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

 

East Coast Christmas – Philadelphia pt. I

Philadelphia was our first stop for our winter vacation. We got an awesome deal using Spirit airlines within certain dates ($40 total for both of us one-way) so we just chose to visit someplace we’ve never been! We flew in at night, so we started out early the next day to get a feel of the town. I actually took so many photos and we saw so much cool stuff that I had to break the Philadelphia part of the trip into two blog posts.

We stayed in Apple Hostel, which is directly in the center of town and great for walking every place. We were five minutes away from the Liberty Bell and really close to a PHLASH bus stop which will take you to all the “must visit” spots in Philadelphia.

The first thing on our list was some American history. We visited the President’s House which is a recreation of a mansion used by George Washington and John Adams in the 1700’s. You could see excavation sites where original parts of the house are still present.DSCF0035Right next to the President’s House is the Liberty Bell Center. It was free and only took a moment to get in through security, so it’s worth a quick stop if you’re nearby.

We took the time to read the informative displays, most of which were interesting, but others were a bit extreme with patriotism. One part described how emotionally inspired Americans are by the Liberty Bell and how soldiers have sacrificed themselves in war as they thought of the Bell. So a cool place to stop in, but take the displays with a grain of salt. I can personally say as an American that the Bell has not yet made me moved to tears or whatnot. 😉DSCF0042We couldn’t resist goofy Rocky poses at the Independence Liberty Center.

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Walking down the street to get to Reading Market Terminal we accidentally stumbled upon the Declaration House where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. We stopped so Peter could model for a bit.For lunch we stopped in at Reading Terminal Market, which is an amazingly chaotic market with multiple food vendors, produce stalls, craft stands, and more! We took a good half an hour to wander around before deciding on where to eat.DSCF0076There were a ton of adorable bakeries and candy shops with lots of treats ready for the holidays.DSCF0081There was even a Christmas train set up for the kids…DSCF0090… or adults who really like trains.DSCF0092After much deliberation, I settled on Nanee’s Kitchen which had an amazing aroma wafting from the stand. The nice young man behind the counter was extremely helpful and when I asked which dishes on display were vegan (due to a lack of labels/names) he pointed out six or seven different options on main dishes and then said all the rice choices were animal-free too. DSCF0098Peter was hankering to try a Philly cheese steak, so he braved the line at Carmen’s to get their seitan version.DSCF0101DSCF0097A really neat thing was that instead of an order number you got a playing card.DSCF0100Since it was fairly crowded in the Market and great weather outside, we ate at the little park across the street. DSCF0071I  had decided on a chickpea dish and okra in a tomato sauce over yellow rice. They included “salad” for free, which was just undressed shredded lettuce and carrots, but other than that the food was amaaazing.

The chickpeas were soft and perfectly spiced over flavorful fluffy rice that soaked up all the sauce from the beans. The okra was great too (probably the most delicious way I’ve ever eaten the vegetable) with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and a great texture that reminded me of the way it’s served in gumbo. Nanee’s was a good choice from an almost overwhelming variety of food stalls.DSCF0109Peter was thrilled with his seitan cheese steak. He chose American cheese and got all the fixin’s of broccoli rabe, sweet pickled peppers, spinach, onions, and mushrooms. The Reading Terminal Market was a very good first food-impression of Philadelphia.DSCF0105We walked through City Hall into the inner courtyard that was decorated for Christmas and had several street performers.DSCF0124DSCF0126One performer was a very entertaining (and hilarious) magician who seemed to specialize with knotted ropes.DSCF0134Afterwards, we visited JFK Plaza with the iconic LOVE sculpture and were pleasantly surprised to learn that a German Christmas market was taking place!There were a large amount of tiny stands with everything from handblown glass ornaments to little carved nesting dolls to knitted finger puppets. DSCF0140My pig obsessed self was not disappointed with the Christmas market which had a large amount of carved wooden pigs and ornaments scattered throughout the stalls.DSCF0142After getting our Christmas fix, we wandered down South Street, which was an equally sketchy and fascinating part of town with strange shops, restaurants, and bars. There was a decent amount of art spread throughout our walk too.DSCF0155DSCF0159DSCF0157I’m sure you’re just as surprised as I am that the Queen of Pop is now reading palms in Philly.DSCF0154One of the weirdest shops we ducked into was The Wooden Shoe, an anarchist bookstore. The coolest part is that the store is entirely run by volunteers and holds various discussion events open to the community.

The Wooden Shoe had a plethora of books, zines, and magazines with themes ranging from police brutality to feminism to (what a surprise) veganism. I also loved their kids section, which mostly focused on remaining true to yourself and reinforced the idea that nothing is wrong with being a black sheep.DSCF0163The main goal of our walk on South Street was to reach the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a mosaic art project by Isaiah Zagar that spans several city blocks. DSCF0202The Gardens are a chaotic and beautiful piece of art that requires viewers to take a good amount of time to process all the tiny details hidden amongst everything.DSCF0182DSCF0196We spent about an hour wandering around and noticing all subtle parts of the pictures.DSCF0200Another bonus is that it only cost a total of $10 for us to get in with student IDs! This was definitely my favorite part of our Philly trip.DSCF0177I had a hard time picking my favorite pictures, so here’s a small gallery you can click through to see extras.

For dinner we marched to China Town to eat at the totally vegan New Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant. This is a “Chinese” restaurant that is not authentic and highly American-ized, but honestly Peter and I enjoyed it because it was familiar to us due to growing up eating at Chinese buffets.

We got the dinner deal which included soup, an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. It was a huuuge amount of food for the cost and we left with enough leftovers for another meal.

Starting off we both got hot and sour soup, which was very tart with matchstick carrots and daikon with bits of tofu.DSCF0204Peter went for the spring roll and I got something I can’t remember the name of (even after looking at the menu again) but it tasted like a potato latke with cream sauce. The spring roll was just all-right but the “potato cakes” were great! Crunchy, salty, and creamy all at the same time.DSCF0205I went with an American-ized Chinese classic, sweet and sour chicken. It was just what I wanted. Chewy fried chicken in a thick syrupy sauce with chunks of pineapple and bell peppers.DSCF0206

Peter got the orange beef, which was creepily similar to real meat and served with broccoli mixed in.DSCF0208

We both forgot to specify which dessert we wanted, so our server brought out strawberry and pistachio ice cream, which we pretty much had no more room for at that point. Though I doubt it was made in-house, I really liked my pistachio ice cream because I’d never had it in my pre-vegan days and was always curious about what that would taste like. Overall, for those craving the American palate’s version of Chinese, New Harmony is a delicious and reasonably priced choice.DSCF0214Stay tuned for Philadelphia part II!