Friday, February 26, 2010

Hope springs eternal, in the form of cupcakes.

OK, now I'll grant you that this is specifically *not* New York related. But I've talked enough here about the trials and tribulations of my wedding that I simply must share this with you. And hey, if you ever find yourself the Crescent City way, it may be valuable information.

Remember all those issues I was having with trying to get someone to bake me a vegan wedding cake? I had practically resolved myself to baking my own when I got an email from a vegan-network-friend of mine who lives on the Northshore (New Orleans speak for the north side of Lake Pontchartrain). One of her friends opened up a bakery in Mandeville a few months ago, she wrote, and baked vegan cupcakes pretty regularly.

To which I said, YES PLEASE THANK YOU.

My parents are not so into the idea of a cupcake tower for the wedding, but they'll suck it up. I admit, I did have my heart set on a "real" cake for a while, but a delicious, gorgeous, vegan presentation is what it comes down to.

And after my meeting with KC of KC's Babycakes, I am absolutely convinced that it's exactly what I'll have. She came highly recommended from a trusted source, which is always good. But you just never know, particularly with vegan baked goods I think, until you sit down and sink your teeth in. This is precisely what I did last Monday. KC spent two full hours with me, and as those of you who know me are well aware, that is a LONG time to spend with me when I'm really excited about something. I sampled six (count them, six) different flavors of her vegan cupcakes. Somehow, each was more extraordinary than the last. You want to hear about them, don't you?

Cookies n cream: a crazy moist rich chocolate cupcake with just a hint of almond, topped with an intensely sweet vanilla buttercream speckled with crumbled oreo-style cookies, crowned with a whole cookie nestled in the middle for good measure. This is an excellent showcase for just how good a simple (but extremely well-baked) chocolate cupcake can be.

Coconut and Coffee: a subtly flavored caramel brown coconut cupcake, slathered in rich coffee buttercream then rimmed with a ring of toasted coconut shavings. Gourmet, doubtless; this cupcake is somehow simultaneously exotic and extravagant while also being comforting and homey. It may be KC's favorite of her vegan creations; me, I am having a very difficult time choosing a favorite.

Vanilla Chocolate Swirl: a basic made fancy, two moist and delicious cakes marbled in the cup and topped with a generous helping of vanilla buttercream, finished with miniature chocolate chips. It's hard to describe how decadent this cakelet is as it sounds so simple, so you'll just have to believe me.

Lemon Macadamia: a lightly lemon cupcake punctuated with chunks of real macadamia nuts, topped with a pungent, bright frosting made with real fresh lemon juice, and finally rimmed with colored sugar for a look that is both sophisticated and fun. (This one happens to be modeling the cupcake wrapper I've chosen - "Aloha" from Paper Orchid. Many thanks to KC for cluing me in on this new cupcake trend!)

Banana Split: here's where we really start getting crazy! A cupcake with a banana bread like consistency - because it's made with real banana, making it ultra dense and moist with true banana flavor - but sweeter and with mini chocolate chips in it. Then topped in a lush twirl of delicately banana flavored buttercream frosting. The cupcakes I tasted were sprinkled with pecans and then topped with a cherry, which was a great finish. However, to be more friendly to my nut-allergic guest(s), for the wedding they'll be drizzled in chocolate ganache before being cherried. Too divine!

Wedding Cake: a flavor that I *believe* was developed just for me! In case you don't know, in New Orleans there is a flavor actually known as "wedding cake flavor" - you can order it at any good snowball stand. It's generally a creamy almond flavor, and it's been a tradition at Nola nuptials since anyone can remember. This cupcake did not disappoint. A perfectly dense, moist, rich, creamy lightly almond and vanilla white cupcake, topped with wonderfully rich almond buttercream, and finished with the most darling candy pearls you'd ever wish to see. Simple and elegant, this is the flavor that really made the set for me. We'll also have a 6" cake atop the tower that will be baked from this batter. I really couldn't be more pleased with how this one came out.

I'll stop killing you with cupcake descriptions now - except to say that we actually haven't decided between doing the cookies n cream described above, or a classic red velvet. I didn't get to sample KC's red velvet, but based on what I've seen and tasted, I have zero doubt that it is exquisite. And I can't help thinking of some kind of chocolate-and-strawberry concoction... Maybe a small groom's cake? What can I say? Life is full of so many difficult decisions.

Some day soon I'll tell you what happens when you take a dozen of the fabulous cupcakes described above over to the only vegetarian restaurant in town (Cafe Bamboo), have a couple of Abitas, and start getting generous. But that, loves, is a story for another day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Food Plan.

So, the wedding is in 24 days. That is not a lot of days, and I pretty much feel like crap.

Now, I am not under the impression that I can cure myself and feel fantastic for this event. But I do think that I owe it to myself and to Jonathan to do everything in my power to feel as good as I can. I think it is far past time to buckle down and do what I need to do with my diet, at least up until the wedding. It's quite simple really, and it is I'm sure what I really should be doing all the time. But like all of us I live in this modern world with my bad habits only being encouraged by an overly taxed schedule. Perhaps I'll be able to develop new good habits though, or eat more along these lines, once I've been doing it for a couple of weeks.

So what does this plan entail? I want to really focus on whole foods - like as in only eat whole foods. Foods that I can see the structure of: beans, rice, whole grains (not whole grain products like bread, mind you, but actual whole grains such as quinoa and oats), fruits, vegetables. My hummus I think is still good, because even though it ends up as a paste-like substance, I myself see it in whole bean form first.

I'll also be cutting out sugar, and really making an effort to drink more water. I've been doing fairly well on the water front, but I want to step it up. On the sugar front I've been terrible, and it needs to stop.

So that's pretty much it. Breakfast will be muesli soaked overnight in almond milk (one of my few concessions); lunch and dinner will be some combination of beans, grains, and raw and cooked vegetables; and snacks will be vegetables and fruit. There will be plenty of water, and of course my herbal teas with just a smidge of agave, because it is warm and comforting and sweet and filling and is somehow the one thing that can calm my sugar jonesing.

I re-invoke my old plea: keep your fingers crossed for me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Snips and snails and sugar and spice:
how the Cinnamon Snail got me out of bed at 7am on a Sunday.

At 7:00 on the morning of the day of St. Valentine, an alarm began to ring. And I, I knew it was time.

Slowly I rose to prepare for the challenge which I had, of my own volition, chosen to accept: to arrive in Hoboken, New Jersey by 9:00 in the morning on a Sunday. Bravely, as a partner should, Jonathan stood by me. In fact, he made me coffee.

The N train was on our side, arriving only moments after we had mounted our cold, exposed platform in Astoria, Queens. We were running late, however, and tensions ran high - impossible to know whether we would make that crucial 8:44 am PATH train. Our subway proceeded at a snail's pace - irony? - spending extra time at each intervening stop and prolonging our anxiety.

Arriving at the 34th Street PATH station at last, we flew through the terminal to find, thankfully, that the gods of transit had been watching over us all along: our train was running four minutes late, and we even got seats approximately sixty seconds before the doors closed for departure.

At 9:00 am exactly, we arrived at that far southeastern corner of Hoboken and emerged into the cold crisp sunshine, happy and determined on that Valentine's morning.

As usual, I know what you're thinking. Alright, she's officially lost her mind. She got up at 7am on Valentine's day to go to freaking New Jersey, and dragged her man along with? There is no good explanation for this. It's just not possible.

Oh ye of little faith. I in fact have the best reason *ever* for being in New Jersey at 9am on a Sunday.


DONUTS. No, wait, it gets better. FREE DONUTS!

See, in case you haven't heard, Sunday was the grand opening of the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Organic Food Truck, which - weather and parking permitting - will be making daily weekday appearances in the Hoboken area. There are two vegan food *carts* that I know of in Manhattan, but the consensus seems to be that this is the very first truck. (Hear that Portland?!) For now it's just in Hoboken, but husband-and-wife owner-and-operator team Adam and Joey hope to make it over to Brooklyn as well at some point.

So what's the story on the Snail? Well, I'd heard all sorts of good things, but what really caught my attention was the offer of free donuts to the first 100 customers that opening day. That's the kind of offer I can't refuse. Pair it with gorgeous breakfast offerings from 9 to 11 am and lunches that will blow your mind from 11am to 3pm, plus a fully stocked pastry case all day long, and you've got a truck that will get me to Joisey.

And so travel we did. As it turned out, in all of our mad hustle, we were the first to arrive at the truck. No problems there though; as luck would have it the weather was lovely, and the view of the Hudson and Manhattan from their chosen parking place on Sinatra Drive was a sight to behold. It also allowed us a good view of the truck itself, which is a work of art. And when Adam cracked open that side panel and was ready for business, we quickly discovered that it had been well worth the wait.

First of all, we were immediately handed an apple cider donut covered in cinnamon sugar. It was definitely one of the best donuts I have ever eaten, vegan or not. From the breakfast menu, which is somewhat limited at the moment but will likely be expanded soon, Jonathan ordered the breakfast burrito and I ordered the kale baguette. While we waited, we split one of the cinnamon rolls... and saw a little bit of heaven. Think a vegan cinnamon roll can't be moist, soft, flavorful, and just melt-in-your-mouth amazing? Well then you think wrong, and apparently you need to get to Hoboken on the double.

The baguette was pretty fantastic for more or less being bread with kale on it. Sauteed kale on a nice soft baguette, slathered in tofu cream cheese, with capers thrown in for zest. (I skipped the olives.) The burrito seemed pricey at first, until we saw it! It is enormous, and delicious, crammed full of scrambled tofu, refried beans, and guacamole. Jon actually couldn't finish it and had to save some for later - after all, we needed to save some room...

Because at 11am the truck switches from the breakfast menu to the lunch menu. This is a significantly more extensive offering, and it pains me that I won't be able to go back every day to try something new. (Anyone know of job offerings in Hoboken?) From this menu, we ordered a mustard marinated tempeh sandwich and a grilled tofu sandwich. Both turned out to be enormous and divine. The tofu sandwich incorporated at least a third of a brick of tofu! And it was truly grilled - a rare gustatory pleasure.

While we were waiting this second time around we did a bit more pastry shopping: we got a mini chocolate ganache bundt cake, a Mississippi mud cupcake, a maple raspberry cookie (which Adam affectionately referred to as a "really legit pop tart"), and two of the two-bite sized peanut butter and chocolate cheesecakes - which naturally we ate while waiting. After all, they didn't fit in the box. We have Joey to thank for the absolutely fabulous baked goods that were on offer on Sunday; she had done the baking knowing that on opening day Adam would be at the grill while she hovered on site and tended to their youngest child. Joey told me that going forward both she and Adam will be doing the pastry baking, but that Adam is always the cook!

The truck on its opening day did not draw hoards, but there was an unwavering steady stream of customers. Many people came out specifically for the opening day event (hello, free donut?), while others simply happened by and were drawn in by the stunning truck, alluring pastry case, and enticing smells emanating from the truck's kitchenette. Comments overheard from patrons included such [paraphrased] sentiments as, "I'm so glad we finally have a real vegan option in Hoboken." and many versions of "OMG, this is the best ____ I've ever eaten!"

Nearing the end of the first day out on the street, Adam was feeling hopeful about his new enterprise, which has been about eight years in coming to fruition. "It's been so much fun - it's been a thousand times smoother than I could have ever hoped for. People have been very very sweet and accommodating." In talking about his food, Adam had no reservations. "I'm so confident about the menu - I love everything on our menu."

But when it came to his own lunch, Adam didn't take the easy chance to tout his own offerings; instead he sang the praises of the yerba mate which he was drinking from a special pot, and which he drinks daily. He hopes to serve it from the truck eventually. An avid yoga practitioner, he likes to "keep it light" during the day, and says that the raw pizza and salads from the lunch menu would be the most likely choice of fare for his mid-day meal.

The truck's location on the streets of Hoboken is subject to where they can find parking each day. As such, the best way to find them is through the miracle of the internet: they frequently update their Facebook and Twitter pages to let us know where they are and where they'll be next. The truck's hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm.

Adam described the Cinnamon Snail vegan truck project as his "life's dream", declaring "I'm determined to make it work out."

Friday, February 05, 2010

The NYC Vegan Bake Sale for Haiti - One amazing day.

Was it the bake sale to end all bake sales? Possibly. (Though from what I've been hearing, these Vegan Bake Sales for Haiti have just been one rocking event after another.) At the crack of 10:45 am, a team of dedicated vegans arrived at the doors of Moo Shoes, the beloved vegan shoe store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Immediately we sprung to action: cupcakes here! Raffle table there! You, grab that chalk and hit the sidewalk! And by 11:30 the store was a sight to behold - delights from wall to wall for sweet toothers and shoe lovers alike.

Throughout the day, more bakers and volunteers appeared; the number of people who showed up to help, eat, and party was pretty astonishing. For the first few hours, and then for several other stints during the day, it was a bit hard to walk through the store for the crowd! Any direction I looked, all I saw was happy people holding bakery boxes filled up with homemade vegan treats.

The day flew by, one giant blur of a cocktail-esque cookie dance party. I got to sample many extraordinary goodies, including homemade green tea red bean buns, pesto pinwheels, double dark chocolate truffles, buckeyes, mini tomato muffins, pizzelles, danishes!, twinkies!!, and probably a few other delicacies that I've forgotten in my post-bake-sale-sugar-crash delirium.

That list doesn't even compare, though, to what I missed out on: I don't even know how many kinds of gorgeous cupcakes including fauxstess!! and my own chocolate orange with princess frosting and maple with black walnut frosting - nope, never got to try my own cupcakes! - adorable heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly cookies, many other kinds of delectable truffles, oatmeal pies, pretzels, scones, fudge, rocky road brownies, chocolate dipped fresh and dried fruits, splendidly adorned sugar cookies, cheesecake... I think I have to stop thinking about it or I'll cry. Why, oh why, didn't I bring one hundred dollars and ten tupperware containers? Learn from my mistakes people. Let's just say this: if ever a bakery carried the array of vegan deliciousness that was displayed at the NYC bake sale, none of us would ever leave that bakery again. So when you go to the Vegan Bake Sale for Haiti in your area, stock up!

The whole day through, our tables of baked goods were a feast for the senses. We had a continual supply coming from the back with which we restocked the tables, and we just kept selling through! Not to mention the raffle table - at times we got so busy back there I could barely keep up; at one point there were three of us taking tickets, and it needed all three of us just to hold it down. And no wonder: local businesses and crafters were very generous in donating some truly awesome prizes.

And all of that leads to the really fabulous part - the point of the whole shebang. By the end of the day, we had raised nearly $46oo to donate to Doctors Without Borders, to support their current work in Haiti! And with the last few baked goods left over being sold at places of work the following Monday, plus a few other contributions that trickled in, we've actually now reached $5k. We'd love to find a sponsor to match us, so that we can send a full $10,000 - if you have any ideas for that please leave a comment. But either way, I'd say not too shabby for a lil' ol' bake sale, now is it.

Sadly, little can be done to alleviate the grief caused by the loss of so many lives. But work can and should be done to help heal the sick and wounded and begin to rebuild. Therefore those of us in a position to offer assistance must focus on these immediate and pressing needs. The organizers of the NYC bake sale feel that Doctors Without Borders is doing important work that is making a real impact in Haiti right now, literally at this moment, and we're excited to be able to send them a donation that will give tangible support to that work. There are of course other very worthwhile groups on the ground in Haiti doing work very much worth supporting, including Partners in Health, WSPA, and Mercy Corps.

I continue to be moved and inspired by the wave of vegan bake sales across the country and, in fact, throughout the world. At last count, we have collectively raised something in the neighborhood of $35,000 to support Haiti relief efforts through various organizations. There's a common misconception that vegans care more for animals than for people; anyone who believes that, please consider yourself corrected. The point of true compassion is that we don't draw a species line! I am so proud of the vegan community, but more importantly I am so thrilled that we've been able to come together to do something that will actually make a difference for the Haitian people.

And it doesn't end here! The coming weekend brings vegan bake sales in D.C., New Orleans, Little Rock, Falls Church, and likely others. If there aren't any set up in your area, well why not go ahead and organize one! Or if baking isn't your thing, get creative - teach a yoga class for Haiti. Sell ice cream sundaes for Haiti. Organize a five mile walk for Haiti where participants ask friends and family for sponsorship. Put out a donation jar at your office or place of business. Have a plant sale. Finally have that yard sale you've been thinking about and donate the proceeds - get the whole block in on it and place a small ad in the newspaper so that you draw a crowd. Throw a party with a $5 cover charge! There are so many things you can do to help people get involved, and generate a sizable contribution in the process. And if you don't have the time, of course there's nothing wrong with a plain old donation. :)

Disclaimer: The really awesome photos (top pic of cupcakes, pic of twinkies, pic of fauxstess, pic of cinnamon rolls) and the pic of me (immediately above) were *not* taken by me! The rest were. You can see a whole set of photos from the NYC Vegan Bake Sale for Haiti on our Flickr Pool.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Going once, going twice, going three times... SOLD to the compassionate landowner instead of the slaughterhouse!! (If we'll give a hand, that is...)

Animal lovers everywhere, here is a story you won't want to miss.

Jodi of the amazing VET shop This Is It! Creations made a terrible discovery over the weekend: that these three bulls who graze on her property were to be sold for slaughter in short order. Being a person of high ideals, naturally Jodi immediately started looking for an answer - that is, a way to keep these three gorgeous animals from such a brutal and unnecessary death. The solution? Buy them! But cows don't come cheap; their freedom can indeed be purchased, but it will come to the tune of about $3600. Not only that, but the payment must be made by the end of next week!

And so, friends, we ask for your help. Chip in to save Pooka Cow, Spotty Friend, and Less Spotty Friend!

Several VET member shops including 3 AM Art Productions, Veganosaurus, Holistically Heather, and Cards and Jewelry by Michele as well as Etsy for Animals' Lola Lynn are donating portions of sales through the zero hour, and Jodi's own shop will be putting 100% of all sales from today, Wednesday February 3, towards saving the boys. So get shopping already!

Just a few dollars from each of us can make a big difference. These lives matter! Help Jodi to help her friends. What's their alternative to a terrifying slaughterhouse? Says Jodi:
"We've been asked where the cows will go if we do raise enough money to save them - they will stay here, at least for the short term. We have 11 acres of land, a barn, and a stream. We are planning to create a line of products where all of the profits will go toward their care (hay, vet bills, fence mending, etc.) If we can find a loving family with enough land to adopt them, we are definitely open to that as well."
Country idyll or the abattoir - three lives are on the line. So, wanna buy a journal? :)

Monday, February 01, 2010

The best bake sale ever.

This will just be a brief post, to be followed by a much more substantial one later in the week (with pics!).

Yesterday was the NYC Vegan Bake Sale for Haiti. The main organizers were the Vegan Etsy Team's Lisa of Panda with Cookie and our good friend Dayna of the awesome blog Seitan Said Dance; I played a distant third fiddle and MANY others contributed very significant help, like the amazing Janice who designed our flier.

Well, to put it lightly the event was a raging success! A completely astounding number of wonderful people baked a ridiculously delightful array (and quantity) of baked goodies. People came out en masse to volunteer, buy, eat, purchase raffle tickets, donate, and generally support the cause.

Thanks to this outpouring of awesomeness, we were able to raise approximately $4600 in a single day, every penny of which will be sent directly to Doctors Without Borders to help fund their current work in Haiti.

To everyone who was involved in this and all of the other Vegan Bake Sales for Haiti that have been happening and continue to happen all over the world - collecting over TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR HAITI to date!! - thank you, thank you, thank you.