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!

I trust Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Not just because she’s got punk cred I can relate to–like pen pal-ing with MRR (which, I’m shocked to learn, is still in publication and has a Twitter), “salad days” of all-ages punk shows, zine culture and the general coolness associated with the proximity to New York City in the heyday early nineties. It’s more than this though. See, this combination of credibility is long defunct. New York City (sorry) kind of sucks now. The lore is long tainted with doofus influx and box store domination. The decades passing reveal us Generation X-ers as the last of the authentic weirdos. Now, weirdness is flashpan–a momentary surface penetration often for the benefit of social media followers. I trust Isa because she comes from the weird places I come from. Or, at the very least, this is a viable projection based on available empirical evidence. But what’s this got to do with vegan food? Everything.

When you’ve spent hours of your youth searching for import vinyl b-sides of beloved bands, when you infuse a passionate do-it-yourself ethos into a myriad of creative ventures–all revealing a small part of your soul, when you’ve tipped your emotional range gaping wide (in opposing directions) by immersing yourself in music that challenges and refines what can be deduced from catharsis… then you know quality, you’re compelled by it. It’s in you. That’s why I trust Isa.

Ok… that and her recipes have never failed me. So I was delighted when I received her latest cookbook as a birthday present. The book is epic, to borrow an overused adjective from my class of 10 year-olds. Besides the obvious A+ for book layout, fonts, photography, and “pagefeel” (similar to “mouthfeel”), there are tons of new dishes I want to make inside. So it was time to stop talking and get started.

IMG_2885I chose her Sweet Potato Gnocchi as my first go. Because it’s double-carb dreamy… and I can use the remainder of the super flavorful veg stock taking up valuable tall space in the fridge.

The bright orange yam makes a beautiful gnocco.
IMG_2891 Paired with the cashew cream sauce and Brussels: superb.IMG_2901Perfection from Isa. Again.

Queens is more often an in-between. But once my bookmarked leads were a bit brimming, it was time to purge with a vegan tour of Queens, starting at Richmond Hill’s Veggie Castle, the Queens version of the long defunct Veggie Castle on Flatbush avenue in Brooklyn. IMG_2638

I feel lucky to have experienced the original Veggie Castle in Brooklyn in the years before food blogging. This Queens version lacks the special charm of the original. The narrow counter spot was a bit unwelcoming. A far cry from the positive vibes the places (er, the captions of pictures) oozes on InstagramIMG_2636

There were customers waiting for take-out… maybe? When we got the attention of the impatient and unamused server, there was an uneasy pressure to only select what was recognizable. It was hard to communicate over the deli–and there was that whole impatient and unamused things.IMG_2634

The case had some cakes, maybe supplied by the bakery we hit afterwards?IMG_2633

We ate in the car. Spicy tofu & taro, quinoa pilaf and mashed potatoes topped with plantains. Dear starch, I love you. Though this was the “small,” this was a dense pile of food! IMG_2643

The next stop was just down the block, Rose Valley Cakes. I love seeing the V-word in random, unassuming storefronts off the beaten path!IMG_2641

This coconut pastry cookie thing didn’t have the most natural looking color but it was a delightful treat, a layered cookie was a great texture and flavor. The flaky pastry-ish exterior was most impressive. Go Richmond Hill!
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And individual vegan chocolate mousse cake: bam! IMG_2653

Car dining at its best. Did I mention the bakery’s proprietor was a gem. He pointed out all of the vegan items in the showcase. I will definitely have to stop by again when I’m in the area.IMG_2660

Next up, Ridgewood. Word is that Norma’s, an area coffee shop, has a rotating selection of vegan baked good options. The place is kind of hipstery, in a sit in the coffee shop all day with a Macbook type way. The counterhelp is goodfolk, however, in un-hipster fashion.IMG_2666

There wasn’t much vegan when we arrived. We split the glazed berry bread, which was moister and more flavorful than I expected. I sometimes associate brown vegan baked goods with 90s vegan baked goods. IMG_2663

The next stop blew mw away. It was already mind blowing for me to see the v-bomb on a random bakery in Richmond Hill. But now a truly old school pastry shop, like one that has been around for decades, with “vegan” on the window? Pinch me. These are my favorite spots to hit. A “holy smokes why on Earth does this place have vegan options” kind of place in a “normal” locale not inundated with hip types.IMG_2675

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The shop had many relics still in use. The red/white twine from these dispensers…. and an old showcase, around since the start.IMG_2673

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The vegan options: a “real” brownie, as CandyPenny kept raving about.  And a vegan Carrot Cupcake with a spectacular twirl of cream cheese frosting. Both were absolutely delicious. So impressive.  IMG_2670

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Till next time, Queens!

IMG_2414Sometimes the sky blazes. And it makes even a suburban street beautiful.

IMG_2693A beautiful birthday orchid.

IMG_2399Spider art.

IMG_2692The new dining room. And Frank.

IMG_2691Cupcake Monster prep.

IMG_2704Dandies + edible markers = Weird monster cupcakes.

DSC_0008You lookin’ at me?

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Not that I need another reason to eat an all-vegan apple-themed dinner by an aspiring chef, but my birthday is here again. And a Monday night dinner with some dear, old friends is just what I needed to start celebrating. But it was Da’Ves Lee Malone, the sweet and delightfully timid chef of Sprouting Dreams, who was special lady of the evening. We were lucky enough to be part of her very first Pop-up dinner, hosted at Brooklyn’s V-Spot.  The 4-course meal was all about apples.

DSC_0043Course 1: Mini sweet peppers stuffed with soy sausage and diced Apples along with a carrot bacon-wrapped apple bite. Tender, delicious bites. A dance of sweet and savory on a pepper dance floor. I wanted at least 5 more of these bites.

DSC_0046Course 2: Apple Forest Salad, radicchio salad with thinly sliced apples, shiitake bacon dressed in a walnut vinaigrette. A chef’s weight can be measured in how they craft a salad. Da’Ves made a mean one, each bite had something wonderful to offer.

DSC_0050Course 3: Seared Seitan Steak with bourbon-poached apples and caramelized onions over a bourbon apple cider reduction along with roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts. This was my favorite course. Seitan basked in this umptious reduction, moistened yet sturdy. Poached apples and caramelized onions balanced texture and sweetness. Then roasted veggies became sponges to clean surface area of plate.

DSC_0052Course 4: Apple Fritters with caramel cream cheese and candied pecans. Apple infused each bite of these fritters. It was like a battered a deep-fried apple cake, I think? Cashew-based caramel cream cheese was extraordinary. Bravo, Chef Da’Ves!

Well, I made them. They took forever.

I went wrong somewhere as the texture of the light cookie was a little gummy.

But they were definitely macarons! I did it!

 

I used Hannah Kaminsky’s recipe.

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