Wednesday, August 25, 2010


One of the things I have struggled with in incorporating veganism into my life is the “special occasion.” As you can see from the pictures, this story has a happy ending, but not without a bit of contemplation. For my 25th birthday this year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat vegan, but I also felt uncomfortable contributing to our country’s flawed food system by making careless choices. As Michael Pollan says, we get to “vote with [o]ur fork” three times a day. The happy compromise was a relatively new Berkeley restaurant called Gather. Aside from the unbelievable food and unusual cocktails, Gather is devoted to “seasonal food, carefully sourced and thoughtfully prepared.” When we walked in the restaurant, there was a large chalkboard to the left of the kitchen naming the local farms they work with in a given week. It seemed like the perfect compromise for my omnivorous tastebuds and my vegan heart. Add in the charming wait staff and a designated driver, and I was a happy, if slightly drunk, customer.

A few weeks later, we were celebrating my mom’s birthday. She is more inclined toward the home cooked meal than going out, so I knew I had to step it up a notch. But, if you think about it, most fancy food revolves around meat. Think roast chicken with all the trimmings or handmade pasta with a slow-cooked bolognese (a favorite in my former life). These meals take time, and so show you care about the people you prepare them for. But, unfortunately, we just don’t connect vegetables and whole grains with elegance unless they’re stuffed into something…like a turkey. However, with a little inspiration from Gather, I hit upon the perfect celebratory meal. For dinner, I made grilled pizzas with James McNair’s whole wheat pizza dough and classic tomato sauce, and topped them with roasted eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms and caramelized onions and peppers. I finished them off with fresh tomatoes and basil and a drizzle of cashew cream. The cashew cream was inspired by Gather and adds a warmth and roundness to vegan pizza without pretending to be cheese. My best experiences with vegan food stem from moments of creativity where you break the boundaries of what food should be (like pizza must have cheese) and write your own rules. I have for the most part avoided vegan substitutes for cheese and meat preferring to see outside our traditional culinary assumptions.

As proud as I am of those pizzas, the cake was the real star of the show. One of my favorite bakeries in the Bay Area is The Prolific Oven. They are a lovely lunch spot that knows the key to happiness is a slice of cake with every meal. For as long as I can remember, my favorite cake has been the Chocolate Orange Almond (also available in just Orange Almond for all you lightweights). Fortunately, it’s my mom’s favorite too, so we never had to fight over which cake to buy whenever we went there. For her first vegan birthday, she requested a 100% vegan Chocolate Orange Almond cake, and I was happy to deliver. Unlike most almond cakes, Prolific Oven’s is not overwhelmingly flavored with almond paste. It has a subtle almond taste and flecks of crushed up almonds throughout the cake. Bright and citrusy orange buttercream separates the layers of cake and the entire thing is enrobed in chocolate buttercream. This cake is not for the faint of heart, but for those who truly appreciate subtlety and layers of flavor. This cake was also the impetus for this blog. I intended to photograph it and put it up on my facebook page with the caption “The most productive thing I have done all summer.” Little did I know that it would lead to actual productivity in the form of this blog.

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