We spent Valentine's Day in New York City, visiting old haunts and making pilgrimages to vegan dining institutions. We rarely venture south of Portland these days, but spending a holiday weekend immersed in bustling consumerism is just the thing to break up the long, quiet winter. Plus, in New York you can buy gluten-free vegan donuts—that alone is worth a 7-hour drive.
A few observations before we get to the food:
• I'd forgotten how late in the day everything begins in New York. Early to bed, early to rise is not a good plan if you want to make the most of your time in the city. Late Saturday morning I made a mostly fruitless journey to the East Village to find only Babycakes open. You can't shop at Mooshoes until 11:30 or eat vegan ice cream at Lula's until 3 in the afternoon. I thought I'd kill time in some restaurant supply stores on Bowery, but no luck there, either (I ended up in Starbucks). At ten-thirty in the morning I was alone, except for delivery men ratting hand trucks over the sidewalks and art school kids still in their pajamas, escorting jacket-wearing terriers to the curb. Walking downtown in my bright green coat, red clogs, and $30 jeans, with my hair unstyled and nothing pierced but my earlobes, I felt old, square, and white. Leaving Maine reminds me that I am just a grandma trapped in a young person's body.
• We went back to Rod's old building, to see if his crazy downstairs neighbor was still alive and living there. I thought for sure she would have been dragged away by social services—she used to bang her broom on the ceiling at 2 in the morning and demand we stop partying, when we had been fast asleep for hours and the only blaring music was in her head. She also felt compelled to tape frantic and threatening notes to the door. Her name is still listed by the buzzers, but that doesn't tell us anything because so is LAKE, R., and he hasn't lived there since 2005.
• New Yorkers: I admire your efficiency, but when you bump into someone you are supposed to say "excuse me," even if you weren't at fault. This doesn't even require you stop walking. Seriously, you would all be happier if you treated each other like humans.
• Stretch pants are apparently back. Nine out of ten women (of all shapes and sizes!) walking around Manhattan last weekend were sporting the following uniform: black quilted coat, black spandex pants, and puffy winter boots (preferably UGGs). I predict this trend will fizzle out before it reaches Bangor (probably somewhere around Scarborough). It's too cold for skin-tight pants, and most of us have more padding than we'd care to flaunt. You don't even see stretch pants at the Bangor Y.
As I mentioned, my first stop on Saturday morning was Babycakes vegan bakery. Reviews online are mixed (people tend to either love them or hate them), but the prospect of gluten-free baked goods was too much to resist.
I ordered cupcakes in chocolate and vanilla, agave and chocolate chip brownies, and two donuts, one lemon-coconut and one cinnamon-sugar. About half the items in the bakery case were gluten-free (the rest are wheat-free, made with spelt). It's a rare thrill to be able to have so many choices, and I would have loved more time to consider my order. Unfortunately, even though I was the only customer in the shop, the girls behind the counter seemed put out by my deliberation. After forking over almost $20 (Babycakes is not cheap!), I strolled past shuttered storefronts and piles of garbage bags, shamelessly enjoying my incredible cinnamon-sugar donut. It was warm, buttery, and moist, with a spongy crumb and a crunchy coating of large sugar crystals. That donuts of this caliber are possible without eggs, gluten, or refined sweeteners gives me hope.
After lunch I tried the cupcakes. The famous whipped coconut oil frosting was rich and subtly sweet, like room temperature ice cream—probably the best I've ever eaten in my frosting-loving life. The cake itself was dry and dense; the chocolate was dark and delicious, but the beany flavor of Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour shone through in the lemony vanilla. I had the bite-sized brownies for breakfast (shut up, I was on vacation), and found the chocolate chip brownie gooier and sweeter than the agave.
I made one more visit to Babycakes, hoping to stock up on cinnamon sugar donuts for the ride home, but found chocolate chip cookie sandwiches instead. The crunchy, slightly salty gluten-free cookies were unremarkable, but they held a generous dollop of that addictive frosting. From this recipe, it would take only a modest leap to create a vegan version of mankind's most deliciously evil invention, the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. For $5, I could probably do as well in my own kitchen, but Babycakes' cookie sandwich is better by leaps and bounds than anything I can buy in Maine.
Babycakes: four chickpeas
My lust for dessert fully awakened, I visited Lula's Sweet Apothecary, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that is gluten-free friendly and entirely vegan. In other words, it's an earthly version of this agnostic's secret hope for Heaven.
Even though they were busy on Valentine's night, the staff were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, offering samples and suggestions. I ordered a two-scoop sundae with coffee and coconut fudge ice cream, caramel and hot fudge, walnuts, whipped coconut cream, and a freaky red maraschino cherry.
I'm about to destroy this thing.
Lula's was the highlight of the weekend. The shop is comfortable and fun—behind the cash register, toppings are stored in the tiny square drawers of an antique pharmacy cabinet—and it was such a joy to revisit a favorite childhood treat without worrying about getting sick or consuming hidden dairy. The ice cream was perfectly rich, creamy, and soft; Rod couldn't believe his scoop of peanut toffee crunch was made from cashews instead of cow's milk.
This photo of the Lula's menu may be a little clichéd (I've seen it on several blogs), but it gives you an idea of their selection. Starred flavors are gluten-free. If I'd had a way to get them home, I would have bought several pints to go.
Lula's Sweet Apothecary: four enthusiastic chickpeas
Dessert wasn't all we ate—we saved room for smoothies and vegetables, too—but since this post is getting long, I'll tell you about our meals at Candle 79 and Candle Cafe next time.