Smoke and Mirrors

Cascading down the hills and clouding city streets, this was not the usual fog rolling in from the bay. This was smoke, thick and acrid, obscuring our vision, tearing at our throats. Fires burned just beyond eye shot, but the devastation knew no bounds. We all felt the pain of a hundred thousand trees incinerated in an afternoon, reduced to ash and deposited without ceremony upon cars and buildings miles away, like a deathly snow in the summertime blaze.

Escape from this unseen monster is impossible; it hunts you, haunts you through homes and offices. It lingers in the stale air underground across BART tracks. It condenses inside closed windows. It stays within your lungs long after you exhale. It suffocates from the outside in, and the inside out.

This is not a dystopian vision of the future. This living hell is the new normal.

2018 California Wildfires

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My Milkshake Brings All the Vegans to the Yard

And they’re like,
It’s better than green juice.
Damn right it’s better than pond scum.
I can teach you,
But we have to get takeout.

While I can appreciate a tall glass of savory vegetable juice every now and then, I never got into the juice cleanse craze and still bristle slightly at the suggestion. As the summer heat intensifies along with a powerful thirst, I look to the offerings at local cafes with equal parts lust and skepticism. Whenever I see those emerald brews, freshly pressed, full of verdant vitality, I project my own true desire on that glass: Mint. All I crave on the hottest of days is a creamy, cool, mint chip milkshake. Thus, the swampy melange I end up with is inevitably disappointing, more often tasting of apple than anything else, leafy or otherwise.

Milkshakes are the easiest things to make at home, but real luxury is being able to get them on the town, prefab and instantly gratifying. Besides, if I have ice cream in the freezer, it’s a hard sacrifice to plop a scoop into the blender when I could just eat it straight. When in the bay area, there are a wide range of options to get that satisfying minty-fresh fix.

Elixiria‘s Last Samurai Shake is my gold (or more accurately, green) standard for mint chip milkshakes. Cashew-based and tinted pastel green with a touch of matcha, it’s sweetened with coconut sugar and is infused with peppermint essential oil for a bright, bold flavor. Cacao nibs add crunch, without a ton of chocolate taste, granted, but the texture gets the point across sufficiently. This formula was actually the essential inspiration for my Cashew Milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, for anyone else who can’t just pop into the shop.

For a superfood fix, I’m impossibly addicted to Mint Cacao Chip at Urban Remedy. I can rationalize the indulgence because it employs pea protein powder and really does drink like a meal. On busy days when I can’t stop to sit down for a proper lunch, you can bet this is my first choice for refueling. Although it’s not quite the same as what you’ll find in the refrigerated cases, Urban Remedy also offers a homemade solution that approximates the refreshing experience.

Incredibly similar to the previous pick, Project Juice is also slinging a bottled Mint Chip Shake, but ranks ever so slightly lower by employing dates for an earthier sweetness, and quite frankly, not enough of them. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve snuck in packets of raw sugar on occasion to spike my drink.

Moving on to a no-holds-barred, full-throttle dessert indulgence, Saturn Cafe has you covered. The Thin Mint Milkshake was a limited edition special to coincide with the annual girl scout cookie inundation, but a simpler mint chocolate variation is available all year round. Locally made Double Rainbow non-dairy ice cream provides the thick, rich base, which always exceeds the generous old-fashioned soda fountain glasses, filling much of the metal mixing cup which is provided on the side, as if one mountainous milkshake wasn’t enough. Whipped cream, cookie chunks, and chocolate syrup complete the drinkable dessert. Better yet, Saturn is open late everyday, with a full menu of hot food available, which means you can get my all-time favorite milkshake pairing: French fries, hot, extra crispy, and lavishly salted.

Next Level Burger deserves a shout-out for the effort, but truth be told, this isn’t a blend worthy of a repeat order. Where was the mint? Where were the chips? All I could taste was syrupy sweetness; not even a modest hint of vanilla came to the fore. It’s cool and refreshing, fine pairing for a burger, but you’re better off opting for a different, stronger flavor.

Finally, one more runner up to add to the list is CREAM, with multiple locations scattered across the bay area. Vegan options are limited to just two soy-based ice creams, but as luck would have it, one is the illustrious mint chocolate chip of my dreams. Milkshakes are available, and I’ve been promised there’s non-dairy milk behind the bar as well, although that’s as far as my inquires have gone. Let’s be honest: When you’re offered chocolate fudge cookies and rainbow glitter sprinkles as garnishes, what rational person could really order otherwise?

Plenty of other competent milkshake makers are blending up the goods on a daily basis across the bay, but no one else seems to have a minty melange on the regular. Given such superlative options already, it’s hard to branch out beyond this crave-worthy sip, but do tell- What’s your favorite milkshake flavor, and more importantly, does it bring all the vegans to the yard, too?

Rolling in Doughnuts

Health food seekers and whole food eaters: avert your eyes. For the rest of us, there’s more to veganism than oil-free, salt-free, sugar-free kale salads, to the relief and rejoicing of foodies everywhere. You can bake a cake in the shape of a ring to make a mighty tasty dessert, as I’ve also done without shame, but the fact of the matter is that it will never be a doughnut.

Deep fried to a golden brown, grease-less finish, the sheen of warm icing moments away from fully solidifying, nothing can match the pure bliss of that first bite. A true, top-notch doughnut is a rare delicacy, and not just for the indulgence it represents. There’s only so often that one can justify the mess and potential safety hazard of a giant pot of bubbling oil on the stove, and then there’s the trouble of what to do with a batch of a dozen doughnuts or more. They don’t keep beyond a day, so unless you’ve got a party of pastry-lovers coming over, your efforts are doomed to go largely uneaten.

Vegan Donut Gelato is here to help. It’s the kind of shop that seems too good to be true, which undoubtedly was a factor in deciding on such a straight-forward, unpretentious name. Yes, it’s all vegan and yes, they’ve got all your sweet cravings covered. The classics are present of course, simple glazed and sprinkled little numbers that live up to the highest standards of childhood nostalgia, to more inventive flavors like matcha, blueberry, maple “bacon,” or cookies and cream. Don’t get me started on the apple fritters, which are the size of a dinner plate and loaded with soft, spiced apple chunks.

It’s hard to restrain yourself from ordering one of everything, especially because they really are cheaper by the dozen. Besides, when was the last time you had a bear claw? Or a maple bar? Or a Boston cream doughnut? Further complicating the final order is the incredibly kind owner, always at the counter, who’s liable to throw in a free doughnut hole or two to reward such enthusiasm.

Though it’s impossible to resist the colorful magnetism of the front display, don’t gloss over the other half of the shop’s name. Soy-based gelato is made in house with rotating seasonal flavors, offered by the scoop or wedged into an outrageous doughnut sandwich assembly. I can only speak for the eggnog flavor which is of course long gone at this point, but I truly hope it makes an early come back. The flawlessly smooth, creamy texture is better than almost all prepacked options scooped out of a carton, and possibly one of the best in the bay. It may get overshadowed by the deep fried delights, but you won’t regret topping off your treats with an extra frozen spoonful… Well, unless you’ve already eaten your weight in cinnamon twists. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Vegan Donut Gelato
411 E 18th St
Ste B
Oakland, CA 94606