Experience | Philadelphia, PA: Le Cat Cafe

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Monday, February 12, 2018

"We belong to nobody and nobody belongs to us. We don't even belong to each other."-Breakfast at Tiffany's

Le Cat Cafe | I recently attended a cat cafe for the first time. Le Cat Cafe, to be exact. Le Cat Cafe is located in the Fairmount area of Philadelphia. Although it does not have a designated parking lot, depending on when you go, you may be able to easily snag metered street parking within close walking distance.

Le Cat Cafe features adoptable cats from Green Street Rescue. It is run entirely by volunteers and fully funded by donors. It opened in March 2016 and in 2017 GSR rescued 411 cats and adopted out 198. There is no denying that GSR and Le Cat Cafe is doing wonderful things for the city of Philadelphia and its feral cat population.

There are a variety of ways one can enjoy Le Cat Cafe such as cats + coffee, yoga, and special events.  Upon entrance, each visitor must sign a waiver and is provided a K-Cup for coffee/tea. The reason behind my visit was to attend a baby shower for which we rented out the entire cafe for 1.5 hours. 

Le Cat Cafe is decorated to reflect its Parisian-style influence. There is an eiffel tower in the front window, which doubles as a multilevel cat bed. There are also many French-inspired cat art pieces and Parisian-style cafe tables and chairs. It is very lovely and quaint. The bathroom is also adorably decorated and very clean. The kitty litter boxes are placed discretely throughout the cafe. Although there is no denying that the cafe smells like cats, it is not offensive or overpowering.

There were 13 cats occupying the cafe during our event. There was a good mix of playful cats with napping cats. Overall it was a very relaxing, lovely experience.


Travel | Los Angeles, CA: Eats + Stay

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Monday, February 5, 2018

"This chapter of my life is called happiness."

2018 is here and I am ready to fully manifest my dreams into reality. For the majority of my adult life, one of my goals has been to travel as much as possible. I love going to new places, seeing new things, trying new food, and having new experiences. Luckily, my opportunities for travel have been increasing over the last few years and I anticipate quite a bit of frequent travel in 2018. 

In January, I visited LA for a whirlwind 30 hour trip. I love LA so much, even if it's for a super short trip. Below is my recount of the food I enjoyed and place I stayed. 


Eko Eats | When my flight arrived at LAX, it was about 4:30 PST, or 7:30 EST. Considering the fact that my normal dinner time is 5:15 EST, my first thought was that I needed to get food into my belly as soon as possible. Luckily, I had a game plan based on my amazing experience last year with Eko Eats via Uber Eats. When I was about five to ten minutes away from the hotel, I ordered Eko Eats via Uber Eats while still in a taxi. Once I arrived, I checked in, went up to my room, and waited for about 10 minutes before receiving a call from the delivery guy that he was waiting in the lobby with my food. Talk about service! 

Just as last year, I ordered the vegan bibimbap, which is a Korean rice bowl with tons of veggies including kale, zucchini, bean sprouts, shitake mushrooms, lotus roots, burdock, seasoned crispy seaweed, sesame seeds, and a side of kochujang (Korean pepper paste). I also opted for a side of their vegan potato salad, which has apple slivers and is very flavorful. Both dishes were delicious.

Although Eko Eats is not exclusively vegan, they have a ton of vegan and gluten-free items, which are clearly indicated on the menu. Not only is their food delicious, but it is definitely on the healthy side. I always appreciate when brown rice available (which was the base of my bibimbap bowl), especially since many Asian restaurants only offer white rice. Additionally, their delivery is simply superb. In a city that is plagued by tons of traffic, it is nice to have a restaurant with fast delivery you can depend on when you are super hungry.


Azla | I was a bit taken aback when I arrived at Azla. I had expected it to be a restaurant but it is actually located in a stand alone building with a food court. I was hesitant at first to stay, but decided to leave my comfort zone even more and give this place a shot. I am so glad that I did.

Azla is 100% vegan and gluten-free (and healthy!) Ethiopian food. Ethiopian food is a something I have always wanted to try, but have never gotten the opportunity. Although there are Ethiopian restaurants in Philly, the majority are located in West Philly, which is not an area I frequent.

Once I got to the counter, I alerted the server that I was new to Ethiopian food and wanted to try as many options as possible. She suggested I get six half servings, for the price of three servings. I chose a variety of dishes/stews: misir (red lentils and spicy berbere), kik (curry split peas), yatakilt (curry potatoes, carrots, and cabbage), gomen (kale, collards, and garlic), spicy sweet potato (sweet potato and berbere), and kale salad (with pickled onion, curry chickpeas, and dates). My plate also came with a side of injera bread. This entire plate was only $9.95, which is definitely inexpensive for healthy vegan food in LA and perfect if you are on a budget.

I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed this meal. Three of the dishes were especially spicy, but spicy in a way that didn't overpower the other flavors. I appreciated the juxtaposition of the various flavors and textures, and savored every bite. I also loved the injera, which is a spongy bread that you are supposed to use to scoop up the various stews, rather than use traditional utensils. However, I still used utensils since I was at an expo all day, touching products and shaking people's hands.

After eating at Azla, I was definitely bitten with the Ethiopian food bug and will definitely be on the lookout for more Ethiopian restaurants to experience.


Luxe City Center Hotel | This hotel is located across from the Staples Center and Downtown LA City Center. It's a wonderful location if you want to be in the thick of the action or have tickets to an event that is located in this center. The hotel is clean with friendly staff. Upon check in, you are given a 16oz water bottle. There is also a small store in the lobby that sells water, snacks, etc. as well. A new to me experience was that you can only access the elevator with your room key. I appreciate this extra level of safety.

Although my room was small, the bathroom was comfortable with a beautifully tiled glass shower. I typically love taking baths when traveling (I know, I'm weird), but I did not miss my bath experience at all. This shower was so luxurious, I could have stood in it forever. I also appreciated that the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soap offered was from a cruelty-free company.

In the morning, free coffee was offered in the lobby and there was also a glass water container infused with fruit available all day. The hotel kindly held my bag during the day since I only stayed one night and was going to be at an expo the following day. When I arrived back at the hotel, my bag was promptly returned to me. I was also extremely thirsty and definitely took advantage of the fruit-infused water.

There are two issues I had regarding the Luxe Hotel and my otherwise lovely experience. First, the valet parking is $45 per night. If you do not have a car, this expense will not be an issue. However, I had a friend visit me the night I arrived and was surprised by the high price. Second, in the middle of the night, the maintenance workers were making a ton of noise in the hallway. It sounded like high-powered suction, which kept waking me up over the course of a couple hours.


Experience | Philadelphia, PA: Vedge + The Dear Hunter at Union Transfer

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Monday, December 18, 2017

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."- Friedrich Nietzsche

Dayv and I had a super magical Thursday evening when our favorite band, The Dear Hunter, was playing downtown. We decided to be super fancy and go out to dinner beforehand. 

Vedge | If you are vegan, you most likely have heard of Vedge. Vedge is a small plate, vegan restaurant that centers its dishes on the beauty of vegetables. The owners, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, have been well-known in the Philadelphia vegan community for years, first gaining recognition with their original restaurant, Horizons. However, Vedge has garnered international attention since it first opened a few years ago. Dayv and I have dined at Vedge a handful of times, always on occasions that we want to make a little more special and fancy.

The concept of Vedge is that there are three menus: The Vedge Bar (appetizers), The Dirt List (vegetable side dishes), and The Grill (closest to a main course). Typically, each person orders an item from each section. Since the servings are pretty small, you can always order more, but three dishes is a pretty safe bet. Before our dishes were served, we received complimentary little glasses of butternut squash soup. It tasted so delicious, I could have easily slurped down an entire pitcher. 

Since Dayv and I have been to Vedge on several occasions, we both have our favorite dishes. Dayv ordered the rutabaga fondue, which comes with a loaf of soft pretzel bread, and the wood roasted carrot. If there was anytime I wish I could eat gluten, it would be to experience this fondue. Dayv loves it so much, and devoured the entire soft pretzel loaf. Our waiter offered him another half a loaf to finish the fondue. If there was one item on the menu where you get a large portion, this dish is it. The carrot dish is essentially a halved, gigantic carrot on a hummus/mustard/carrot hash with pumpernickel bread. Dayv always exclaims that he's never tasted a more perfectly prepared carrot. He was so full after his fondue that he could not finish his carrot dish and left behind some pumpernickel bread and hash.

I wanted to mix my order up a bit and ordered two out of three things that were new to me. My first dish was the stuffed avocado, which sat on a large rice noodle and was surrounded by a delicious sauce. Since I find the portions small and difficult to satisfy my appetite, I loved this dish. The half avocado was creamy and filling. The flavor was light and subtle allowing the sauce to really shine. My second dish was the nebrodini mushrooms, which our server suggested since its texture imitates pasta. The mushrooms were thinly sliced and covered in a tomato basil sauce. Once again, the sauce was my favorite part. Although I enjoyed this dish, I wouldn't order it again. My final dish was the seared maitake mushroom. I have had this dish on several occasions and it never fails. I love that the flavors imitate seafood. Primarily, the fritter mimics the taste and texture of a crab cake, which I used to absolutely love in my pre-vegan days. The sauce is also incredible. I ate this dish, as with my other dishes, as slowly as possible, to savor every flavor.

Vedge has amazing service and your dishes are quick to arrive after placing your order. I have enjoyed nearly every menu item. However, I find The Dirt List to be the most hit or miss. What I find so hilarious about Vedge is that my super picky, vegetarian husband, who typically hates vegan food, loves this restaurant. I enjoy Vedge, too, but struggle a little with feeling satisfied from the small plates. It is also very expensive, so I only feel comfortable visiting once or twice a year. However, it is definitely a restaurant everyone needs to experience for themselves.


The Dear Hunter at Union Transfer | Dayv and I were super excited that our favorite band, The Dear Hunter, was going to be in Philly again this year. Dayv got tickets as soon as they became available and I was particularly excited since they were the headlining band. Neither of us had been to the Union Transfer, so we weren't sure what to expect.

The Union Transfer is a standing room with a balcony. It also has an entryway with a merch table and bar. The bathrooms are on the other side of the standing room, and are large and very clean. The acoustics are very wonderful.

The Dear Hunter had two opening bands, Vava and The Family Crest. I had never heard of either, and am typically not interested in opening bands, but these two acts totally blew it away. Vava reminded me of Fiona Apple. She sang with so much soul and played her guitar effortlessly. The Family Crest is quite the experience, with tons of band members playing a variety of instruments. Along with the typical guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard, there was a violin, cello, and flute. Their stage presence was incredible and I danced to every song.

The Dear Hunter is my favorite band for so many reasons. They are true musicians with incredible lyrics, abd they always put on an amazing show. Dayv and I were lucky enough to spend a week with them at their Music Masters Camp over the summer, and they are also the friendliest, caring, helpful people ever. I loved every second of their performance and was especially excited when they played two of my favorite songs, Waves and Red Hands

On a side note, I meditate to this song every morning when I get to work. It helps center and clear my mind, and keep things in perspective.


Experience | New York, New York: Bombay Sandwich Co. + War Paint

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Monday, December 11, 2017

"There are no ugly women, only lazy ones."- Helena Rubinstein

Twice a year, the sisterhood at my mom's synagogue hosts a women's bus trip to New York. The trip includes a Broadway show matinee, which is chosen far in advance to take advantage of group rates. The bus leaves promptly at 8:30 am and we arrive in New York around 11/11:30, in time to grab an early lunch before the show. 

Bombay Sandwich Co. | Bombay Sandwich Co. is a little "cafe" located about 10 minutes from Broadway theaters. It's a great place to grab a quick lunch and go, and is specifically wonderful for individuals following a plant based diet. Their menu is largely vegan with many items that are also gluten free. I really loved the simple, Eastern inspired, minimal decor.

I ordered the chana masala bowl, which was a bowl of brown rice, chana masala, some cucumber tomato salad, and a few small servings of accompaniments. My mom ordered the mozzarella tomato sandwich, lentil soup, and lemonade. Overall, we were very happy with the quality of the meals, and everything tasted very good. 

There were several issues I had with Bombay Sandwich Co. First, there is no bathroom. After ordering, I was directed to try the Starbucks (one on both ends of the block). The first one didn't have a bathroom and the second one you had to first order something before getting the number key to the bathroom door. Then, I went into the Macy's across the street where I had to go to the bottom floor and walk about a 1/4 of a mile back into the store before getting to the bathroom. I was gone 20+ minutes. Second, the serving size was really small. When I asked how big the bowl servings were, the cashier showed me an empty bowl, which would be a decently large amount of food if it was actually filled. However, I don't think that is a very good gauge of a serving size when the bowl is barely filled. Third, the menu is a bit deceiving, because it says that every platter comes with a salad and several condiments. But, they are just tiny little servings on top of the bowl. One of the little servings was apple garlic pickles, which were incredible. I actually went up to the counter and asked for more and was given a tiny plastic condiment container with an additional small amount. I ended up eating my mom's lentil soup because I was still really hungry.

I would go back because the food is so good, but would have to order a soup, salad, and bowl to actually get full. I would also visit a restroom first.


War Paint | War Paint is a musical based off the career rivalry of cosmetic moguls and pioneers Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. I have always been familiar with the Elzabeth Arden brand, but had never heard of Helena Rubinstein before. Arden was played by Christine Ebersole (anyone else a My Girl 2 fan?) and Rubinstein was played by Patti LuPone. 

The story itself is easy to follow and very interesting. I really appreciated that within the PlayBill there was a page dedicated to the true story of this rivalry. I was more familiar with Arden before the show started, but was more interested in Rubenstein's storyline. As a Polish-Jewish immigrant, I really admired her climb to the top of the cosmetic industry, resilience, and sass. At one point in the show, she was told that she could not rent space in a building because she was Jewish, so her solution was purchasing the entire building. I loved that.

Although War Paint is a musical, I don't think it adds to the show's storyline. There are no stand out numbers or memorable songs. However, I am very interested in the story and want to watch the documentary film, The Powder and the Glory, from which this musical was based.


Travel | Seattle, Washington Part Two: Sights

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Monday, December 4, 2017

"When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy.' They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."- John Lennon

This post is dedicated to all of the sights my family and I visited during our trip to Seattle during the last week of August while visiting my brother.

Read Part One here.

Chiluly Garden + Glass | I had never heard of the glass-work artist Chihuly before visiting this museum. To say I was overwhelmed by the beauty of his art would be an understatement. I walked around the museum, which was filled to the brim with intricate glass sculptures, with tears in my eyes. It was the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Each room has a specific theme, including works that are inspired by sea life, flowers, and Native American and Asian influences. Although the museum is fairly small, you can spend time walking from room to room, reading each plaque. After walking through the interior, there is a garden with additional sculptures, which blend in with the landscape. This museum was one of my most favorite parts of our trip and I highly recommend it.


Harbor Cruise Tour | This one hour cruise was a tour of Seattle via the water. Our tour guide, AJ, was extremely knowledgeable and funny while providing tons of information. Since it was a warm, clear day, we were able to see Mount Rainier from the water, which was very lovely, as well as sea otters basking in the sun. My family and I learned and saw so much during this tour, and could not stop raving about it for the rest of the day.


Monorail | The Monorail quickly became my favorite mode of transportation in Seattle (I am not a fan of the bus system). There are only two stops- one in Seattle Center, which was conveniently located  a 10 minute walking distance from our hotel, and downtown Seattle. My mom and I went downtown nearly every day via the Monorail. I love how it only takes three minutes, provides a scenic trip, and runs constantly. I think every major city should have a Monorail.


Museum of Pop Culture/Jim Henson Exhibition | The Museum of Pop Culture was not an overly impressive site for me, on its own. If you are into Sci-Fi/fantasy, Star Trek, etc., than you may find it of more interest. The only aspect of the core exhibit I enjoyed was the room dedicated to David Bowie and Iggy Stardust.


However, the Jim Henson exhibit totally blew me away. As a child, my brother and I absolutely loved The Muppets, Muppet Babies, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. This exhibit traced Henson's passion from a child through to his last days with exclusive videos, interviews, and clips from television performances. The muppets were also displayed, as well as various interactive activities for both children and adults.

The exhibit perfectly displayed Henson's genius and creativity. My brother made a comment that Henson worked so hard to achieve so much at a young age as if he knew he'd live a short life. My mom and I both agreed.


Nordstom Flagship Store | Did you know Nordstom's was founded in Seattle as a shoe store? The original flagship, which is located in downtown Seattle, is definitely a fun place to visit during a rainy day. My mom and I went on two occasions, once to check it out, and the second when it was literally raining outside and we wanted to get out of the hotel. We spent time on every floor, giggling at the ridiculous prices, trying on sunglasses, contemplating trying on wedding dresses, and marveling at the various baby strollers. My mom loves to proclaim how much she hates shopping, but I could tell she was having fun.


Olympic Sculpture Park | This park is a path with larger than life sculptures running parallel along the water. Even though the art is impressive (and includes a Calder!), my favorite part was the sunset view. My family and I walked along the water's edge and rocks after dinner and took in the sea air and breeze. I don't think I would have been as enamored with it if it wasn't such a perfect evening. But, due to the time of day and weather, it was the perfect after dinner stroll.


Pacific Science Center/ Terracotta Army | The Pacific Science Center is a great place to visit, if you have children. All of the exhibits are very interactive and geared towards children. However, as adults visiting, my parents and I found it a bit lack luster. There were two exhibits that we did enjoy, though.

The Tropical Butterfly House is a greenhouse filled with tons of flowers, foliage, and a wide variety of living butterflies. There are also many bowls filled with fruit for the butterflies to enjoy. Since the butterflies live in this room, PSC takes their wellbeing very seriously. Before entering, you have to wait in a small entryway, with the doors closed, to make sure no butterflies can escape. When leaving, you go through a similar routine, and are checked to make sure no butterflies have landed on you. We all really loved this exhibit, especially my dad, who pointed at literally every butterfly and said, "Cait! Look!"

The second exhibit of interest was the dinosaur area. Although small, the room contained life-sized and half-life-sized dinosaur figures with interesting plaques and small artifacts included. I love learning about dinosaurs and wished it was bigger.


My dad was adamant about going to the special exhibit, which was the Terracotta Army. Interestingly enough, the exhibit was also shown in Philadelphia at the same time. My parents both found the exhibit very enjoyable, but I found it to be extremely boring. Luckily, my brother was with us during this exhibit, and we spent the hour taking ridiculous photos of him with the sculptures. If he wasn't with us, I would have walked through to the end and sat on the bench, looking at my phone, until my parents came out. 


Pike's Market | One of the hallmarks of Seattle is Pike's Market. Essentially, it's a gigantic farmer's market in a very spacious barebones building along the water. I loved the abundance of fresh flowers (so many sunflowers!), produce, and fruit. I don't think I've ever seen such a wide variety of currants before. There were also stands with homegoods, jewelry, and homemade body care. My mom and I spent a good two hours walking down every corridor and floor. Also, the bathrooms were surprisingly very clean.

What I did not care for, however, were the large fish stands, where fish were literally thrown across the corridors. At one point, I wasn't paying attention and nearly got hit by one. My mom made the comment, "Wouldn't that be ironic, the vegan getting hit in the head with a fish at Pike's Market."


Seattle Art Museum | Since I majored in Art History for my undergraduate degree, I'm always up for a trip to an art museum. I am also very picky. My favorite art period is Post Modern: abstract expressionism and assemblage art. I also prefer smaller museums, as I tend to get overwhelmed quickly. I blame it on my many trips to the MET my junior and senior year of college.

My parents and I arrived at SAM with a little over an hour to explore before it closed. Luckily, this art museum is my ideal size with my ideal collections. I quickly stumbled upon my favorite artists: Rauschenberg, Johns, Pollock, Rothko, and Twombly. Hilariously, my father was not paying attention, and rested his forearm on a Twombly sculpture. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so loud in my life.

A large portion of the museum is also dedicated to Native American art. My parents and I were able to walk throughout the museum at a comfortable pace and see all of the collections we were interested in before the doors closed at 9.


Seattle Center | Seattle Center was the hub for our daily adventures. It houses the Armory, Chihuly Garden + Glass, Monorail, the MPoP, Pacific Science Center, and Space Needle. Not only does it contain a wide variety of places to visit and food to eat, it is decorated beautifully with Chihuly sculptures. One of the best aspects of the planning of our trip was making sure our hotel was in close walking proximity to Seattle Center.


Seattle Great Wheel | This 145 foot ferris wheel was on my dad's Seattle bucket list. Luckily, it was easily incorporated into our schedule as it is located next to the Harbor Cruise Tour dock. The line was pretty long, but moved quickly. Once inside the gondola, the trip lasted about 20 minutes. We all really enjoyed the ride and admired the view from above.


Space Needle | The Space Needle is the defining Seattle cityscape landmark. If you go to Seattle, you have to go to the Space Needle. When my parents visited a few years ago, they only went once during the day. However, one ticket now allows for two entrees in one day. My mom and I thought it would be fun to go once in the day and once at night.

I was a little underwhelmed by the day trip. It was interesting to walk up the ramp on the way to the elevator, as it provided background on the creation of the Space Needle. On the short elevator trip to the top, our guide gave a wonderfully scripted and quickly spoken tour of the surrounding areas through the glass walls. Once at the top, we walked the perimeter of the Space Needle, and made our way back down.

However, the view at night was absolutely spectacular. The lights of the city create a gorgeous cityscape and is extremely picturesque. The Space Needle actually has a dining room and the view at night would provide a very romantic ambiance. It's also extremely expensive and not very vegan friendly.


Underground Tour | Did you know Seattle burned to the ground in the late 1800's and the city was rebuilt overtop of the rubble? Me either. I did not have high expectations of the tour before it started. But, my mind was quickly blown away. Our guide, John, was super knowledgeable, funny, and ironic during the tour. We went through several buildings, which were originally street level, and are now located basement level. I loved the history lesson and glimpse into life during this time period. One of the key factors which led to Seattle's massive fire had to do with the poor sewage system at the time. If you know me, I love a good poop story. If you visit Seattle, this tour is an absolute must.

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