything actually spicy in the north, and that southern states seem to be better at accurately labeling things as “hot”.

 Kaitlin decided to partake in the buffalo sandwich, which featured the same buffalo tempeh as my plate, stacked together with pickled vegetables and bleu cheese sauce. After trying a bite, I could happily live without a vegan replacement for bleu cheese (bleck!) but the otherwise the sandwich was very tasty, especially the fresh soft bun it was served on.

 I had a wonderful time eating through seeing Rochester and hope to return again someday. Who knows, maybe that’s where my hot dog cart will end up. 🙂