Sometimes you leave your neighborhood and do things in “The City.” Other times you drive in, illegally park next to the things you want to do quickly, without hullabaloo, and get the heck outta Dodge.

That is how I feel about Manhattan these days. You know when 14th street opens a Dairy Queen, the last shallow breath of life has squeezed out of her polluted lungs. [Dairy Queen is yet another chain to open its doors in New York City… because franchises and mall-ish box stores are the only ones who can pay the exorbitant rent. From afar, she still holds her nostalgic allure, but inside the grid, she’s vapid—a sign of the times—with the attention span and emotional depth of a millennial.]

Despite this, there are certain goings-ons that make a visit worthwhile, especially now that I am a driver again. Sweet Maresa’s chocolate covered hot chocolate macarons with cinnamon marshmallow filling is what I am referring to. And her chocolate coated rainbow cookies. And her black licorice macarons. As well as a promising vegan burger in a world devoid of dairy-free, egg-free… mush-free and crumble-free veggie burgers is another such example (at Marty’s Vegan Fast Food at LIC’s Flea & Food). And a stop at Babycakes, since it’s around the block of the Vegan Shop-Up at Moo Shoes where Sweet Maresa is, where a red velvet cupcake called my name before the Williamsburg Bridge beckoned us back east.

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Pancakes for dinner. Isa Does It-style with those flax-egg specsIMG_3083

M.O.B.‘s Bright Eyes M.O.B.: Cashew yogurt, peperonata, wine vinegar, sweet peppers and onions, charred peas, crimini mushrooms, garlic and arugulaIMG_3223

Bringing my mom medicine from Nice N’ NaturalIMG_3225

Dirt candy: Turnip and sweet potato.IMG_3216

And for good measure, the cats testing out the new furniture: Chipwich looking long and lean.IMG_3161

Frank, not so much. He’s been tubbing up from sneaking the kitten food.IMG_3087

The watchful Addie.IMG_3220

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Philadelphia is very vegan-friendly. They have eateries that far surpass played out, crowded, lesser-quality Manhattan options. Vegan Commissary is one such eatery. Brunch at Vegan Commissary was perfect.

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As the name suggests, it’s all-vegan. But there is no need for restriction; Vegan Commissary hits every mark, appeasing my high standards with enthusiasm. What has got me so smitten? This: The Vegg’s Damian--two “dippy” eggs complete with Vegg yolk for toast-dipping, a delicious and delicate patty…mushroom scrapple, layers of scalloped potatoes and shredded Brussels, bearnaise sauce and toast. I cleaned my plate. Best. Brunch. Ever.
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Another look with the Instagram filter.

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What was that deep-fried delight in between our plates? Oh, I’m glad you asked. Those are fried Mac n’ Peas Bites… macaroni and pea puree bites, battered and fried and served with a red pepper sauce. More comforting deliciousness.DSC_0008

After a brunch like that, we hit a lighter, more healthful sweet spot: P.S. &Co. That’s P.S. for Pure Sweets, an all-vegan, all-gluten-free treat shop. I’d like to airlift this beautiful shop filled with such thoughtful bites, lovingly made from scratch. They take a sweet craving and make it an opportunity for wholesomeness and care. PicMonkey Collage2

If I didn’t just eat, I’d be all about this vegetable quiche!IMG_3198

Though banana bread doesn’t necessarily photograph too well, in general, I need to make sure you understand just how amazing this innocuous slice of banana bread is. P.S.&Co.’s lovely proprietor explained that the grains in this treat were sprouted from seed. Besides that scratch-made appeal, it was filled with banana goodness without an ounce of denseness and it contained a scrumptious and satisfying distribution of chocolate chunks. It really was spectacular. IMG_3207

I also picked up a chocolate chili macaroon. IMG_3204

At the end of the afternoon in Philly, a stop at the all-vegan Grindcore House, a coffee shop with sweet treats and savory eats in South Philly.DSC_0021

DSC_0017They serve Dottie’s Donuts, an all-vegan donut wholesaler. I had the strawberry coconut. Fantastic. Philly, you really rock the vegan world.

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Though packaged is generally a turn-off, I sometimes makes an exception for Field Roast. For one, its deli slices and sausages are seitan-based, less processed (and scary) than that soy protein isolate stuff. Field Roast is not secretly ConAgra, like that popular brand of meat analogs. They’re a nice company from Seattle. And they even let you tour their wheat-packing plant if you’re in town!IMG_3179

I have to admit that I was pretty excited when I heard they made a vegan cheese… even though I complain about Daiya constantly. I guess I am presuming that since it contains fermented soybean curd and since they partnered with a Greek cheesemaker to concoct it that it’s less a miracle of modern food science than Daiya is. Plus, the creamy original Chao slices are made from coconut, my favorite anti-dairy. Here goes my first taste…

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I grill up some of the Field Roast deli slices in the skillet and threw on two slices to soften up. I ripped a piece off first. You can totally eat this stuff cold without gagging, unlike the big D. It melted well, to a creamy “cheesy” texture.

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I devoured this sandwich. The gooey Chao was a big hit. And I didn’t feel sick afterwards. Your body knows best! I give Chao slices my stamp of approval.

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Every year, my classroom blog becomes my food blog.
They spent October and most of November on Hercules. Now it is time for the 4th annual Harvest Festival Pumpkin-Cupcake transformation.
It is time they turned into cupcakes already! After some roasting and pureeing, they became cupcake batter along with a pile of chocolate chips. Vegan, of course.

 

Some vanilla “butter”cream frosting. Savory roasted pumpkin seeds are just an added bonus.

 

Cooling…

 

All dresses up with a sprinkle of maple vanilla bean sugar.

 

And that’s how a pumpkin turns into a cupcake.

 

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Treating my home, and its surrounding cities, like I would an unknown city—subject to the same fine tooth comb in search of vegan options—my list of vegan leads in the neighbor state New Jersey was growing. And preferring a random and mysterious lone vegan option to a well-worn, all-vegan establishment sometimes, a trip to New Jersey offered the intrigue and awe as a trip to, say, Oklahoma City. So we were off, list in tow, to taste what NJ had to offer.

Establishments with prominent v-bombs in their title get a gold star. Like Union, New Jersey’s Killer Vegan Café. They do an all-you-can-eat vegan brunch on Sundays. All-you-can-eat. Vegan brunch. Those details alone are worth the tolls on the Throgs Neck and George Washington Bridges.
DSC_0018The spread was ample enough: buttermilk pancakes, biscuits and gravy, French toast, a tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, rice and beans, steamed kale, hash browns. First the high points—the pancakes were amazing, fluffy and cake-like with the distinguishable tang of buttermilk. Paired with their berry syrup and maple syrup, they were pure heaven. A little pad of e.b. butter was missed however. The French toast rocked too, as did their gravy and anything it touched.

On the other side of the coin, the not-hot temperature and general lack of juiciness drawback of buffet-style serving deemed the other components just okay. Potatoes were depleted and not restocked the entire time of our visit. (Not having ample potatoes is kind of a big deal.) Also, it’s understood that in a buffet you make certain sacrifices. The lack of seasoning, temperature, texture, and supporting vegetables are overlooked for abundance. But for this sacrifice, you expect a good price. And in this case, Killer Vegan overcharges at $22 a head plus tax. For that price or a dime more, I could have a full spread, with sides, at a New York City brunch spot made hot and solely for me. Of course then I’d be in New York City… probably in a place 1/3 of the size and inside the pretentious and annoying conversation of fellow diners. I’d be scowling and I’d probably offer the restaurant gods some ducket to deliver me to the quiet, unassuming corner of Killer Vegan’s space, surrounded by conscientious and considerate eaters. Hmmm…

Thanks to CandyPenny’s reconnaissance, exploring New Jersey was fun. There are cities, like Paterson, that seem right out of the not-so distant past. Like the backdrop of some 1980s video game involving street gangs. It’s rundown and quite fine with itself, unlike other cities that need to have the same box stores dressing them up. In the middle of Paterson is a waterfall, oddly enough. Paterson Great Falls. It’s pretty, in all the ways waterfalls are, but the surrounding area makes it more so. Unfortunately, construction closures made it impossible to access the walkway to view the full front of the falls, however. But Instagram is made for capturing such detail and filtering it quite beautifully.IMG_2960

Also in Paterson, the abandoned Hinchliffe Stadium. Relatively a new national landmark and slated for cleaning up, I am glad I caught it in this state… crumpled and looking right out of a horror movie. Abandoned places are fascinating to many, including myself. It’s like dilapidation a kind of palpable energy. Crumblings as character, the past under the cracked facade kind of oozes out. DSC_0034

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As we traveled further we happened to spy another abandoned site to explore. The tremendous complex of buildings we discovered was the Overbrook Asylum, a 325-acre system of buildings built in 1896. After driving about the overgrown winding asphalt driveways and admiring its creepiness, including a stretched out futon, we opted not to venture further in, despite realizing the enormity of the complex. We later learned the site would soon be demolished, there were reportedly hauntings there (with a boiler malfunction in 1917 freezing 30 patients to death one could understand the restless spirits), and the police were very serious about prosecuting trespassers. DSC_0046

DSC_0039We were not apprehended, thankfully. We managed to move onward to try another of New Jersey’s vegan options.

The count of bakeries I’ve visited that have been featured on Cupcakes Wars keeps increasing. I guess that is because more and more bakeries are attempting vegan options. It’s a wonderful thing. This time, it was House of Cupcakes, and their vegan vanilla options. IMG_2964

It was a very delicious vegan option with an impressively light and delicate cake. Though the vanilla flavor wasn’t that detectable, the texture knocked our socks off. Truly a great base to run many directions with other options, hint hint. The frosting, which serves its purpose as sweet and creamy, was a bit too plentiful. But this is a comment I often have with bakery cupcakes. Having held a piping bag in my hand, I know it’s easy to let presentation disrupt the delicate balanced sugar ratio. DSC_0038

Our next stop, Positivitea, was an all-vegan beverage bar with a menu of some unique eats and their own soft serve that has the nostalgic punch of the McDonalds sundaes of my youth. We opted to split one of their pressed waffle sandwich. And we opted for sweet, even though the cupcake had been more than enough. The things you do for your vegan blog!IMG_2973

The stuffed waffle sandwich was named S’MÖREGÅSBORD. It had chocolate drizzle under and upon it and mini-marshmallows on top and inside of it. Further, it also had a side of vanilla soft serve and a side of… chocolate ship cookies, which went untouched. Along with pure maple syrup. I should probably check to see if I got the Diabetes after this. DSC_0050

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DSC_0055After our many stops in New Jersey, it was time to remember why my visits are far and few between. NY-NJ crossings always seem to be a nightmare. Until the vegan options outweigh this opportunity cost again, New Jersey!