Participating in the Vegan Month of Food can be daunting the first time out. It’s exhausting spending every second thinking one of two things: the ubiquitous “What’s for dinner?” and the even more distressing “I wonder if I’ll ever be able to eat dessert again.”
So, when the opportunity to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking, driving, and blogging came along, my wife jumped on it. (That’s why I’m writing today’s post.) And what’s a better way to escape the kitchen than to take the family out on a nice little day trip that ends with yummy cupcakes? I couldn’t think of anything better. (As I already mentioned, lately I’d been missing dessert.)
Our great escape was a road trip up North to visit the Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford, New Jersey. The Sweet Avenue Bake Shop serves up a variety of vegan sweets, but mostly it’s a “gourmet vegan cupcakery.” (I know. I looked up “cupcakery” in the dictionary, too.) We sampled the “Sexy Sadie” (best “red velvet” anything I’ve ever tasted, topped with a truly awesome vanila icing.) The “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” cupcake was a cute, baked confection that actually tasted like raw chocolate chip cookie dough. (How did they do that?!?) Our 2 year old devoured the “White Chocolate Chai Latte” cupcake. Our 4 year old is a little ghoul in training, so it took her a minute to choose between the two Halloween-themed cupcakes: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the “Corpse Bride.” She settled on the “Corpse Bride,” then slowly savored the icing. (By the way, Sweet Avenue also sells “icing shots.”)
They rotate through a menu of about 30 flavors at a time, serving at least 12 different flavors each week, to vegans and non-vegans alike. (The non-vegans form a devoted, neighborhood clientèle, so shhhh! Don’t tell them there aren’t any eggs or dairy products in the cupcakes!) The bakers don’t use any pre-fab mixes. They make their own dough and concoct many of their own flavors using really good stuff, like Madagascar vanilla and imported European chocolate. They bake everything in small batches, so if you want a lot of cupcakes, call and order in advance. (They also do mail order, deliver door-t0-door, and cater events.)
Okay, so at this point my might be thinking this is nice, Marc. But what does this post have to do with “Soul Food?” Well, I admit it: I can’t find cupcakes on any “official list” of “Soul Food Desserts,” per-se. (I can’t find tempeh on the list either, but I hear Bryant Terry’s working on it. ) All the same, I don’t think since the 1970’s there’s been a single, soul-food cooking mama who hasn’t had to make a few batches of cupcakes for a bake sale or two. So in my opinion, you have to consider the spirit in which the item was cooked. Was the cook creative? Were the flavors intense yet blended well? Did everything just melt in your mouth? Were there moments of pure, insane decadence? Yup. When it comes to baking cupcakes, Sweet Avenue definitely “puts their foot in it.” That counts as “cooking vegan with soul,” to me.