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.

Continue reading “Age is Just a Number”

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.

Continue reading “Birthday Boom”

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen is typically the year that one bridges the gap from childhood to adulthood, coming of age through the lens of tradition. Though not much really changes, aside from the ability to achieve legal employment, the number symbolizes great expectations for any young pup. But what about an actual pup? Age ain’t nothing but a number, especially now that my old lady clocks in at 77 years old in dog years. She may not be on the path to a promising career at this rate, but she does still have plenty to look forward to, like cake, for starters.

Inspired by the need for softer treats to better suit her particular dental situation, cake-like cookies seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Cookies aren’t quite enough to celebrate such a significant event, though, so I turned to my favorite cookie with an identity crisis: The whoopie pie (or in this case, “woofie” pie.) It’s definitely not a pie, despite the name, and much more like a mini-cake than a sandwich cookie, but semantics aside, they’re hard to resist. Using carob to keep them dog-friendly rather than chocolate, they look just as delicious as their traditional counterparts, but you might want to stick to the classic to suit a human palate. Added sugar is something my baby simply doesn’t need in her diet, so these treats look much sweeter than they actually taste. Additionally, dogs shouldn’t get excessive amounts of salt, so you’ll notice that it’s lacking in this formula as well. Regardless of what it does and doesn’t contain, Isis didn’t care much as she wolfed down her birthday surprise in record time. It may not be as grand as the plated dessert I lavished on her a few years back, but I’d like to believe it was met with equal appreciation.

Woofie Pies

Carob Sandwich Coookies:

1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup Carob Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 Cup 100% Carrot Juice or No Salt Added Vegetable Stock
1/4 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cream Filling:

1 Cup White Potatoes, Peeled, Diced, Boiled, and Mashed*

*Potatoes are safe for dogs to eat, but you must be very careful about their preparation. The potatoes must be thoroughly and completely cooked- Never feed a dog raw potato. Likewise, never use any potatoes that have any green parts, as those are highly toxic to dogs. For a more complete list of foods to avoid when cooking for canines, check here.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

Carob can be rather clumpy, so be sure to sift it before measuring if necessary. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, carob powder, baking powder and soda, distributing the dry goods equally throughout the mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the carrot juice or vegetable stock, vinegar, pumpkin puree, and oil, stirring lightly to break up the pumpkin. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together with few lumps. There’s no need to beat it completely smooth, but make sure that there are no pockets of flour remaining.

Use a small cookie scoop or two spoons to portion out equal, walnut-sized dollops of the batter on your prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 6 – 9 minutes, until the edges are set and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely on the sheets before filling.

For the cream filling, simply mash the cooked potato until it’s completely smooth and spread about 1 – 2 teaspoons on the flat side of one cookie. Top with a second, and repeat until all the cookies are filled. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes 24 Cookies or 12 Filled Woofie Pies

Printable Recipe

Twenty-Three

In the most minimal fashion, much like the twenty-second year preceding it, my twenty third birthday came and went. There was ice skating with my dad, a shared lunch, a black and white movie at home, and cake; no party, and no candles. Not so much a day of celebration as a day of rest, which sounds just about right to me.

Birthdays of mine have been historically bad days in the past, taking into consideration both apocalyptic winter weather and borderline psychotic meltdowns, so this quieter, uneventful rendition was a merciful change of pace. Less a marker of having arrived at some milestone, I found the date reassuring, a small checkpoint within the greater journey. I’m still here, twenty three years later, and it’s beginning to look like I may just be here in another twenty three as well. Imagine that.

Corresponding with my laid back non-celebration, the cake at hand was simple, unfussy- Homely by some estimations. All I wanted was a dark, moist, spicy gingerbread cake, one that reminded me of The One That Got Away. Ten years ago, scouting out a location for my Bat Mitzvah, I chose the final restaurant based solely on the gingerbread cake served for dessert. Dripping with caramel and finished with a fluffy halo towering over the plate, it’s now all I remember about that meal. In my youth and excitement, it never occurred to me that the event would be catered, and I would never see that beauty of a cake again. In fact, the restaurant has since gone out of business, just to close that book entirely.

So I made it for myself, ten years later. (Ten years. 10. It bears repeating because it seems wildly impossible that so much time could have passed.) Even if there were no candles and no fanfare, it was the perfect ending to my non-celebration.

Gingerbread Blackout Cake

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
6 – 7 Teaspoons (2 Heaping Tablespoons) Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup No Sugar Added Pumpkin Butter or Apple Butter
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Canola Oil

Vegan Butterscotch Sauce (From Vegan À La Mode, coming soon!) or Caramel Sauce, and Whipped Creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and spices. Whisk well to distribute all of the dry goods throughout, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, molasses, pumpkin butter, sugar, and oil until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 325 degrees, even before you close the oven door.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before slicing and serving with butterscotch sauce and whipped creme.

If time allows, this cake does get better with age, so try to make it a day or two in advance for the flavor profile to become more nuanced and balanced.

Makes 16 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe