Another year, another birthday. Awaking in early morning darkness as per usual, I powered the last stride on the elliptical machine as the clock struck 6:30—the exact hour I first greeted the world seventeen short years ago. After bidding my mother good morning, she wished me a happy birthday and bestowed upon me a gorgeous silver ring and matching earrings from Art Gecko. “You’ll have to wait until after dinner for the rest of your gifts,” she teased. Sigh. I hate surprises…and prolonged waiting for cookbooks.
School brought a bounty of hugs, smiles, enthusiastic “Happy Birthdays!” from my closest friends, and gasps of “It’s your birthday?!?” from those previously unaware. Many well-wishers advised me to partake in copious amounts of vegan cake, though I somewhat dejectedly confessed that my family had not planned any form of dairy-free treats for the day. On the one hand, my extremely health-conscious eating habits repel me miles away from the white flour, refined sugar-laden birthday goods such as cake and normally, the mere thought of consuming slices of nutrition wasteland would send my body into a processed food coma. But frankly, it’s my birthday: the single day of the year where I shouldn’t have to worry about eating one measly cupcake…or three. Thus, slight disappointment crept into the indulgent nook of my brain after considering the lack of dessert luxury on my big one-seven turning point.
Nonetheless, my spirits remained high after receiving another pair of earrings, a tablespoon measure shaped like a scuba diver, a cup measure shaped like a whale, and a colorful plate emblazoned with the word “YUM” from Maddie and Maria. I reveled in a delicious miso-filled dinner of grilled miso corn (recipe from Bonzai Aphrodite and corn from the Hilldale Farmers Market), and miso-dressed salad of green beans and purple potatoes (from Happy Valley Farm and Ridgeland Harvest, respectively). I ripped open my heavy gift-wrapped package with zeal to discover an Urban Outfitters gift card and three new cookbooks patiently waiting to fulfill my birthday wishes: The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein, and an enormous 10th-anniversary edition of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. What utterly wonderful parents I have.
Ridiculous amounts of hugs: check. Local, fresh, farmers market celebratory dinner: check. Cookbook gifts: check. Vegan cupcakes…CHECK!?!?! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my unbelievable mother completed my “simply amazing birthday” checklist and bought vegan cupcakes from the Bloom Bake Shop. (A REAP BFBL partner, no less!)
However, my lovely though quite absent-minded mother forgot the flavors of each cupcake, creating a flavor guessing game not unlike the “which chocolate is this?” Valentine’s Day endeavor of hunting through the heart-shaped box. She correctly assumed that the cakes topped with dried banana and strawberry were strawberry-banana flavored, though missed the mark on the supposed chocolate-peanut butter and pumpkin cupcakes.
After researching on the Bloom Bake Shop website, I managed to decipher the decadent, moist, and creatively named cupcakes. All of the frostings tasted cloyingly sweet to my sugar-shunning tastebuds, but the cakes themselves proved ingenious.
Be a Monkey: “We made this Banana Cupcake with real bananas and Dark Chocolate Chips then topped it with thick Chocolate Buttercream, for the monkey in all of us.” Super dense with a surprising crunch from the chocolate chips, this cupcake (also gluten and soy free!) provided a satisfying mouthfeel and mild banana flavor.
Be Spiced: “Spiced Pumpkin Rum is folded into a moist batter to create a dense, sweet cake that is garnished with a Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.” My dessert companions and I greatly approved of the pronounced coconut flavor complementing this lightly spiced cupcake—they greedily stole all but 1/2 of the two my mother bought, leaving only a small sampling for me. The nerve.
Strawberry-Banana: Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this flavor listed on the website, but I can assure you of its absolute scrumptiousness. A moist cake flecked with visible bits of banana and strawberry receives a generous dollop of strawberry-swirled buttercream, topped with a finishing touch of dehydrated banana and strawberry.
Needless to say, I enjoyed every sinful moment of my birthday indulgence. But you know what? Out of all the cupcakes out there, the adorable ones from the Bloom Bake Shop score extremely low on the “feel guilty about me!” list. The bakery sources local ingredients, such as fresh fruit from Keewaydin Farms, peanut butter from Yumbutters, and freshly milled wheat from Enos Farms, as well as uses Florida Crystals organic fair-trade sugar. They also include many gluten-free menu options using brown rice, tapioca, and sorghum flours—vastly healthier than plain old refined all-purpose. But most important of all, their cupcakes encompass all the ethical sides of veganism: they obviously don’t use eggs, butter, or milk from factory-farmed animals plus their local ingredients don’t spawn a dirty environmental impact. On a side note, Bloom portions their cupcakes much more intelligently than those of your average supersized bakeries; three (yes, I certainly downed three mouthwatering cupcakes) small Bloom cupcakes would likely equal the size of one ginormous stereotypical American one.
Winding down the day with a new episode of my all-time favorite show Top Chef (currently airing their Just Desserts season), I mulled over my 17th birthday: I laughed, I hugged, I smiled, I indulged, and I moved on. Tomorrow, I’ll revert back to the usual kale-filled, whole grain-laden, and epitomic wholesome diet I know and love, acknowledging that those cupcakes tasted damn good but did not nourish my body as I prefer my daily eating habits to do. Valuable lesson learned: One day of cupcake happiness needn’t ruin an entire year of healthy eating, otherwise you’ll quickly drive yourself absolutely insane.
Until next time, Ali.