Wednesday, April 14, 2010

That Smlovin’ feeling.

I am not much into baking. Baking generally requires time and accuracy, two things I have in short supply. Plus, it inevitably results in copious amounts of baked goods. While I’d be happy to eat muffins and cookies all day, I try to have more self-control than that. My self-control generally begins and ends with not having things around I know better than to eat. (See: potato chips.)

This is to give you an appreciation of what an insane idea it was for me to attempt this post’s titular confection. Red and I had a dinner date planned with a friend and her fiancé. Said friend was going to make vegan spanakopitas, and we’d sit around and drink wine and talk shit about people, which is pretty much my Wednesday night even when I’m home alone. I offered to bring dessert, but what kind? Since she was going to the effort of making spanakopitas, I couldn’t just show up with a quart of Soy Dream and some spoons. No, no, no. I had to show off. Her fiancé is omni (she is vegetarian), and I wasn’t going to let him eat half-assed vegan dessert.

Enter the Smlove Pie. The Rosemary’s baby of Veganomicon authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, it was allegedly spawned by the conjecture, “What would Paula Deen make if she were vegan?” And unholy it is, tempting the unwary with its potent combination of chocolate and peanut-butter caramel, punctuated with candied pecans and drizzled with extra chocolate. Also unholy is the Paula Deen impression that Red labored to perfect during the Smlove odyssey, squawking, “BUTTAH, Y’ALL!” at random moments.

So, how to make this beast? A graham cracker crust was the first order of business. Our hippie grocery does not stock vegan graham crackers, so I snagged a box of Annie’s chocolate bunny grahams. It took the whole box, plus two stale graham crackers I had laying around for s’mores, to make the crust. I had, in an unusual fit of foresight, borrowed my mom’s ceramic pie dish, which is heavy and handmade and deep enough to accommodate the heftiest of pies. The Smlove would prove to be a worthy adversary.

The bulk of the pie was easy. Blend melted chocolate and silken tofu, stir in the blood of virgins and a few other secret ingredients, pour into delicious chocolate crust, bake, and chill. There did not appear to be enough room left for the toppings, but I tried to keep the faith. I took a day off from Smlove-making, since it needed to spend a good few hours in the fridge. It lurked back there, though, hiding beneath its innocuous foil cover.

On Monday night, I tackled the rest of the Smlove. The candied maple pecans made me nervous, as I had never candied anything before and feared ending up with a molten lump of ruined nuts, but I prevailed. The peanut-butter caramel? Sticky and gooey and utterly delicious, spreading out over the pie like benign sugary lava. I tried to make a fancy symmetrical design with the pecans, but I suck at geometry and my mosaic turned into everyone’s favorite game of, “Oh, just shove them in wherever they’ll fit.”

Victory approached! I had but one step left, and I almost forgot all about it since the pie looked so damn pretty: chocolate ganache. How hard could that be? Boil soymilk, add chocolate chips, stir, and drizzle. Well, perhaps I added too much chocolate, or my soymilk didn’t boil enough, because while what I made was delicious and chocolatey, it drizzled about as well as Play-Doh. Frowning, I scooped it into a Ziploc baggie, snipped a corner, and tried to squeeze it out in graceful ribbons. I’ll refrain from describing what it originally looked like as it plopped onto the pie, but clearly I needed a Plan B. In desperation, I squeezed the mess out in the general shape of a circle, nudging it into place with a spatula. It looked better, but like a five-year-old had taken over my pie-making. In a last-ditch effort at artistic achievement, I gently scored the ganache with the spatula, hoping it would look vaguely intentional.

© World's Worst Photographer.

After that, I told the Smlove to go to hell and put it back in the fridge. I had neglected to eat dinner, preferring instead to lick all the bowls, pans, and spoons and rationalizing that the addition of a few handfuls of tortilla chips and some hastily gulped orange juice qualified as a balanced meal. As you might imagine, not only was my stomach unhappy, but I was totally pie-eyed with sugar. I snarfed a random Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala burger (why did we only have one in the freezer? The world may never know) and brown rice, and slowly my glucose returned to its pre-Smlove level.

The Smlove waited, patiently anticipating the havoc it would wreak.

Last night, my friend called me. Could we possibly postpone our dinner plans? she asked. “I’m not making this goddamn thing again, but I think I can freeze a few pieces,” I told her. She agreed. No sooner was I off the phone than Red headed for the fridge, gleefully unwrapping the Smlove. With the ceremony befitting such a dessert, I carefully cut two of the smallest slices I could manage. They fell apart a bit as I pried them out, but that’s pretty much any first piece of pie. Red tried to give me the bigger piece. I laughed at him and took the one that looked less likely to kill me.

Reader, the Smlove lives up to its hype. (In case I haven’t hyped it enough, there are Smlove-eating contests on the PPK. The current champion ate more than three-quarters of one in about an hour. She is still alive.) It is rich and chocolatey, with a texture similar to that of chocolate cheesecake, a sassy saltiness from the pecans, and yummy peanut butter notes from all that caramel. I struggled to finish my sliver, and Red put the rest of his back in the fridge. I’m not exactly a girl who obsesses over the nutritional content of everything that goes into her mouth (TWSS!), but I found out how many calories are in this motherlover, and it is extreme. I refuse to feel guilty about food, however.

That suits the Smlove’s dark ambitions just fine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vegan Drinks, restaurant-fail edition.

Apologies for my absence of late, beloveds. I don’t have a good excuse. I’ve just been mindlessly interwebbing elsewhere, and I’ve missed you!

After work on Friday, Red and I got dolled up and went out to the Baltimore Vegan Drinks happy hour. We’ve been to two or three before, and they’ve been fun. I was especially excited for this one, as it was held at Pizzazz, a brand-new Italian restaurant with a menu boasting plenty of vegan food. Plus, it was a joint event benefiting Compassion Over Killing. What could be better?

Oh my God, let’s see…a place to sit, menus, a restaurant staff that wasn’t totally cuckoo, a band that didn’t have the amps turned up to 11, clearly delineated food and drink specials? Shall I go on?

It started with the traffic. Obviously we can’t blame the traffic on either the event organizers (Paul, you rock) or the restaurant, but I can—and will, with extreme prejudice—blame it on the thousands of drunk Orioles fans and hopeless out-of-town drivers who conspired to snarl us in a vehicular web of SUCK. Opening Day, I hate you.

So, it took us a little longer than we anticipated to make it to Pizzazz. No worries there. The worry set in when we barely cleared the threshold before running smack into a wall of bodies more suited to a mosh pit. We saw people we knew, but couldn’t get to them. Half the tables in the nearest section were reserved. The band was setting up in a space entirely too small for live music, and the outdoor patio was closed. (To be fair, it was in the 50s, but we had been expecting outdoor seating, and most restaurants have patio heaters to warm things up al fresco.) No one really seemed to have a handle on what was going on.

An official-looking woman hustled us to a table with a few people we’d met at the last Vegan Drinks. This was okay with us, because we would have eaten dinner with Jabba the Hutt at that point. A harried waitress gave us our special event menus, just before a guy appeared and asked us if we’d been seated there or, I suppose, just sort of plopped ourselves down next to the bank of reserved tables. Once he was reassured that we weren’t trying to steal anyone’s seat, I stared down the drink list with a fervor that could only be slaked by numbing quantities of alcohol. I ordered something that was basically lemonade with açaí berry vodka. Red ordered Johnny Walker. His drink had alcohol. Mine, as best I could tell, did not.

“Look, Jabba, next time you wanna talk to me, I’m gonna need two tables. And plenty of vegan food.”

Food! Blessed, blessed food. I had never had Daiya, that mythical, melty vegan cheese that was rumored to change my life, so I went for a four-cheese pizza. It was decent. The cheese had melted, but in my hyperbole-soaked brain (what’s that? Daiya cures cancer?) I had been expecting gooey strands of faux-mozzarella stretching from the pizza to my mouth. It didn’t happen. That was okay. Red’s penne Bolognese was good, but we agreed that as a whole, Pizzazz really needs to up their garlic game. More is better, people.

And then the birthday party arrived to claim their reserved tables. Oh, sweet fancy Moses, that party. They were, for the most part, lovely people. I realize that it is irrational to be annoyed that people are cooing and squealing and hauling balloons and presents into a public space that happens to be right next to my head, but the dancing. As soon as the band started (too loud, decent rock covers, not a good fit for the space or atmosphere, better luck next time), two ladies decided to jitterbug in between our tables. Please envision two people trying to dance in an airplane aisle, and you have this scene. They thoughtfully moved their routine over to the bar, right in front of the entrance, but not before I pondered throwing an ice cube at them. I begged our waitress for a Yuengling.

Suddenly, our table was abuzz. What’s that? An honored guest! Whoever could it be? President Obama? John Waters? Holy shit, it was Bruce Friedrich, and if that means something to you, you’re way ahead of where I was on Friday night. Bruce Friedrich, our dining companions excitedly informed us, is one of PETA’s VPs. If you’ve spent any time on this here blog, you know that I bit my tongue and prayed to taste blood before I said something I would regret.

John Waters and Harris Glenn Milstead (aka Divine) ca. 1970s or ’80s. Ripped from Dreamland, which you should absolutely visit.

After that? Our sweet waitress understood that we really, really wanted to get out of there and regain our hearing as well as our sanity, so she figured out our bill separately and collected a decent tip for her trouble. (Note: I’m not bragging on our super-generous tipping habits, just pointing out that even in a shitty situation, treating your waitstaff with kindness and rewarding them with more than that meager 15% is the least you can do, especially when they do nice things for you like tally up your check instead of forcing you hash it out with the rest of your table of PETA-loving near-strangers.) We grabbed our things, pleaded anniversary plans—totally not a lie: it was our anniversary, just of our engagement, not our wedding—and booked it back to the parking garage.

The leftover Daiya pizza was excellent for breakfast. With a little garlic salt on top, of course.