Trifling Matters

Shattered beyond repair, my once grand glass trifle dish lay in ruin. Wordlessly closing the cardboard shipping box that had become its tomb, I placed it by the door, ready for the next trip to the dumpster. No tears were shed, no outpouring of emotion could be summoned. It was a devastating loss, without a doubt, but I was already numb from uncovering the very same scene in each of the over 40 packages I shipped to save moving expenses. Of all the pieces I would mourn, the trifle was at the bottom of that list. Who really needed a vessel that would feed a crowd in the middle of a pandemic, after all?

Glorious layered affairs that are the stuff of royalty, grand parties, and celebratory gatherings throughout the centuries, there is no such thing as a small trifle. It transforms into a parfait or a verrine when scaled down; no less delicious, but a far cry from its original grandeur. Even the most humble of ingredients can become sublime in such a magnificent presentation.

This one stacks as a summery strawberry shortcake fit for a crowd. Soft cubes of freshly baked vanilla cake soak in jam like sweet sponges, layered with fresh berries, buttery custard, and clouds of whipped coconut cream. Though simple in concept, it makes a big impression as one generous, family-style indulgence.

Time heals all wounds. No, it’s not possible to put those irreparably fractured shards back together, but there is hope for a new start. A new life, a new community, and a new trifle dish; some how, they all seem linked in my mind. It’s just a trifle, but being able to share it freely with a full home of new friends feels incredibly significant.

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The Early Bird Catches the Brunch

The early bird catches the plant-based worm, if you can find it hidden within this upscale corner store. Brunch Bird has taken nest inside RiverCity Market, thoroughly hidden without proper signage. You just have to trust that it exists, and if you truly believe, your faith will be rewarded with some amazing meatless fare.

We’re taking monster burgers with legit (dairy-free!) blue cheese and sauteed mushrooms, paired with spuds slathered with an impossibly rich, savory gravy, or for the sweet tooth, stuffed French toast loaded with cream cheese and raspberry jam. They go HARD on bold flavor, pulling no punches when it comes to sourcing quality, local ingredients. You’ve got your Easy Tiger ciabatta for the sandwiches, Rebel Cheese bringing the funk, and so many more local stars shining brightly within these chefs’ confident hands.

Don’t sleep on the masterfully brined carrot lox, perched atop crisp toast and adorned with a genuinely runny, spherified eggless yolk. Golden rivulets bath each bite; it’s the runny crown jewel on this dazzling dish.

A menu like this is the stuff of dreams, but also worth waking up for. Luckily, you don’t even need to set an alarm, since they’re open until 5PM everyday.

Brunch Bird
2209 S Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704

Finger Licking Good

Growing up, my family was never much for fast food. My parents weren’t food snobs or health nuts, they just saw the value in a sit-down meal at a casual restaurant if we were going to eat out. There were certainly sporadic trips to golden arches on occasion, especially during road trips where alternative options were few and far between. There were no forbidden foods, no deprivation, no unmet cravings; I just never really developed a taste for it.

Only later as an adult did I really come to appreciate the art of fried chicken. Of course, I was already vegan by then, having never sampled the original animal. Though it wasn’t a rule, the only thing that my mom could not abide was a trip to KFC. Emotionally scarred by a hot, greasy summer flipping the bird back as one of her first part-time jobs in her youth, we never paid Colonel Sanders a visit. The details she shared were few and far between, but it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of gig could turn someone against such deep fried delicacies.

I’m still leery of it, not so much for the health aspect, but for the heat, mess, and waste. It’s already sweltering here in central Texas, and it will only get worse. The last thing I need is to steam up the kitchen while redecorating the walls with oily splatter. No thanks! This sounds like a job for the air fryer.

Taking everyone’s favorite, most versatile vegetable, cauliflower stars in this classic comfort food. Coated in a light, crisp batter infused with eleven herbs and spices, the secret formula is one I’m quite happy to divulge. Instead of buttermilk, I use yogurt to add tangy flavor and tenderness, amplified by a splash of lemon juice and balanced by the sweet kiss of maple syrup. It’s a delicate harmony in every bite.

If you’re craving something a bit more meaty, never fear. You can use the same batter to blanket tempeh, tofu, rehydrated soy curls, or any of your favorite chicken alternatives. I can’t lie, I really love using cauliflower because that way, I can still call it “KFC” – Kentucky Fried Cauliflower.

This fresher, lighter, easier rendition won’t leave grease on your hands, but it’s still finger licking good!

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Let Freedom Ring

Americans are not shy about letting their opinions be known, particularly when it comes to matters of freedom. From the very inception of this country, our founding fathers were shouting from the rooftops about liberty and justice for all. That ideal was a bit skewed and misleading at the time, silently omitting the vast majority of the population, but after a few hundred years of mucking about, I’m cautiously hopeful that we’re on the right path to actually realizing that dream.

“…if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

On this particularly joyous 4th of July, when many reunite, emerging from quarantine cocoons for the first time in over one and a half years, there’s so much more to celebrate than just the baby steps forward on the journey towards true freedom. Vaccination does feel akin to emancipation; we must never forget the struggle to get here, nor those not fortunate enough to see this day.

It’s truly a bittersweet moment for me, acknowledging both the immense progress we’ve made collectively, and still the terrible, horrendous, and heinous setbacks that continue to plague the country. As a rule, however, I’d like to focus on the positive. Though many still suffer, I want freedom to ring, loud and clear, in every home and especially… Every home freezer.

Yes, it all comes back to food! Finally free to serve friends in-person, I’m thrilled to whip up a batch of frosty ice cream doughnuts from Super Vegan Scoops! to symbolize the endless ring of freedom intended for all inhabitants of these fifty states.

For a more thematically appropriate attire, these cool contenders are all dressed up in a variation of the white chocolate shell icing. For a blue tint, it just takes 1 teaspoon of butterfly pea tea powder (also known as “blue matcha,”) and the red is infused with 1 teaspoon of powdered beets. Add festive sprinkles and voila, you suddenly have some beautiful, festive food to share.

At long last, on this 242nd observance of our independence day, I hope that freedom truly can ring for one and all, and may it taste as sweet as vanilla bean ice cream.