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 – 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.