Luka Love


My beautiful baby boy, do you remember the first day we met? It’s hard to imagine life without you, but it’s true, we had no idea the other existed when you entered the world. Where did you come from, really? Not a parking lot in Hercules, CA where you leapt into my arms without looking back, that much is sure. I’ll never know what came before that, though. What became of your original home, and why did you first mama disappear without a trace? Who could surrender such a sweet child to a complete stranger?

My beautiful baby boy, did you know that they first called you, “Max”? Yes, short for Maximilian, or perhaps the Roman family name Maximus. Barely tipping the scales at 6 pounds, you were more like Mini than Max. Do you like being called “Luka” better, or is it too much like Loki, the God of mischief? I was worried about that myself, but you seem to have taken to it, and it’s grown to suit you, my little troublemaker.

My beautiful baby boy, how is it that four years have passed since that fateful moment when you adopted me? Do you recall that rough start, with so many sleepless nights, ruined rugs, and frantic vet visits? You’ve certainly trained me well since then. Now I’m a treat-dispensing, belly-rubbing, walking pro, just like you always wanted.

My beautiful baby boy, Happy Gotcha Day. I don’t know how I ever got so lucky, but I got you. Through the good days and the bad, that’s all I really need.

Sweet Sixteen

Birthdays slowly lose their appeal over the years, stacking up one after another whether you’re ready or not. What was once exciting becomes blasé. Been there, done that, ate the cake and lived to tell the tale. Rinse and repeat.

There are certain milestones that are genuinely worth getting fired up over. Especially for a youngster on the cusp of adulthood, a Sweet Sixteen is a huge event, above and beyond the average birthday. It symbolizes coming of age, transitioning into the next chapter of life, and maybe even graduating from the kids’ table.

My dearest BitterSweet blog, you are now a mature, fully ripened fruit. How on earth this happened is beyond me. Despite some bad parenting in the beginning, you managed to not only survive the abuse, but thrive in spite of it. Together we’ve grown in ways unthinkable at the start. Now I can’t imagine life without you, nor would I want to.

Happy Sweet Sixteen, BitterSweet! To commemorate this momentous occasion, I had to pull out all the stops for an unforgettable cake worthy of such an event. After hemming and hawing for month, inspiration struck: nothing short of a sixteen-layered crepe cake would do.

How I could have gone sixteen years without featuring a single recipe using ube is beyond me. Let’s make up for lost time and dive right in, shall we? This purple yam is a staple in the Philippines, where it’s often the key ingredient in ice cream, cakes, cookies, waffles, lattes, jams, puddings, and beyond. Though its main claim to fame is that otherworldly hue, the flavor is what keeps people coming back for more. Subtle and delicate with a natural sweetness, the flavor is nutty like toasted pistachio with a hint of vanilla bean.

Granted, I took a short cut here and used ube extract and powder rather than the genuine article. It’s much easier to blend in concentrated flavor and color than start from a whole, fresh tuber, even if it’s not authentic. Just a few drops makes a big splash, and as my crepes started piling up, I worried that I might have gone overboard.

Vibrant in a way that they looked Photoshopped in real life, those thin French pancakes have never been so bold before. Served alone to wrap up whipped cream or fruit, they would already be an unforgettable treat, but when transformed into a tall stack with fluffy layers of buttercream in between, the results are awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

Mille Crepe literally means “a thousand crepes,” so by that metric my grand gateau falls short. However, I think that sixteen is more than enough for now. Who knows: Maybe someday, little old BitterSweet will old enough to celebrate a millennia. Until then… Stay sweet!

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Icing on the Birthday Cake

Birthdays were so simple as a kid; you had a party, got cake, played with all your friends, and opened presents. What’s not to love? Fast forward a few years and those same joyous rituals began to feel trite. Maybe you were too “cool” for all the fuss or had more complicated relationships. As time wore on, getting older didn’t seem like a thing to celebrate at all, for the daily slog of adulthood and the aches to come with it. Birthdays transformed from the best day of the year to the absolute worst.

Here I am now, observing the 33rd anniversary of my creation, and I think I’ve entered into the next part of the cycle. Finally breaking through the gloom, I realize how lucky I am to have such a “problem” of getting older. Yes, it’s difficult and so much of it is a pain, literally and figuratively, but it sure beats the alternative. It’s a day that I can use to treat myself to all the things I love, for no particular reason. Why not take the excuse to indulge?

That’s why I’m throwing a little virtual party right here, right now, with all things cake and cake-inspired. If it’s got sprinkles and sweetness, I’m all about it, whether it’s a cookie, a candy, or something else entirely. Here are just a few of my favorite treats that are worthy of any celebration, no matter what stage of birthday appreciation you find yourself in.

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Birthdays with Benefits

With age comes wisdom, grace, and maturity… Or so they say. While I have yet to experience any of that myself, I do keep getting older, despite best intentions. There’s still at least one very good reason to celebrate the passage of time, though: Birthday freebies. I don’t throw parties anymore but darting around town to collect these gifts is its own kind of festive event. My list of national vegan birthday freebies has been immensely popular for obvious reasons, as it would be a shame to leave anyone out of the fun. If you were born, recently or long ago, you too could enjoy these treats! Now that I’m living in Austin, however, I’ve uncovered a whole trove of new local specialties.

Amy’s Ice Creams is a treasured Austin establishment that got its start in 1984 and is still scooping strong. The menu at large is still firmly dairy- and egg-based, but you can always find at least one vegan specialty that will make you melt. Depending on the day, you might find chocolate, coffee, or snickerdoodle ice cream, or a range of fruity sorbets. Snag a free scoop on your birthday when you sign up for the Sundae News email list.

Greasy spoon diners have never been as good as Kerbey Lane Cafe, slinging a full, separate vegan menu for the meatless among us. Pancakes are their claim to fame, so it should come as no surprise that they’d share a free single pancake of your choice or small cup of vegan queso to help celebrate your big day. Sign up for the Kerbey Lane Love Club for your annual gift. Keep an eye out for special seasonal variations; my favorite is the pumpkin spice flavor, but you can’t go wrong with the classic, plain and simple. Best of all, even your pup can be a member of this club! That’s right; your lovable mut will beg for their very own baby pancake on their birthday, too. Hopefully they’ll stop drooling over your plate then!

Mix, match, and stir-fry yourself loco at Woko Loco, where you can get a free box of fresh veggie goodness on your birthday. All you have to do is download the Woko Rewards app and cash in on your big day. You can build your own Asian entree with a base of rice, noodles, or zoodles, tofu, eight flavorful sauces, and up to 16 different vegetables! If that’s too overwhelming, just ask for the Veggie Lover box and they’ll take care of the details. Don’t forget to use my promo code when you sign up: 9984

Which is your favorite sandwich? That’s the very question Which Wich is asking, and they don’t make it easy. This micro-chain is especially vegan-friendly with a clear menu section outlining which ingredients are free of all animal products. Join the Which Wich Vibe Club to get a FREE small sandwich (or wrap, or salad) for your birthday. If I were you, I’d opt for the black bean patty, avocado, jalapeno hummus, and quinoa, but you can build your own combination from the wide variety of vegetable options, too.

If you’re starting to feel the squeeze after so much celebratory indulgence, head over to Juiceland for a fresh start. Sign up on Five Star Rewards and you’ll get a coupon for $5 off, valid for one week before and one week after your big day. That’s plenty to cover a wide range of smoothies, juices, shots, coffee, and even some snacks or light meals. It’s hard to resist the Jackfruit Carnitas Supreme, a meaty Tex-Mex bowl-in-one, but on a hot day, nothing hits the spot quite like the protein-packed Strawberry Mylkshake. Don’t forget, you can add in black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, sea salt, or habanero to your blend at no charge, any day of the year!

Since dropping anchor for their first brick-and-mortar location in South Manchaca, The Vegan Yacht has more space for diners and menu options. That includes their organic soft serve ice cream, made entirely in house. Flavors rotate every few weeks but you can always count on getting a unique seasonal specialty. To anyone who says that ice cream in January isn’t a compelling prospect, just try repeating that when presented with a swirl of marshmallow cocoa like this beauty. Pumpkin spice in the fall and eggnog in December are two other noteworthy bestsellers. No signups or advanced notice necessary to redeem your treat; just walk in and let them know you’re celebrating on your special day!

Anyone would be delighted to snarf down a 7-inch Vegetarian Sandwich at Snarf’s, free of charge, so make sure you sign up for the Insider’s eclub to log your birthday! You’ll get a voucher to use to place your order online or in the app, whenever the craving strikes during your birth month. Don’t forget to leave out the cheese and mayo to make this one vegan. Jazz it up with artichoke hearts or extra mushrooms for that meaty, umami bite.

RA Sushi really pulls out all the stops when you join The Hook Up. On your birthday AND half birthday, you’ll get a full $20 gift certificate to make it rain maki rolls. Don’t miss the lavishly adorned Vegetarian Roll, vibrant and verdant with cucumber, avocado, arugula, asparagus, and romaine hearts, all wrapped in green soy paper. Go to town with garlic edamame, shishito peppers, or spicy cucumber salad to complete the meal. If you dine in, you’ll even get your choice of flavored mochi for dessert, on the house! That’s a  truly sweet AND savory gift!

Bow down to Bao’d Up. These fluffy steamed buns are made fresh daily in each of four central locations. Plump, pillow-y soft, and stuffed with your choice of sweet or savory fillings, you have two vegan options to chose from: Veggie for a healthy snack, or red bean for a light dessert. Download the app, create an account (use my referral code 2271, please!), and snag one free bao on your birthday! While you’re there, you might as well treat yourself to a side of fries, pickled veggies, or slaw, because the mayo is all eggless, too.

Although two dozen cities now host their own Alamo Drafthouse theaters, it was originally founded here in Austin. If you sign up for their Victory program, you’ll get a free movie ticket, delivered on the day of your birth! You’ll still need to pay for food if you go in hungry, but it’s worth the splurge. Their crispy buffalo cauliflower, complete with vegan ranch dressing, is the stuff of legends. Make sure you input all your details correctly because they do check ID at the door.

Remember, these offers are all subject to change, especially under rapidly evolving COVID-19 protocol. Always call in advance to check hours and availability when in doubt. Celebrate to the fullest, and stay safe!

Age is Just a Number

“14 (fourteen) is a natural number following 13 and succeeded by 15,” as the dictionary so helpfully explains. That’s one earth-shaking headline for you there, right? Try as I might to find something witty to say about the figure, some pop culture reference to connect it with, there’s just nothing particularly exciting about the figure. So here we are, the day of BitterSweet‘s fourteenth blogoversary, which is little more than a blip on the radar at this point.

Growing older isn’t easy, but as they say, it sure beats the alternative. Merely surviving for so many years in a world that’s constantly evolving, rewriting the rules of the game at every stage of play, definitely calls for some sort of celebration. Rather than writing at length about my navel-gazing and self-congratulatory blogging victories over the years, I’m raising a glass to you, my dear reader, for really keeping this crazy dream alive.

Tempting as it was to just keep on writing without proper acknowledgement of the milestone, that would be like forgetting your birthday, and I just wouldn’t be so cruel. Even if it’s an unremarkable age, a relatively unimportant number, you still deserve cake.

Little cakes for a little festivity; seems to fit the bill, don’t you think? Mini bundt cakes condense all the show-stopping beauty of a full, gargantuan baked good down into manageable single serving portions. Make a batch for a party, freeze extras for later, and never worry about either running out or over-serving. We can make this revelry even more low-key by fashioning the batter into standard muffins, for those seeking that everyday sort of sweet gratification instead.

Suitably unconventional for such a quirky little blog, gluten-free sorghum flour and maca powder work in concert to create a uniquely malty, nutty, toasted cereal flavor that plain malted milk powder could never replicate. Chocolate is a natural pairing with that nostalgic scoop shop taste, which is why I doubled down, employing both rich chocolate chips and crisp, crunchy cacao nibs. Decadent enough that there’s no need to gild the lily with frosting, you get the complete package in every bite. If you had to add a bit of extra sparkle, I suppose a gentle dusting of confectioner’s sugar wouldn’t hurt, though.

Should I have something more profound to share on this 1900th post on the 14th year of BitterSweet? Perhaps. Then again, I’d like to think that it’s just one of many more birthdays to come. We’ll have plenty of other opportunities to trade wisdom on aging gracefully, and sweetly.

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Birthday Boom

For reasons beyond my grasp, it seems like May marks the beginning of birthday season. Inexplicably, it’s as if millions of mothers across the globe decided that the late spring and early summer months were the ideal time to bring a new life into the world, plotting out their pregnancies accordingly. Facebook alerts me every morning about another dozen, two dozen friends celebrating another year on earth, growing more numerous and incessant with every passing day. Though entertaining in theory- and I’d never doubt the determination of a woman about to bear children- I can only chalk it up to coincidence, or at least on my part, good luck.

Having so many parties clustered closely together can be stressful for planning, but a boon for batch baking. Fire up the oven once, whip up a single batter in bulk, and fulfill your festive commitments for scores of friends with ease. The trick is picking something that everyone will like, won’t break the budget, and can suit all sorts of dietary restrictions.

Meet your new best birthday friends. These babies have it all, and yet, demand so little. Just three main ingredients gives rise to tender, chewy blondie bites that taste like cake, but are healthy enough to qualify as a legitimate protein bar. In fact, I must sheepishly admit, it was Luka’s first birthday that originally inspired these almond butter-based morsels. After adding rainbow sprinkles for the human party goers, it became abundantly clear that these were way better than bland dog biscuits here. No added sugar keeps these treats well balanced, but for the voracious sweet tooth, you may want to consider inviting up to 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar to the soiree.

The magic ingredient here is Noosh Birthday Cake Almond Butter. No, they didn’t sponsor this post; I’m just a super fan and can’t get enough of the stuff. How nuts can taste like spreadable cake is beyond me, but there’s no denying that buttery taste, rich with childhood nostalgia and subtle notes of vanilla frosting. Combining that with gluten-free flour and everyone’s favorite bean brine sounds like a formula too simple, too basic, too good to be true… But like the sudden abundance of birthdays, some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved.

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