July Fourth Weekend in Charleston

July Fourth Weekend in Charleston

July Fourth Weekend in Charleston

OK, hold on, Dairy Free Buckaroos!  Because in one post (ok, maybe a couple) I am going to speed us on through everything that Therese and I saw and tasted in our long July Fourth weekend in Charleston.  Because, you see, while the last few times we were in Charleston, we were preoccupied, this time we were free to enjoy the food, the historic houses and the museums that are part of what makes Charleston such a fabulous place to visit.

We had hardly settled in at our now-favorite Charleston hotel, the Embassy Suites Historic Charleston, when it was time for dinner.  For a casual but sophisticated first dinner, we chose Basil, one of Charleston’s best Thai restaurants.

I had a Lucky Buddha beer to go with Chicken with Ginger Sauce for my dinner.  I enjoyed the entree so much I totally forgot it was supposed to go over rice – I ignored the pot of rice on the table next to me and just ate the dish directly from its plate.

The next day, Wednesday, we explored the area north of our hotel.  We started out with lunch at Two Boroughs Larder.

This is a quirky place with a rather limited menu.  You may notice, for example, that the chalkboard, rather than being a written-out menu, was actually a list of friends of “Walter” who I believe is the owner’s dog, who recently passed on to the great dog house in the sky.  I ordered a pastrami hot dog, but when I said I wanted it dairy free, it caused our waitress no end of consternation.  She tried to get me to order something else from the menu, but the things she suggested were all dairy-centered.  Finally, after she consulted with the kitchen, she announced they could skip the hot dog bun, which was a brioche and thus milk-rich, and put my dog on a sourdough roll instead.  An excellent idea.  While it meant slicing the dog up so that it no longer looked like one to fit it on the roll, it tasted great.

Lunch of Pastrami Hot Dog and Artisanal Root Beer

Lunch of Pastrami Hot Dog and Artisanal Root Beer

Our first historic adventure was to the Aiken-Rhett House, one of several historic houses in Charleston.  Several features distinguish this house from others in Charleston.  First, audio tours are given out, allowing you to self-guide yourself around the house and take your time (though they still expect you to finish it in about an hour).  Second, the Aiken-Rhett not only has surviving slave quarters on the property, but they let you actually walk through them and see what they were like.  Third, the Aiken-Rhett has been left largely in a transitional state, with many rooms showing what the building looked like when the Historic Charleston Foundation took it over in 1995, including damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

The house is mostly un-air conditioned (except for one room), and so it can get pretty hot in there.  In fact, their advertisements warn that the museum closes early on excessively hot days.  Luckily, the day we were there wasn’t too bad.  And the house’s one air conditioned room, the art gallery, is the last room in the house on the audio tour, so you get to cool off at the end.  In speaking with people who work in the house, we got the impression that if they can raise funds, eventually more of the house will be climate-controlled.

The next stop on our adventures that day was to get some coffee (well, iced chai with almond milk for me) at Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer.  This is a very cosy spot, with a large outdoor area and a fountain; but with the day still being pretty hot, we stayed inside.

That evening, dinner was at one of Charleston’s most notable restaurants, Husk.

The Dining Room at Husk

The Dining Room at Husk

The food here was excellent in an understated way.  My appetizer was watermelon that had been squeezed to remove some of the juice (thus intensifying the flavor) and then dusted with a little sea salt.  It was a light and pleasant way to begin the meal.

Appetizer of Dried Salted Watermelon

Appetizer of Dried Salted Watermelon

My main course was hearty but surprisingly simple: pork belly with broad beans and tomatoes.

Main Course of Pork Belly with Broad Beans and Tomatoes

Main Course of Pork Belly with Broad Beans and Tomatoes

And for dessert, I had raspberry sorbet (sorbets being the only dairy free option on the dessert menu) and a glass of Madeira.

Raspberry Sorbet and Madeira Dessert Wine

Raspberry Sorbet and Madeira Dessert Wine

The plates and bowls and the appearance of the servers (overalls and flannel shirts with full beards for the men) all was completely in synch with the restaurant’s theme of farm-to-table.

In my next post, I will continue breezing my way through our holiday in Charleston.

Posted in Charleston, Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Food, Lowcountry Cuisine, Lunch, South Carolina, United States | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raaj Bagh and Mahakaleshwar Temple Concludes Day One in Udaipur

Raaj Bagh and Mahakaleshwar Temple Concludes Day One in Udaipur

Raaj Bagh and Mahakaleshwar Temple Concludes Day One in Udaipur

Our first day in Udaipur, which had begun with a visit to the City Palace Museum and continued with stops at the Saheliyon Ki Bari gardens and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal folk museum, concluded with a late lunch at Raaj Bagh Restaurant and a visit to the Mahalakeshwar Temple.

As I described it last time, we had been hard charging the whole day, and it was already well into the afternoon when Therese and I looked at each other and said, hey, you know, we’re hungry!  Our guide RV was well-prepared and brought us to Raaj Bagh, which has the most extraordinary setting.  It is really a garden restaurant, with seating under umbrellas and canopies outdoors on the bank of Lake Fateh Sagar.

Our Canopy was almost a tent, with a mat under our feet and two sides covered by woven wall hangings, to keep the sun off of us, but still allow us an incredible view of the lake.  I ordered a very rustic dish, a yellow goat curry with coconut milk and some naan bread to dip in the sauce.

Goat Curry and Naan

Goat Curry and Naan

Raaj Bagh is more than just a restaurant.  A sculpture garden has been set up on the grounds, with a collection of antique wagons nearby.

Antique Wagon and Textiles

Antique Wagon and Textiles

The wagon we saw as we were leaving the restaurant had some textiles draped over it, in effect advertising for the restaurant gift shop that was next to it.  We took note of the items that caught our eye, but the prices seemed rather high, so we saved our shopping for later.

Lunch was a nice break from all our day’s activity, and after refreshing ourselves (yes, we did have some Indian beer with lunch!), we headed off to our last sight of the day.

Almost since we had begun our trip, we had been developing a fascination with Hindu temples.  Their characteristic towers pop up everywhere, and we had noticed them in each city we visited.  We asked RV if we could visit a Hindu temple, and he gave us a choice: either we could visit the popular Jagdish Temple, one of the largest Hindu temples in Udaipur, not far from the City Palace, with lots of stairs to get to the temple; or we could visit another beautiful temple, which is not quite so famous, but still very much worth visiting.  We chose the latter because we are not crazy about climbing steps.

So it was that we got to see the Mahakaleshwar Temple.

Mahakaleshwar Temple

Mahakaleshwar Temple

There were a couple of things we had to know before we entered the temple.  First, no photography while inside the temple, but we could take photos of the interior from the outside (like much of traditional architecture in India, the temples tend to be open air – i.e., they have no walls to speak of).  Second, we would have to take off our shoes AND socks before we went inside.  Lastly, traditionally what you do as you enter a Hindu temple is you buy a garland of flowers for one or two rupees and then you give it to the altar attendant as you enter the temple as an offering.

OK, so now we were ready to enter the temple.  But as we were approaching with our garlands in hand, we met a joyous group of people leaving the temple.  A couple had just gotten married, and had come to the temple to get Shiva‘s blessing.  They were very friendly, so we spoke with them for a minute, and then we all posed for a photo op.

Karl and Therese with New Married Couple and Their Friends

Karl and Therese with New Married Couple and Their Friends

After that, we finally did take off our shoes and socks, entered the temple, made our offering and had a look around.  The main hall is rather small, but the entire temple is so very beautiful.  This is a Shiva temple, which means that people who worship the god Shiva come here.  RV worships Shiva, so he was happy to visit the temple.  Also, it was a Monday, and apparently different Hindu gods are associated with different days of the week, and Monday is Shiva’s day, so there was a lot of activity going on that day – especially washing of the altar area, which meant that underfoot was quite wet and a little slippery.  Here are some photos to give you an idea of how beautiful this temple is.

An Oberoi official was able to tell me that the Mahakaleshwar Temple is about 900 years old.  Wow!  It looks pretty amazing for being that old, but there are many signs of wear as well.  So the renovation going on is certainly timely.  A sculpture garden has been set up to one side of the temple, and artisans are painstakingly carving numerous pieces that will replace the many sculptures and marble sections that are crumbling.  We visited them to get a better look at their work and they were tolerant of our presence, although they did not stop working for a moment to speak with us.

After getting a chance to watch these fine sculptors at our work, our day was done.  It was time to go back to our hotel, the Oberoi Udaivilas, and have a rest before preparing for dinner.  The next day would be another busy day with RV.  After this first day being so chock full of wonderful things, we knew we were in store for more days of outstanding culture, history and art.  Stay tuned for more from Udaipur in posts to come!

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Food, India, Indian Food, Lunch, Temples, Travel, Udaipur | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Saheliyon Ki Bari and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal

Saheliyon Ki Bari and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal

Saheliyon Ki Bari and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal

After visiting the beyond amazing City Palace Museum in Udaipur, our first day in that wonderful city continued with visits to the Saheliyon Ki Bari gardens and the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal folk museum.  On our way to the former, we circled the Fateh Sagar Lake (see above) and got our first glimpse of the amazing vistas, complete with mountains in the background (and the Monsoon Palace which we would visit later during our stay).

The Saheliyon Ki Bari means “garden of the maidens” and was built in the eighteenth century for the ladies in waiting on a visiting princess.  Today it is a relaxing verdant place full of fountains and flowers, a small botanical garden if you will.

I think my favorite part of the gardens was the paintings on the walls surrounding the gardens, of women in traditional dress in procession on horses and elephants and camels.

While Saheliyon Ki Bari, along with the City Palace Museum, are two of the monuments in Udaipur that everyone visits, our next stop was not.  When people think folk museum in Udaipur, they think Bagore Ki Haveli.  However, our guide RV told us that the better place to see Udaipur folk art was at the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal museum.

The museum is built in a rather circular fashion, with rooms filled with displays on the outside of the circle, a hallway that leads around the middle of the circle which has displays hanging on it, and in the middle of the circle is an open-air auditorium for music and dance performances.

There is also a small theater on the outside of the circle where short marionette shows are given.  Not long after we entered the museum, the time for the puppet show was near, so we went to the theater and watched.  Our guide told us that one of the highlights of the show is an act with two marionettes, a man and a woman, but the woman marionette flips over every so often and becomes a man.  So the other man makes advances on this “woman” (by which I mean he jumps on top of her) and just when things are getting good for him, the woman turns into a man and beats the crap out of him.  Again, our guide thought this was hilarious.  But seeing that the crowd watching this show was almost entirely school children other than the three of us, I had to question the correctness of the subject matter for the audience.  Oh well.  I guess that was a learning moment for us as far as what people consider comedy in India.

We loved seeing the many folk deity masks and costumes and folk altars and such, and asked if we could visit the museum’s gift shop.  RV talked with someone, and soon after a woman came and opened the gift shop for us, and we found lots of things – pillowcases, a mini folk deity wooden altar, etc. – that we were eager to buy.  But as we were putting our purchases together, it became clear that this woman was not only the gift shop attendant, but she also handled the museum’s box office!  So while we were buying things, the line of people waiting to get into the museum was spilling out into the street.  We felt bad when we realized this, and paid quickly and left.

Now that we had seen three sights in a row, it was already well into the afternoon, and we were very hungry.  So we asked RV if we could go to lunch somewhere.  He had a good place in mind for us, and we got back into our car to head there.  In the next post, I will finish up our first day in Udaipur.

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Udaipur City Palace Museum

Udaipur City Palace Museum

Udaipur City Palace Museum

On our first day in Udaipur, India, the first place we visited was the City Palace Museum.  Incredible.  So much so, that while I had originally thought I could write one post on our whole first day in Udaipur, I realized quickly that the City Palace Museum needed its own post.  If for no other reason than that it is extraordinarily beautiful, and I wanted to share at least some of the many photos we took, and give some description so you would know what you are seeing.

After seeing it, I appreciated how unbelievably monumental this building is.  For only a small portion of it is open to the public – the lion’s share of the building is split between living quarters for the current royal family, and a bespoke hotel.  To get an idea of what I am talking about, compare the photo above, taken from Lake Pichola, with this photo of the entire palace.

Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

These lake views we were to experience later when we took a boat ride (don’t worry, I will tell you all about that in good time).  Our first views of the Palace were from the city side, and no less spectacular in my view.

Our guide, RV, was eager to move at a somewhat brisk pace, mostly to stay ahead of the tour groups that would make it hard for us to enjoy the palace.  As we went, he poured a huge amount of information into our ears.  I cannot pretend to have retained that much of it, but what I do remember, I am happy to pass on to you.

With that in mind, a little bit of a history lesson.  Udaipur was historically the capital of the Mewar kingdom, and has been ruled by the same dynasty in an unbroken line for many centuries.  Unlike Jaipur, which made alliances with the Mughal empire, Udaipur fought to maintain its independence.  Of course, now it is just part of Rajasthan, and the prince is royal in a ceremonial sense only (though it would seem that his family is still quite wealthy).  Like Jaipur, Udaipur is named after the prince (Udai Singh) who founded the city.  Two of the four artificial lakes around which the city lies are also named after former rulers.

So when we were entering the palace, we had to negotiate our way around some workmen who were building structures for a wedding to take place on the grounds of the palace a few days later.  No, it was not a royal wedding, just that of a very wealthy Indian businessman.  But we did hear that Jennifer Lopez was going to be performing at the wedding – and apparently it was a good thing that we made reservations at Oberoi Udaivilas as early as we did, because we heard that every room in all the best hotels of Udaipur was full for that weekend (and we did see some pretty fancy people coming and going over those next few days).

The City Palace Museum Entrance

The City Palace Museum Entrance

Anyway, back to the palace.  Let’s just do the highlights, and get to the photos.  The Palace is built on top of a hill (yes, a hill on the bank of a lake), and split into two parts, the king’s palace and the queen’s palace.  In the queen’s part, there are numerous windows that are covered with grating – which serve the dual function of keeping the women hidden, but allowing for wonderful air circulation.

For the king’s palace, there are numerous windows that also offer wonderful air circulation, as well as providing incredible vistas of the surrounding area.

There are also numerous outdoor spots in the palace from which we were able to see relatively unencumbered vistas of Udaipur.

At many points along the way, there were courtyards and other areas where it was possible to see the outside of the palace, as it were, from the inside.  There are many majestic towers that made quite an impression.

And between the various buildings within the palace walls, there are numerous courtyards.  For example, there is one that contains the kings swimming pool, where he went swimming with only the most favored ladies of his court.

There is a painting near this courtyard (from 1635) that displays an attempt at artist’s perspective, viewing the pool from above and the colonnade that surrounds it.

Painting of the King's Swimming Pool and Courtyard

Painting of the King’s Swimming Pool and Courtyard

The most famous courtyard in the palace is called the Peacock Courtyard for its decoration highlighting India’s national bird.

The Udaipur City Palace Museum contains a great deal of extraordinarily beautiful interior decoration.  Here is a selection.

Several of the splendid royal rooms have been preserved and are on display.

Therese’s favorite room was the one that contained an indoor swing.  She excitedly asked if we ever had a house, if she could have an indoor swing like that (of course I said yes).

Indoor Swing for the King

Indoor Swing for the King

There are several walls covered with colorful paintings.

Here is a doorway with elephants (considered lucky) guarded, it would seem, by a painting of a royal person.

Painting of a Royal Person Next to Doors with Elephants

Painting of a Royal Person Next to Doors with Elephants

Traditional miniature paintings are also found displayed around the palace, often depicting important events, such as decisive battles led by the king.

I mentioned that elephants are considered lucky – there are many of these lucky animals depicted around the palace.

After seeing some of these elephants, I had a question for our guide RV.  My sister has collected elephant figurines for years, but she follows the philosophy that the elephant’s trunk has to be up, and it should be facing in a certain direction (is it to the right? I can never remember), in order to be lucky.  My question for RV was whether this comes from Indian culture.  He said that for Indians, an elephant is always good luck, whatever direction it is facing, and whether the trunk is up or down.

You may have noticed above that when the king is depicted in a painting, there is always a gold hallow around his head (for me, that is the only way to pick him out from a crowd).  That is done because traditionally, the king is considered to be descended from the sun god.  There is a medallion of the sun god on the front of the palace to remind us of this connection, and in one of the rooms is another sun god medallion.

To conclude, I will offer one more picture, and a little more history.  Pratap Singh (1540-1597), a Mewar ruler, had a favorite horse, Chetak, who saved Pratap’s life while being gravely injured.  In the palace, there is a gallery showing Chetak with the equipment he wore in battle, including a piece attached to his snout that was worn to frighten the opponent’s horses by making them think he was an elephant.

King Pratap wtih His Horse Chetak

King Pratap wtih His Horse Chetak

In my next post, I will tell you about what we did during the rest of our first day in Udaipur.

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Vegan Smoothies at Lo Lo Foods

Vegan Smoothies at Lo Lo Foods

Vegan Smoothies at Lo Lo Foods

We didn’t go to Chelsea Market expecting to go to Lo Lo Foods.  Actually, I was hoping to find a stand for One Lucky Duck – I was jonesing a bit for one of their amazing raw vegan desserts.  But when it became obvious that One Lucky Duck no longer has a spot in the Market, I looked around, and saw the sign for Lo Lo, and I figured, hmmm, why not a nice smoothie?

Now they do sell other things.  There’s oatmeal with toppings, and coffee drinks and other soft drinks.  I ordered a frozen hot chocolate myself, and it was quite rich and delicious, with banana and dates and hemp seed along with chocolate and house-made nut milk (I think it was made with cashews).

Therese is not into bananas, so she went for more of a straightforward latte with coffee.  We both enjoyed our drinks, but the service was mysteriously slow.

We do love Chelsea Market.  On that occasion, we were looking to do a little shopping at the Lobster Place, one of our favorite residents of Chelsea Market.  I can’t for the life of me remember what we bought that time, but on various occasions we have bought lobster stock, steamed lobsters, canned salmon and other kinds of seafood there.

My research shows there is another intriguing vegan vendor at Chelsea Market, called Beyond Sushi.  Next time we go to Chelsea Market, I am going to check them out.  And you know what, I might get another one of those Lo Lo hot chocolates.

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Oberoi Udaivilas

Oberoi Udaivilas

Oberoi Udaivilas

Our fourth stop in India was in Udaipur, at the Oberoi Udaivilas.  I will give you my photos of the hotel, and you are welcome to look at the professional photos on the hotel’s website. Then you can tell me whether you agree with my wife that this was the most amazing of the four hotels we stayed in in India.  I certainly felt it was spectacular, but I give a slight edge to the Oberoi Rajvilas of Jaipur.

I had heard how great this hotel is, and so when planning our itinerary, I was happy to give an extra day to Udaipur, feeling that we would want to spend some of our time just enjoying the hotel.  I will of course tell you about the wonderful things our guide RV showed us in Udaipur in posts to come, but here I am going to share my photos and highlights of our home in Udaipur.

Let’s talk about food to start.  The Suryamahal Restaurant was the mixed cuisine restaurant with a large terrace where breakfast was served every morning.  There was a large buffet in the middle of the inside portion of the restaurant, but once you sat down at a table, there was hardly any need to lift a finger.  I tended to have the same thing every day, an English breakfast-type plate with fried eggs (cooked in oil of course).

Day Two Breakfast at Suryamahal

Day Two Breakfast at Suryamahal

Day Three Breakfast at Suryamahal

Day Three Breakfast at Suryamahal

Our last morning, we ordered breakfast on our balcony, and I had – you guessed it – English breakfast, but this time with bacon instead of sausage and a mushroom omelet.  And I started with a bowl of Indian-spiced oatmeal.

Now you may think I was overdoing it with eggs three days in a row.  But lest I elicit a “TMI!” from you, I will tell you that about half the trip, I was having a classic case of Delhi belly.  So when my tummy started feeling better, I took advantage of that.

Anyway, Suryamahal was also where we ate dinner one night with entertainment – music and dancing.  The entertainment here was definitely the best of any of the hotels – three musicians, with flute and tabla (drums) as well as sitar.  And the dancer was wonderful, and I loved her costume.

Musicians

Musicians

The food was rather good also.  To start, we were brought an amuse bouche of a tomato soup drizzled with olive oil.

Amuse Bouche of Tomato Soup with Olive Oil

Amuse Bouche of Tomato Soup with Olive Oil

For my main course, I ordered a cioppino of seafood (oh wait, is cioppino always seafood?  Oh well, you get the picture).

Seafood Cioppino Entree

Seafood Cioppino Entree

The grounds of the Oberoi Udaivilas are not as sprawling as its sister hotel in Jaipur – little cause to take a golf cart anywhere here – but they are extensive nevertheless.  For example, they have a game preserve with deer, peacocks and a separate enclosure for wild boar.

I couldn’t help but compare it unfavorably to Rajvilas here.  I mean, c’mon, in Jaipur they let the animals roam free (birds mostly – they don’t have any wild boar).

Otherwise, Udaivilas certainly stands on its own.  Take a look, for example, at the lobby fountain.

Lobby Fountain at Oberoi Udaivilas

Lobby Fountain at Oberoi Udaivilas

On our way to our room, we passed through a foyer full of candles that were lit in the evening, creating a magical atmosphere.

And here and there were doorways and pathways that enticed me into wandering around the grounds.

Open Air Gazebo

Open Air Gazebo

And then again, there was the view from our balcony of Lake Pichola and the City Palace, Lake Palace and Leela Palace.  First, we saw that at night.

Night-time View from Our Balcony

Night-time View from Our Balcony

Then on that last morning, we saw it again, this time in the light, along with the other beautiful vistas.

With those peaceful, incomparable views of Oberoi Udaivilas, I will leave you.  Next time, we will begin exploring Udaipur.  We were there for three full days, and tasted deeply of the city’s culture and history.

 

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Buongiorno Espresso Bar

Buongiorno Espresso Bar

Buongiorno Espresso Bar

Since Therese and I moved to Midtown, I have been trying to make the rounds of the nearby coffee bars for two reasons, of course.  The first is that Therese is the coffee-drinker in the family, and we are looking for a place that serves the coffee that she will love to drink every Friday afternoon, when we go out for coffee, the traditional start of our weekend.  Second, just as I looked for dairy free coffee in the Financial District after we moved there, I want to find who has the best drinks made with almond milk (soy milk, coconut milk, etc.).  And once again, I am leaving Starbucks out of the equation.

Anyway, we have been to a few places, and recently have gone to this funky little place, Buongiorno Espresso Bar.  The first time we went there, I could see on their somewhat illegible hand-written menu board a mention of “soy milk.”

Buongiorno Espresso Bar Handwritten Menu

Buongiorno Espresso Bar Handwritten Menu

So I was brave and I asked whether they might also have almond milk.  They did!  I was so pleased with this that after Therese ordered a latte, I did the same (but with almond milk).  And you know what?  The foam wasn’t quite so fancy as with Therese’s (dairy milk has that weird viscosity that makes it good for doing things like crafting pictures in coffee).  But I still thought it looked pretty.

Almond Latte

Almond Latte

And it tasted good, too!  With a couple (ok, three or four) sugars added, I found it quite delicious, and gobbled it all up, and then immediately started flying from all that caffeine (wow, I rarely drink that much coffee).

The next time we stopped in at Buongiorno, I decided to stick with my usual order, an iced chai latte with almond milk.  Here is where the oddness of the bar started making itself felt.

You see, apparently the espresso bar is owned by a nail salon next door, Beba Blue (I think Therese has had her nails done there before).  The first time we were there, there was a guy behind the counter who made our drinks.  However, the second time we went, there was nobody in the bar, and a woman (who Therese tells me is the owner of the nail salon) snuck in from next door (there is a door connecting the two businesses) to make our drinks.

Immediately I start thinking “hmm, she knows nails I guess, but can she make a good chai latte?”  Sure enough, she put way too much chai syrup.  I had to take a couple swigs and then ask her to add some more almond milk.  Even then, it was too strong.  But considering that many coffee bars don’t put enough chai syrup in their lattes, I didn’t mind for once getting too much syrup.

So anyway, I am sure I will catch you up on other coffee bars we visit.  There are lots of them around here, including non-Starbucks chains whose FiDi locations we visited in the past (hello, Orens!).  Wow, I just had a moment – I know it’s only Monday and not Friday – maybe I can get Therese to go out for coffee before Friday…  suddenly I am feeling like a nice chai latte would taste good.

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