Thirty-First Birthdays, Life Is Sweet Bake Shop, N*Sync, and More Vegan Wedding Shenanigans

Mini Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Who… us? Oh, we’re just adorable mini vegan chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting. NBD.

Birthdays for women in their thirties are funny. Turning thirty-one this year I *think* is something I’m supposed to be depressed about. But I’m not. Guys, there are plenty of other things in this world to be sad about. My birthday is not at all one of them. It’s just another reason to see family and friends that I love, eat good food, and stuff my face with delicious vegan sweets! About three hours ago, the lovely Robin Cole of Life Is Sweet Bake Shop dropped off these goodies for me. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SAVE THESE FOR PARTY GUESTS TOMORROW?! Dkndfgkdvnkdvvnfdbdfv!!!

Holy gluten-free vegan moly! These mini raspberry cheesecakes are singing their siren song.

My husband’s favorite of Robin’s creations: the elusive mini vegan banana cupcake with coconut frosting. If all two dozen are still in our kitchen in the morning, I will be AMAZED.

So here’s the story. About six months before the wedding, I randomly found Life Is Sweet Bake Shop on Instagram. I started obsessing over every baked good posted. Double tap. Double tap. Double tap. Double tap. Double tap. (That’s me “LIKE”ing photos, in case you didn’t pick up on that). And then I finally reached out via email. And then Robin and I fired up a chat chain, which grew into a novel, which lasted several more months. And then we finally thought we should meet in person. She picked Whole Foods, I said “yes”, we briefly described our respective appearances so we’d be able to spot each other, and I didn’t think much more of it. AND THEN we met face-to-face. And our jaws dropped. And it took several durrrrrrrrrr-filled moments until we realized we knew each other from, oh, nearly twenty years ago. The childhood BFF of a cousin of mine, the last time I had seen this girl (sorry, Robin!) she was definitely wearing an N*Sync shirt, and I’m pretty sure 98° were involved, too (oh, Nick Lachey, why are you are the only name I remember? I blame the terrifyingly-always-pregnant Jessica Simpson). 1990s boy bands aside, it was kismet. Robin, like me, grew up! And is vegan! And LOVES to bake! Only, she does it much better than I, has made a career of it, and is so effing good you need to give her all your monies to bake for you right now. RIGHT. NOW. Go on. I’ll wait… Did you lose her web site already? Jeez, guys, I just told you it’s Life Is Sweet Bake Shop, like, right up there in the beginning.

Long story short, of course she baked for our wedding. Of course it was amazing. For our bridal cake, she kept it simple with a 6” round chocolate cake, fresh strawberries, and vanilla frosting. Our gals at The Poppy Studio provided fresh flowers for the top. For our guests, we wanted a wide assortment of options. Robin masterfully concocted mini red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, banana cupcakes with coconut frosting, chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and churro (YES!) cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. She made mini, gluten-free raspberry cheesecakes, mini lemon tarts, and mini brownies. And if that wasn’t delicious enough, she also baked mini chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free peanut butter cookies. Now, if only we had been able to eat any of it. Seriously. Yes, we cut our bridal cake and shared a slice (divine, BTW). And we also ate several more slices of that over the next couple of days before freezing the remaining, per tradition. But as for the mini sweets? Nope, we didn’t get a single one. They were so popular that we were simply terrified they would run out! In fact, SOME PEOPLE WHO WILL REMAIN NAMELESS were already devouring the goods before dinner was served. AHEM! Needless to say, I ain’t complaining. A party of 120+ non-vegans chowing down on and begging for more vegan deliciousness? That was exactly what my little heart desired.

Sigh. Sweets we were never meant to eat. [Photo by Tyler Branch]

Can I please just keep reliving our wedding day over and over and over again? [Photo by Tyler Branch]

After all was said and done, I decided I deserved a little gift to myself: a mini sweets do-over for my birthday. Darling Robin obliged. And now there are two dozen mini cheesecakes and four dozen mini cupcakes mocking me in the fridge. Oh, you’ll meet your maker, teeny tiny desserts. You’re safe tonight, but I’ll be eating the hell outta you tomorrow [insert maniacal laugh here].

[Recipe] Lazy Blackened Tofu and Steamed Veggies

Sippin’ green juice, writin’ about last night’s dish…

I love Mother’s Market & Kitchen. My favorite location is in Huntington Beach. I literally grew up there. And every face that works at that spot is familiar (total creep that I am, I have to resist hugging them ALL!) Plus, I want to eat ALL THE FOODS in the Kitchen — like, every little thing on the menu. That’s what happens as a vegan when you have so many options. From açai bowls to tempeh wraps, pancakes to split pea soup… I want it all in my belly (oh, and the freshly baked VEGAN biscuits? To die for).

But what I normally fall back on, on an average day, when I’m being as health-conscious as possible (read: avoiding splurging like a maniac), I order the same self-concocted meal: 8 oz. of steamed veggies, 8 oz. of blackened tofu, and a side of Mother’s handmade salsa. It might not sound like much, but it does the trick every time. And if I feel like my body needs some extra healthy fats, I grab a side of avocado, as well.

I love the way lightly steaming veggies brings out the subtle flavors of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and yellow squash, without destroying essential vitamins and nutrients. And yes, I know that over-indulging in soy isn’t a smart move, but I rarely eat it, so protein-packed tofu is a treat for me. Plus, add in the incredible, smoky zing of salsa and a rich, creamy smear of avocado, and I’m in Valhalla.

So last night, I wanted to re-create this go-to meal myself, right here in our kitchen. Feeling super lazy, and fighting a nasty cold, I took way more shortcuts on this than I normally would. BUT I REGRET NOTHING. It was exactly what we needed…

DISCLAIMER: I often don’t measure things precisely when it comes to cooking (baking, on the other hand, that’s math, man… I wouldn’t mess around with that). So forgive my estimates.

Steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots mixed with spicy, blackened tofu, topped with double roasted salsa and Rawmesan!

Steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots mixed with spicy, blackened tofu, topped with double roasted salsa and Rawmesan!


Lazy Blackened Tofu and Steamed Veggies
(Makes a crap-load)

The veggies:

  • 4 cups of chopped organic carrots, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Steamer, bottom boiler filled with filtered water and a dash of salt
  • Garlic salt grinder
  • Rainbow peppercorn grinder
  • A nice ol’ knife and cutting board

The tofu:

  • 15.5 oz organic firm tofu
  • A deep dish
  • Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • Several dashes of blackening spice
  • Light spray of extra virgin olive oil
  • Cast-iron skillet
  • Thin, metal spatula

Yum, yum, yum… hot-n-spicy blackened tofu is just what the doctor ordered.

The blackening spice (from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook; makes about 1 1/2 cups):

  • 1/4 cup cayenne
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground mace
  • Storage container

The plating:

  • Trader Joe’s Double Roasted Salsa
  • Gopal’s Health Foods Rawmesan
  • Plates/bowls/spoons/forks, I don’t really need to tell you these things, do I?
The usual suspects: Bragg Liquid Aminos; Trader Joe's garlic salt, rainbow peppercorns, olive oil, and Double Roasted Salsa; homemade blackening spice; Godol's Health Foods Rawmesan.

The usual suspects: Bragg Liquid Aminos; Trader Joe’s garlic salt, rainbow peppercorns, olive oil, and Double Roasted Salsa; homemade blackening spice; Godol’s Health Foods Rawmesan.


To prepare:

  • Chop and start steaming your veggies. Add a few grinds of garlic salt and rainbow peppercorns on top of the veggies (because these things are delicious, and the salt will keep your broccoli greeeeeeeen).
  • While the veggies are steaming, chop your tofu into chunks, squares, triangles, WHO CARES?! Dredge them in a deep dish of 1/2 water and 1/2 liquid aminos (this doesn’t have to marinate long).
  • Mix up the blackening spice, one ingredient at a time (I like using a mortar and pestle, but a spoon/fork/your fingers will work fine, too). Reserve a few dashes for the tofu; store the rest in an airtight container and it’ll keep as long as the spices in your cupboard normally keep.
  • After the tofu has marinated for a few minutes, drain it, add in your dashes of blackening spice, and toss it around to evenly coat (I like a lot of spice because I like it REALLY spicy. If you don’t like it really spicy, take it easy on the spice. DUH.)
  • Heat your skillet and spray with a light, even coat of olive oil (I was lazy and used a store-bought spray can; you can save money and make your own spray olive oil; or you can wipe a little oil on a rag and add it to your pan. Let’s not judge, okay?) Do the drop of water test in the pan; when it sizzles, add your tofu mixture.
  • Keep your eye on the tofu and keep scraping and flipping, scraping and flipping, with your thin metal spatula, otherwise it will stick and you will be sad. There’s no real rule, IMHO, for how long you need to cook it. You want it crispy? Cook it till it’s crispy. I wanted it heated all the way through, but still soft, so I cooked it just till I could smell the tofu cooking (did you know that rule of thumb? My smarty sister taught me this. When you can really smell your food cooking, it’s probably cooked. This rule only applies to vegan food though, I truly know nothing about cooking poor sweet animals, so don’t go killing yourself by taking my advice here).
  • At this point, when your tofu is done, I’m going to assume the veggies are probably pretty well steamed. Now you get to plate! (I LOVE plating!) Take your plates/bowls/etc., divide up the steamed veggies then divide up the tofu. Now, like I said, I was seriously lazy. I didn’t make my own salsa (which you should absolutely do if you have more time or energy than I). And I didn’t make my own cheezy, nutritional-yeasty topping (which you should also do, if you can, and maybe in a future post I shall chat a bit about that). But right now, I’m broke and tired, so I used Trader Joe’s Double Roasted Salsa and spooned about 4 tbsp onto each serving, plus a couple good shakes from my favorite jar of Gopal’s Health Foods Rawmesan.
  • Now comes the really hard part: EAT IT.

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