Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sigmund Pretzels

I like hot pretzels.  Well...what I really like is spicy mustard.

And so, much likes cookies are simply a vehicle by which to transport copious amounts of chocolate chips into my tummy via one tidy container, and tofu pups are simply a base for the bun-filled boatload of relish, sauerkraut, and jalapeno wasabi hot sauce as it sails towards my mouth, so too have plain, hot, street pretzels become simply a carrier by which to ingest various, flavorful mustards.

Well, no more.  Enter delicious Sigmunds Pretzels.  Located in my favorite part of NYC, the LES, Sigmund offers about a dozen pretzel varieties on any given day: most of which are vegan.  I emailed to inquire and received a prompt and friendly reply:

All our pretzels are vegan (no egg or animal products, like milk or butter) except for the cheese ones and caramel pecan (have heavy cream in the caramel).
So, with a jar of maple horseradish mustard at home awaiting our return (only one of Sigmund's dips are vegan), I hightailed it over to what I hoped would be the pretzel equivalent of the exalted Pommes Frites.

Sigmund is much bigger than I expected, with plenty of seating to enjoy your fresh-baked pretzel immediately if you so choose.  Oddly, we arrived to find the front door locked and all of the chairs up on the tables even though it was over an hour till closing, but were invited to enter once four people were noticed gathered outside the door.  Since I visited later in the day, the pretzels weren't moments fresh from the oven; so, I decided to take them home to be enjoyed after a brief re-heat in the toaster oven.  Ok, this is not completely true.  While I do prefer my pretzels hot and slathered with my own mustard, they were really trumped by nearby Lula's; you can't take a cone home, people!

It seemed like the shop had enjoyed an extremely busy day, but even though there weren't an abundance of pretzels left, there were still plenty of flavors to choose from.  Because you can't ever ask enough times, my vegan friend and I confirmed which of the current flavors were vegan (the counterperson didn't hesitate: all but the cheese) and made our decisions: 1 cinnamon raisin and 1 seven chile for me, 1 salt and 1 poppy seed for her.  We were both given complimentary whole-grain mustard, the only vegan dip.  FYI, it wasn't complimentary because we're special; dips are free.

I tried the seven chile pretzel first.  Immediately I was blown away by the texture of the pretzel; it was soft, gourmet, hot pretzel perfection.  But then I realized that it wasn't spicy!  It's true that I like things extremely spicy, but it seemed that the few flecks of chile pepper I could see within the pretzel couldn't possibly have been a combination of seven hot chiles, as one would assume.  So, while the overall pretzel was extremely good, I was severely disappointed in the flavor.  While I was expecting to simply accent this pretzel with spicy mustard, I wound up having to seriously dunk (note: Sigmund's wholegrain mustard was really good).

Next up was the cinnamon raisin pretzel.  While it did not start out completely coated with cinnamon sugar like the un-vegan Auntie Anne's cinnamon version that I loved, I admit that I fudged it by over-heating: thus causing what was there to pretty much disintegrate.

So, I was further disappointed to find that the cinnamon didn't seem to be swirled throughout the dough amidst the dots of raisin, as I would have liked.  Perhaps this is why the flavor was not overly, i.e., sufficiently sweet and cinnamony for my taste buds.

Once again I improvised, this time with cream cheese.  Admittedly, it wound up tasting a bit more like a most delicious, desserty, cinnamon raisin bagel, but it was enjoyed nonetheless.  (Looking back, I should have used the chocolate hazelnut spread that's been languishing in my pantry.  If anyone is wondering, hindsight particularly haunts food bloggers.)

My vegan friend also enjoyed and had high praise for her pretzel selections, and was very impressed by the staff's knowledge of their products' vegan friendliness.  Her one improvement suggestion was for some added salt on both the salt pretzel and the poppy seed pretzel (so too my seven chile). 

Overall, in a city known for it's street pretzels, Sigmund gets the hard part right: the texture is perfect; even reheated days later.  However, the flavors are much too indistinct: needing a few notches worth of boost.  I expected to enjoy the flavored, gourmet pretzels without any accompaniment, but instead both varieties I tried required it.

Ultimately Sigmund has an extremely inventive idea, but it needs to be developed.  I have no doubt that once they up the flavor game they will indeed rank up there as the Pommes Frites of the pretzel world, and will thusly become part of my regular snack rotation.  Until then, though, I will not hesitate to revisit.  In fact, the next flavors on my list to try are: caraway, garlic parsley, and another cinnamon so that I can make use of my vegan chocolate, hazelnut spread.  Good luck, Sigmund Pretzels; you're almost there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lula's, Lula's, Lula's

Obviously the triple-decker cone I enjoyed at the end of Veggie Pride day was just a snack; I returned to Lula's this week for a more appropriate ice cream meal AND to get more stamps on my inaugural frequent-Lula's card (or would that be Lula's frequenter card?).

Lately I've been concentrating on what I consider to be the elite flavors, and they just keep getting better and better.  To me, these are the fancier flavor offerings: incredible combinations (double chocolate mint), strong tastes (bittersweet chocolate), and anything packed with stuff (caramel marshmallow graham).  Of course, no fruitiness allowed: excepting a special dispensation for peanut butter and jelly on account of it's general, superior peanut butteryness.

This particular visit consisted of a super-sized brownie mega-sundae for VM, and an equal-sized (course 1) sundae for me.  For the first time, we both went with the same flavors:

  • caramel molasses: super creamy, sweet, and much more delightful than I even expected
  • rocky road: dark chocolate filled with almond chunks and Sweet and Sara mini-marshies
  • drumstick: named after the pre-packaged, decidedly un-vegan ice cream "treat", this flavor is vanilla based and ridiculously filled with crunchy sugar cones, chocolate chips (score!) and peanuts.  VM has submitted the flavor re-name "chicken leg" for B & D's consideration, but I don't think it's going to catch on.
VM's sundae was covered in hot caramel, marshmallow, walnuts, coconut whipped cream, and a cherry.

My creation was topped with hot fudge, graham crackers, coconut whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and a cherry.  Note: if you've never tried graham crackers as a topping on your Lula's sundae, do it now; they are better than ever!

Staff and owners most certainly included, you always meet the nicest people in and around Lula's, which gives you enough time to digest and return for more.  "Ready for your second course?"  Indeed I was.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Behold the Vegan Fluffernutter

With a fridge-full of Sweet and Sara vanilla marshmallows anxiously awaiting an adventure, I decided to attempt a fluffernutter.

Sadly, I grew up in a house without marshmallow fluff.  My mother (nee, vegetarian Mom) grew up with it as a staple in her family's fridge and she "never liked the thought of it": dismissing it without ever having tried it.  By the time I was old enough to buy a jar myself I had already figured out that it probably wasn't animal friendly.  Fast forward decades and here I was, about to embark on my first fluffernutter.

After I'd gathered all of the ingredients it occurred to me that I might not really like the peanut butter and marshmallow combo; just because you like things separate doesn't always mean you'll like them together.  So, I conducted a very serious taste test in which a humongoid glob of peanut butter topped a marshie like a cowboy hat.  The results were happily delicious inconclusive.

The second taste test involved a significantly more punk peanut butter cap, and thankfully confirmed that the combo was legit.

Then I begin to wonder if the addition of the bread was going to be the wild card that would ruin the whole thing.  Since I didn't want to waste a sandwich-full of marshies, I created a mini-fluffernutter prototype.  Thumbs up.

By this point it had been sufficiently established that the wonder of the peanut butter/marshmallow combo was incorruptible, so I had some fun making a Double Down inspired fluffernutter: sandwiching a marshie bit between peanut halves.

And then it was time to be serious and start assembling the sandwich.  I toasted one slice of Dave's Killer bread, allowed it to cool, and applied a ridiculously thick layer of peanut butter. 

Then I carefully assembled my marshmallows atop the second piece of bread so that every bite would be sufficiently mallow-fied.  Please note that they are oddly shaped because they are the discounted marshmallows that are intended for use in (presumably more high-brow) recipes.

Finally, it was time to toast the marshmallow half of the sandwich: s'mores style (don't ask me WHY it didn't occur to me to add chocolate chips until now).

My friend peanut-butter-sandwich-half and I watched as the marshies became visibly toasty.

A vision: open-faced fluffernutter, pre-assembly (yes, that's extra PB for dipping on the side). 

Assembled side-view.  While the marshies retained their shape, they were nice and melty.



In conclusion, the fluffernutter was stupendous and definitely worth the wait.  For any of you wary of the combo, I can tell you that a mouthful of the medley becomes much more than just a sum of it's parts.  The reason it is called a fluffernutter and not simply a peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich is because, when the ingredients are combined, it truly becomes something else entirely.  Each bite of the sandwich has the similar thrill of a chocolate-covered pretzel: something delicious and salty enhanced by additional, yummy sweetness.  Definitely the kind of thing that you are going to want a lot of: often.

The previous fluff eschewer (aka V.M.) vehemently resisted... and then ultimately LOVED the sandwich as well.  You can learn a lot from your kid.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Frosting, Ethics, and Being Picky

If you're a fan of this blog, you know that I've recently become a true and loyal fan and friend of Gone Pie Vegan Bakery.  What you may not know are the two most important reasons you should love them too.

Reason #1: Rich, Dark Frosting.
I knew I loved Gone Pie's "frosting" at first taste, but I didn't realize quite how epic it was until one day I noticed that I had a disproportionate amount of frosting to brownie left on my plate.  Barely moments passed, a nearby Sweet & Sara marshmallow jumped in got involved, and history was made.

Then my favorite variety, the toasted coconut marshmallow, had to get in on the action:

Which led me to a graham cracker:

I snuck in another toasted coconut marshmallow and then had an epiphany: a slice of a neapolitan coconut bar:

As long as candy was involved, I couldn't help but dip a Chick O' Stick (A huge fan, it was pretty exciting: thus the blurry photo):

Needing a little more nuttiness, I dunked a couple of cashews:

And then, couldn't help but drench a nearby matzoh:

By then even I knew I was getting carried away.  But, I should like to point out the best way to enjoy said frosting:

But I digress.

Reason #2: Even though they are super-ridiculously conscious of using the very best ethical, healthy, vegan ingredients, they have not lost sight of what is equally important: taste.  They are most respectful of people like me who take their desserts seriously (and that's saying a lot!); sweets have GOT to be good.  I asked Barbara, Gone Pie baker extraordinaire, why she no longer offers a specific item that was one of her originals.  Her answer,

"I know what good is.  This was good ten years ago.  Now it tastes like health food.  Not good." 
Not good, indeed. I like my healthy foods healthy & my dessert divine; Gone Pie knows the score and they are constantly evolving in tune with developing tastes and ethics.

It's hard to believe that when I first went vegan I thought I was saying goodbye to the good stuff: dessert, my favorite meal of the day.  In fact, I like sweets so much that I usually don't mind what's in them, as long as it's vegan (who said that?).  But Gone Pie somehow manages to make delicious goodies that are simultaneously full of the highest quality ingredients; who can resist that combination?  My dessert intake is legendary, but my foodie knowledge nil.  I asked Barbara why even I- a cooking neophyte- can detect the sheer superiority of her baked goods.

"The thing about my stuff is that it is real food. It doesn't just leave out the animal products and leave the other ingredients intact. That leaves just really white flavorless stuff.  I replace those ingredients with things that have flavor.  I am not trying to make junk food.  I am much more focused on making a distinctive - somewhat fancy- simple item."
I would like to point out that this information was not garnered from an interview, or any situation intended to elicit quotes.  Contrarily, these are merely excerpts from candid food conversations between two vegans, one who happens to be a baker that I admire.  I share simply because I feel that the words truly exemplify the fundamental essence of Gone Pie baked goods.  In a world where vegan sweets now abound, we suddenly find ourselves in a position to be picky.  And being picky isn't relegated to the taste of what you are eating: it includes the who, what, where, when, and why of the company who's baking.

Obligatory parting frosting shot:

Monday, May 17, 2010

NYC Veggie Pride Parade

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the third NYC Veggie Pride Parade.  @GonePie* invited me to walk with Friends of Animals and I was happy to do so alongside friendly vegans from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Veggie Conquest, NYC Vegan Eatup, and many more.  Before you ask, the vegetarian Mom did NOT attend, but was asked after often.  See that, Veggie Mom: going veg is good for the animals, your health, AND your social life.  You are one of us now!

I arrived at the starting point cynically aware of the seemingly unnecessary police presence.  I wondered if they expected us peaceniks to be a rowdy bunch.
Almost immediately I was handed this little soap sample; can you see how cute it is shaped like a goat?  Rowdy indeed.

When I looked back it was to find that the coppers had abandoned their cycles.  They soon returned, however, if only to stink up the air with the smell of rotting flesh that was emanating from their tin-foil wrapped breakfasts of ham and egg sandwiches.  It was nice to see they were taking our message to heart.

As we gathered, there were many interesting sights to behold, including this cow from WFAS.  There were plenty of human fruits and veggies wandering amongst us mere vegans, and even Evan McGraw of Vegan Danishes fame was hiding in a banana suit.

Finally, I met up with the Friends of Animals crew and we were off.  I must ultimately tip my hat to the men in blue.  Despite their disrespectful breakfast of unsavories, they did an impeccable job of controlling traffic so that we could seamlessly make our way to Union Square Park, spreading our message of compassion along the way.

Once at Union Square, it was somewhat of a free-for all.  The marchers had worked up a considerable appetite spreading the vegan word, and- per usual-  pounced upon the tables offering edible freebies.  The first thing I snagged was a yummy, three-bite, white and dark chocolate chip Gone Pie cookie from the Friends of Animals/Coaliton to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages table.  DELICIOUS!  It was crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and the equally rich chip flavors were only improved by the weather-induced semi-meltiness.  I am very picky about cookies and this was cookie perfection.

I then headed out amongst the crowd for some info and snacks.  It was hard to acquire either, as the throngs were pretty dense.  The only pre-packaged items I was able to pick up were Raw Rev bars in two flavors: spirulina & cashew, and chocolate coconut.  Surprisingly, they were both very tasty (I like dates).

Next I stopped by Integral Yoga's table, only to be unexpectedly handed a bag full of booty.  It's going to take me a while to get through all of these goodies, but it was a nice introduction to IY beyond being a place to score Gone Pie goodness.

I was then given the opportunity to hand out Friends of Animals' super-convenient New York restaurant guides with the adorable and entertaining @Mikeypod; I quickly obliged, using it as an excuse to snag another fabulous Gone Pie cookie as incentive.  But, I can honestly say that it was thoroughly enjoyable having the guide as an excuse to interact with festival attendees and I frankly don't know which I enjoyed more: my second cookie, or the company of the fabu @MikeyPod.  The recently updated guide was instantly recognizable to most and therefore we were very popular amongst the crowd for giving out what seemed to be the only coveted item that wasn't edible.

At some point I spied the free cookie guy, Scott Alexander, dragging his ubiquitous, inflatable couch along Union Square; so, I submitted myself to a self-imposed break in order to chase him down meet him.  The cookie of the day was double chocolate chip mint and it was undoubtedly fresh and tasty.  A nearby group of adults and children quickly surmised that his cookies were free and began a conversation with Scott as they munched multiples each.  The highlight of experiencing this interaction was when he asked the two adults if they were vegan and the answer was, "We're trying."  His answer?  "Who's stopping you?"  A tip of the hat to you, sir.  Some time later these same folks were still enjoying the cookies and un-solicitously calling out to passerby, "free vegetable cookies!"

One of the most crowded tables at the festival was undoubtedly Whole Earth Bakery.  They had a perpetual mob in front of their double-wide table, and you couldn't take a step without bumping into someone with a mouthful of their pizza, cookies, cake, etc.  I myself waited in the mob-line for about fifteen minutes and when I made my way to the front I asked for a taste of the chocolate-covered rice rice crispy treat.  The response was, "If you say MAY I instead of CAN I."  What is it about grumpy old men who think this is a funny and/or virile display of their vastly non-existent authority in the world?  I quelled my inclination to answer negatively amidst the positivity of the event and complied with his banal request.  Would you believe he then told me that since the sea of people had delivered me to the cake end of the table that was all I could have without getting back on "line"?  I seethed for a moment and then acquiesced, at which point there was one, single solitary piece of cake left on the tray.  Another man behind the table looked right past me and asked, "Now who should get the last piece?".  Infuriated, I answered that it should probably be the next person in line, which was ME.  He inexplicably replied, "Well then you have to tell me the name of my bakery."  Despite the ludicrous request, I complied and he handed me the cake.  Do you know what I got for my unbridled patience with these ornery, annoying men?  A piece of tasteless cake topped with extremely unpalatable frosting and a dried out strawberry.  But, more importantly, I took away a reminder not to associate with people who act like they are doing you a favor.  If you can't give from a kind and generous place, don't give!  Moving on. 

As if the universe knew I needed some vegan love, I next visited the V-Spot  table to find the friendly Danny and Steve equipped with 1700 (yes, you read that right) empanadas that they were generously and cordially distributing to the hungry crowd.  Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the homemade seitan, potato, corn (and even cilantro) empanada, but I greatly appreciated the warmth and magnanimity with which the duo was sharing with the masses on behalf of the V-Spot.  So much so, in fact, that I offered to pitch in by spooning some fresh, homemade salsa onto the crowd's empanadas for a bit: donning gloves and working on the other side of a sample table.  And you know what, Whole Earth Bakery meanies?  It's not so hard to be nice!  Thanks to both Danny and Steve for allowing me to hang with them for a bit, and to the V-Spot in general for the scrumptious snack.  I will be seeing you soon to enjoy an enormous a proper meal.

As an added bonus, I finally had the opportunity to meet Sara**, as in THE Sweet and Sara, amidst the salsa-spooning escapades.  She is as fantastic in person as I've known her to be via email and I hope to see her again soon.  For a moment there I found myself surrounded by a trio of admirable, pioneering, vegan entrepreneurs and I was humbled and awed.  Barbara, Sara, and Danny: I am proud to belong to a community and a movement that you advance by sharing your talents; thank you.

At this point myself and my vegan companions were exhausted, hungry, and thirsty.  We hoofed it over to Sacred Chow where I relaxed, promptly forgot I was a vegan food blogger, and neglected to photograph any of our delicious grub.  For shame.  For the sake of posterity, three heroes were enjoyed: a tempeh reuben, orange barbecued seitan, and roasted black olive seitan.  It was great fun to be sitting with vegan friends in a vegan establishment, surrounded by fellow vegans you either knew or had become familiar with throughout the day.  It truly felt that the vegans had taken over the city and served to perpetuate the sense of vegan community that was fostered during the parade and further flourished at the festival.

In a fitting end to the day, I visited the newly renovated Lula's*** for a beautiful and architecturally sound creation by Luke: behold the three scooped sugar cone.  From top to bottom you're looking at Caramel Marshmallow Graham (filled with Sweet & Sara marshies), Drumstick (vanilla i/c bursting with sugar cone pieces, chocolate chips, and peanuts), and Bittersweet Chocolate. Drumstick now completely trumps Maple & Waffles in my book and, in my opinion, Caramel Marshmallow Graham is thus far the best flavor B & D have come up with since Lula's inception.

Exhausted, I headed home with a brief pause for traffic.

Official "Where's the vegetarian Mom?" tally:
* #1
** #2
*** #3

Seriously Mom, I'm still thrilled that you're veg but you have an obligation to connect with your veg peeps at events such as this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Terri Again: Another Butterfinger Shake AND a Sandwich!

It was about time that I got myself back to Cafe Terri to enjoy another of their incredible Butterfinger shakes.  Craig was not there so I got to meet the other owner.  Also nice, but there is nothing like having to crop Craig's bicep out of every photo (note: co-owner is also extremely fit)!

I had the esteemed tasting panel in tow, so we quickly ordered three beverages: 2 coveted Butterfinger shakes for the vegan and vegetarian, and 1 chocolate shake for the difficult, omni, holdout.  I bypassed the mocha chip brownie and the chocolate cupcake that I had previously enjoyed in search of something new.  Lo and behold, my eyes fell upon the ever elusive vegan Mexican wedding cookies!

I was contemplating the rest of the desserts when the owner pointed out that they had donuts (score!) and boasted that they were baked, not fried (blasphemy!).  The response that was brewing was, "What is wrong with you; who wants a baked donut?" when he quickly recovered by telling me the available flavors, one of which was chocolate, chocolate chip with icing.  I have no recollection of what the other flavor was; who cared!?  Chocolate, CHOCOLATE CHIP with icing?  SOLD!

The Mexican wedding cookies were even better than I remembered.  Softly crisp with a perfect proportion of powdered sugar: they were simple and delicious, each generously containing an entire nut.  I serendipitously ran into Terri's Sarah the next day at the Vegan BakeSale and was happy to have the opportunity to rave about the cookies.  She divulged that it is actually a veganized version of her grandmother's recipe; how endearing (and incredibly delicious); thank you Sarah's grandma!

Onto the donuts.  I tried to put out of my mind that these renegade chocolate, chocolate chip donuts had never met with a fryer.  It turned out not to be so hard to overlook, as they were mighty fine regardless of how they were prepared.  Soft, chocolatey, chippy, and topped with sweet, glaze-y icing; maybe Terri should simply keep the ludicrous healthy baking information to themselves?  It would have been unfortunate if I'd allowed myself to be scared away by the divulgence; surely there are other anti-health conscious vegans out there like me.

Now I bet you think that I once again allowed myself to be sucked in by the sweets and didn't manage to try a sandwich.  You would be right.  So, I guiltily ordered a Jerk Tofu sandwich to go for the next day's dinner.

Expertly re-heated in the toaster oven under my watchful eye, I think I managed to achieve the perfect crisp to the previously fresh-pressed focaccia.  It all warmed up quite nicely and I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet and spicy play of the peppers, pineapple, and jerk sauce with the neutral tofu and crusty bread. 

Did it beat the Butterfinger shake?  No!  But, what could?  I admit that I may never enjoy a freshly prepared sandwich at Terri if those Butterfinger shakes continue to be irresistible, but I'm already planning on which sandwich will be the lucky one to come home next time (do you hear me, Buffalo Chicken?).  If Terri's sandwiches are this good as leftovers they must be super delish fresh.  But, as long as shakes remain perishable, I will never know.

Important note: the chairs look the same, but they are fixed!  No more teeter-tottering as you scarf down casually relish your meal and desserts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review of Starbucks' New (Secretly) Vegan Frappuccinos

Like many vegans, I was excited that Starbucks decided to change the base of their frappuccinos, making them vegan-friendly.  I presume that this ingredient adjustment was intended solely for the purpose of catering to people suffering from medical lactose intolerance, so wouldn't it come in handy if Starbucks went a step further and labeled all options for allergens?  Customers who eschew dairy have been trained to specify "no whip" and request the substitution of soy milk for cow milk, but we shouldn't have to troll blogs for second hand information on which syrups and sauces are vegan, and we definitely shouldn't have to formally request that baristas utilize the dedicated soy pitcher (pink: pictured) when it is clearly company protocol to do so.

As vegans, we are used to being "accidentally" accommodated.  But just because our dietary restrictions are based in ethics and are thereby self-imposed does not make us a second class customer contingent.  In fact, we as a foodie community can be an incredible ally.  Many were thrilled about the impending vegan transformation of the frappuccino and the excitement manifested itself in what basically amounted to unlimited, free Starbucks advertisement on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere.  The fact that Starbucks still chose to ignore their supportive vegan clientele is mind-boggling to me; but, I digress.

caramel frapp
Starbucks Store #11934

With the date of the nationwide launch of the new, dairy-free ingredient impending, I couldn't help but to pop into a Starbucks to see if the vegan version was prematurely available.  The server was excited to tell me that they did, in fact, have the new version to offer and seemed genuinely happy to have surprised and delighted me; unfortunately, I didn't notice until later that I was overcharged (how hard is it to correctly ring up two drinks?).

When the barista began to prepare my frapp in the "soy" pitcher (!) I thanked her.  She seemed very amused that I had learned about the pink pitcher through the vegan grapevine and wished me to enjoy my first frapp in a long time.  I was very surprised at how cloyingly sweet and "fake" tasting it was.  The novelty was appreciated, but I was glad that I had only gotten a tall.  Misstep: Is it too much to ask to be charged correctly? Overall: nice stroll down memory lane, but I wouldn't revisit.

strawberries & cream* frapp (see update below)
Starbucks Store #07208

About two weeks later, on the first day of the half price frapp happy "hour", I decided to try another flavor.  The store was packed and understaffed: the employees already grouchy 1 hour into the 2 hour promotion.  The barista who made my frapp dutifully utilized the pink pitcher and wound up being extremely nice.  He noticed my soy, no whip specifications and, amidst the chaos, took the time to tell me to enjoy the new recipe that had surely brought me in.  The gesture was appreciated. 

Unfortunately, the frapp was not.  I waited until I got back to my office to taste it and was disappointed to find that it tasted simply like fake strawberry milk; it wasn't frozen in the least.  The sugary, non-descript berry liquid simply sloshed around in my cup as if no ice had been involved in the process at all.  I considered going back to complain, but walking back into that madness was not high on my list of things to do; into the garbage it went.  Misstep: Ice!  Ice would be good here.  Overall: blech, ptooey.

java chip** & dark cherry mocha frapps (see update below)
Starbucks Store #07361

You'd think I'd have given up by this point, but I decided to give the old frapps one more solid try on Mother's day: providing me with automatic 2nd & 3rd opinions from the rest of the esteemed tasting panel (note regarding the glasses: in the house, my Mom does not eat or drink out of disposable containers). 

The store was empty the entire time I was in, so I was chagrined that the barista buzzed around as if she were a trauma nurse with the fate of a hundred lives depending upon the speed at which should could prepare the sole two drinks on order.  I say this because she inexplicably felt the need to huff and puff as she simultaneously prepared the frapps.  You guessed it, only one of them was in the dedicated pink, soy pitcher.  I was drained of fight by this point, so I (disappointingly) let it go with a sigh.

While I was glad that these frapps were made properly (with ice), as you can see, the general texture is less than appetizing: I can only liken it to a partially melted Slurpee.  But Slurpees cost about $2.00 for a half gallon and they're not nearly as pretentious (okay, there's nothing whatsoever pretentious about a Slurpee).  The java chip* was the favorite of the two, but overall tasted like a watered down version of a frozen hot chocolate.  Additionally, at some point the chips began to taste waxy; we're not exactly talking high-grade chocolate here.  The dark cherry mocha tasted like neither, instead reminding me of a less potent coffee coolata of days gone by. Misstep: "Dairy" means milk and "Soy" means superior NOT dairy; is it really that difficult a concept?  Overall: The idea supersedes the reality; I'm over it.

So, despite the initial buzz, I've been left unimpressed.  Not only weren't any of the drinks something that I would go out of my way to repeat, but I found it extremely disappointing that in each Starbucks something went awry.  In an establishment where the average beverage contains inexpensive ingredients, but costs $5, shouldn't there at least be a certain attempt at efficiency?  And, not for anything, why all the ridiculous nickel and diming?  Soy continues to be an additional charge ranging from 50 cents to $1.00 (dependent upon the drink ordered), and even the substitution of decaf coffee for regular is an additional 50 cents (really!).  Maybe I'm just over accidentally vegan mainstream "stuff" and require more substance.  Although then again, maybe not: I still like Slurpees (Dr. Pepper, woot!).

* [UPDATE 5/2/12: It would seem that the Strawberries and Cream is NOT VEGAN.  It was recently reported that Starbucks uses crushed bugs (cochineal) for color- you know, instead of actual strawberries.  After the resulting firestorm of negative publicity, Starbucks now says they plan to stop.]

** [UPDATE 5/12/10: As it turns out, the Java Chip is NOT VEGAN.  Thanks to Veggywood for persisting until a clear response regarding ingredients was received from Starbucks- THE SECOND TIME (see 5/12/10 update notations).  SHAME on Starbucks for being so uncooperative, unclear, and wholly disrespectful of dietary restrictions with their misinformation and disinclination to make their ingredients known.

***[UPDATE 8/22/12: Please check out vegan barista Veganspired's comprehensive blogpost on the subject.]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Breakfast, Courtesy of Sweet and Sara (Thank You!)

Sweet and Sara's tweet that there were biscotti in the works came across quite innocuously, but in fact it was a rather epic announcement.  You see, in my family it is known that the girl (Sara) who perfected a vegan version of the coveted toasted coconut covered marshmallow and created luscious rocky road bark can be trusted to present only the best possible version of whatever she is attempting.  I was sure the biscotti were to be no exception and, with Mother's day coming up, the treat was intended to make a great breakfast for my biscotti-loving Mom.

Of course, as long as I was placing a biscotti order it would have been silly of me not to also pick up the other two, new Sweet and Sara creations: macaroons ("plain" and chocolate drizzled) and rice krispy squares.

The esteemed tasting panel had been lucky enough to get a taste of the Sweet and Sara macaroons when they were still in production.  We thought they were incredible, but the new batch was positively exquisite.  Moist, sweet, and a nice crunch around the edge to give a subtle touch of toastiness.  We enjoyed ours at room temperature, but will try them warmed- per S&S suggestion- next time around.  One note: my chocolate-loving Mom would like me to send a special request to Sara on her behalf, "The drizzle is a tease; please dunk the whole macaroon in your sweet, dark chocolate!"; and now you see where I get it from.

Let's just cut to the chase; the biscotti were incredible; both varieties pack tons of flavor.  They are not your grandmother's crumbly, bland biscotti; these are refined versions of the highest caliber cookies.  The texture is perfected: crisp rather than dry, and the fillings/flavors are generously represented.  The double chocolate mocha almond biscotti boasts a superior, full-bodied, dark chocolate taste: filled with chips and chunks of toasted almonds (instead of those chintzy slivers most inferior baked goods contain).  Even though we're a panel of chocolate lovers, the cinnamon hazelnut biscotti was just as divine: with a warm, cinnamon touch highlighted by veritable hunks of yummy, toasty hazelnuts.  Should any of us be forced to choose a favorite between the two we could not.

The rice crispy treats look irresistibly delicious (they are moist & flexible!), but we did not get to them for breakfast because it was late and we had to leave room for dinner.  So, stay tuned for their inevitable enjoyment highlighted in a future post.  Until then, profuse thanks to Sara for always providing such luscious treats for my multi-level veg family to enjoy together.  My Mom rules & so do you.

*Shout out to Lula's who, in addition to their own confectionery deliciousness, is carrying the entire line of Sweet and Sara scrumptiousness!