Thursday, 7 July 2011

An ode to Ms Cupcake

This post is pretty much a wall of text, so here's a picture of my gorgeous husband, reading a book instead of talking to me when we're waiting for our food at Infinity in Brighton:

(BTW, he's wearing the shirt he was wearing when we met. Aww.)

I'm sitting here hungry, waiting for my dinner to cook, with an open package of Oreos within easy reach. So what better activity to occupy my time than writing about cupcakes?

As mentioned in my post about the last two days of our holiday, we went to Ms Cupcake when we were in London. Holy hell. Let me put it this way - if Ms Cupcake were in Edinburgh, I would be fat and poor. If I'm ever in London again, I'll be hitting up Ms Cupcake on the daily, no matter what part of the city I'm staying in. I will get a day pass for the tube and take 3 trains if I have to. Lemme tell you why.

First of all, we got off the Victoria line at Brixton. I stupidly didn't print out directions because I looked at the map before I left Edinburgh and thought, that's right around the corner, I'll be able to find that. Well, we had no idea where to go. But I had their number, and I called them up, and they told me the way. Good customer service - that's what it's all about.

Then we got there. I wouldn't say the cases were overflowing, but there were so. many. cupcakes. And cookies. All vegan, all the time. And other things as well - Plamil chocolate spread, candy bars, cake baking and decorating ingredients and equipment, and multiple copies of every cookbook written by Isa and Terry (together and solo). I think there was even some variety of vegan jerky.

We decided to get a half-dozen cupcakes (3 each), a cookie sandwich with chocolate frosting (they were out of vanilla), and some Plamil milk chocolate spread (which I talked about in my chocolate post). Mike got a triple chocolate, a chocolate raspberry, and a banoffee cupcake, and I got triple chocolate, red velvet, and gingersnap. Later that day, while at Vx, I also got another cookie sammich (vanilla this time) and sausage rolls (since we'd be on the train for 5 hours and would need something savoury to eat).

We ate the sammich cookie - two large chocolate chip cookies with a thick layer of chocolate frosting in between - while we were still at the shop. I normally prefer vanilla frosting, but I hadn't had a proper sammich cookie in a dog's age, so I took what I could get. I'm so glad I did. It was exactly what a sammich cookie should be - slightly crunchy around the edges, but nice and soft in the middle. The frosting didn't overwhelm despite being chocolate. It was like the ones I used to get at the mall, except nearly twice as big and 10 times better. When I saw the vanilla one at Vx, I thought, surely this will be the perfect sammich cookie. AND IT WAS! I hesitated a bit with the first one because we were getting all those cupcakes, but when I saw the vanilla cookies, I almost bought 2. I kinda wish I had. It might actually have been the best thing we ate on the entire trip (well, the best sweet thing for sure), and it was a day old!

Then came the cupcakes. I think Mike finished all three of his before we even got on the train, while I managed to save two of mine until the day after we got back (probably because I ate most of both of the sammich cookies). We both started out with the triple chocolate - chocolate cake, a layer of chocolate ganache, and thick*, fudgy chocolate frosting, topped with a chunk of dark chocolate and two white chocolate buttons. I usually don't go for something so chocolaty - I like chocolate, but not in such heavy doses. But when I saw it, I just thought, I'll have that. And it wasn't nearly as overwhelmingly chocolaty as I expected. It was quite good, though I kinda expected more white chocolate than just the buttons. I guess we're programmed to see "triple chocolate" and think "three varieties of chocolate" rather than "chocolate three times". Meh.

I can't say much about Mike's other cupcakes. I barely had a glance at the banoffee because I'm not a fan and didn't really care. He said it was good, not great, but you'd probably love it if you like banoffee (he didn't know if he actually did). I did have a bite of the chocolate raspberry - chocolate cake topped with (I think) a thin layer of raspberry jam and then a thick* layer of raspberry buttercream. One bite isn't much to judge by (especially since I prefer the middle and I had to have an outside bite), but it had a good flavour - you could definitely taste the raspberry. I think I might have liked a more pronounced raspberry flavour, but that might just be because of the one-bite thing.

I loved my other two cupcakes less than the cookies, but they were still great. I think the red velvet was the only one that didn't have a layer of something between the cake and the frosting. It was just red velvet cake with thick* cream cheese frosting. What can I say - it tasted the way red velvet cake is supposed to taste. The gingersnap was golden cake (I'm pretty sure the cake itself didn't have any flavouring) with a layer of ginger preserves (I assume) and thick* gingery buttercream. I liked it a lot, but I would've preferred it to be a little more gingery. Or maybe to actually have bits of gingersnap in the cake and/or frosting (a la cookies and cream cupcakes) - that would've been awesome!

We did eventually eat the sausage rolls. Sausage rolls are something I prefer hot, but I usually end up eating them at room temperature because I'm usually eating them on the go. I'm used to dry, slightly stale-tasting, not very full sausage rolls from Holland and Barrett. But these were actually really good. They had a decent amount of sausage wrapped in gorgeous flaky pastry. They were lovely.

So, in case you couldn't tell, I'm now a huge fan of Ms Cupcake. If you're in London, even if you're not vegan, hit them up. You won't be disappointed.

I think I'm gonna experiment with those gingersnap cupcakes this weekend! That sounds like a good use of my time. I'll probably blog about that on Sunday.

*I keep talking about the frosting being thick. Here's why - the frosting on every cupcake was nearly as thick as the cakes themselves. It was at least an inch and a half to two inches thick. I had to bite from the top so I could sink my teeth into the frosting before getting the cake in order to not have a nose full of frosting. It was some thick damn frosting.

Monday, 4 July 2011


I might try to make this a regular feature, because I do eat a lot of chocolate. But I had a lot of different chocolate while I was on holiday, so I figured I'd give a bit of a review for everything I tried.

First up:

Plamil milk chocolate spread - I did this one first because it's short and sweet (no pun intended). Simply put, this stuff has the taste and texture of a melted candy bar. I don't know if it's the heat or just this stuff, but you could pour it, it's so thin. I could drink it from the jar (and would if I didn't have any self-control). Oh, and it's organic! So it's all kinds of awesome. You can purchase this directly from Plamil, from a number of other online shops, or at Ms Cupcake or Vx if you're in London.


Montezuma's Sea Dog - dark chocolate with lime oil and sea salt. I love sea salt and chocolate. I think it's one of the best combinations anyone ever came up with. But this - this, I do not like. I find the chocolate too dark/bitter and the lime too overpowering. The lime overwhelmed the salt, which I thought needed to be much more prominent. I got it cheaper in Brighton than I would've gotten it here, so at least I wasted less money on it. Slightly loved bar of chocolate - free to good home. As far as I know, you can buy these directly from Montezuma or at any number of health food shops (I know Real Foods carries it).

Moving on:

Isis Luxury Belgian Pralinoir - This is the stuff of dreams. I had to exercise some serious restraint to keep from eating it all in one go. It's like a melty Crunch or Krackle bar, except slightly thinner and with a more "adult" taste due to the hazelnut praline. It's so soft (straight from the package, right off the shelf) that you can bend it. It's got some nice biscuity bits in it for texture and deliciousness. I'm almost glad we found this stuff on our last full day in Brighton, or I might have gone back to the store and bought a case. To the best of my knowledge, these can only be bought in Waitrose, though I haven't found it at either Edinburgh Waitrose yet. Hopefully that will change soon. It's so good!

And last but not least:

Go Max Go vegan candy bars - Let me preface by saying that I've only had the Twilight and the Buccaneer. I'm not a fan of dessicated coconut and can't eat the Jokerz for obvious death-inducing reasons. Buccaneer is what those of you in the US would call a Three Musketeers (not sure if there's a UK equivalent), and Twilight is a Milky Way (US)/Mars bar (UK). From the best of my recollection, these taste just like the non-vegan originals. And even if my memory is tainted, they're close enough that I don't care. They're just so good. Go Max has come out with something like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (Cleo's) and Krackle/Crunch (Snap), neither of which I've had but the latter of which I'd love to try. Unfortunately, unless you live in Brighton (or possibly London), you'll be hard pressed to find these in a shop. Hopefully that'll change soon. I got my stash at Loving Hut in Brighton, but for those of us who don't actually live there, you can also buy them from Veganstore. And of course people in the US will have easier access, though I think there are still few stores that carry them (but do feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - no one should miss out on these). Now all they need to do is make vegan versions of Twix and Kit Kat. Mmm.

All this chocolate talk is making my want to eat my last two Go Max bars, so I'll stop there. I'll hopefully post my review of Ms Cupcake tomorrow.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Adventure, excitement - a Jedi craves not these things.

I decided to cover the last two days of our holiday in Brighton in this post because there was so much to cover. I hope you're still awake by the end.

Day 4 (Thursday):

We started off with brunch at Wai Kika Moo Kau. We both had the vegan full breakfast, minus the tomato because the pesto was made with something I'm allergic to. I had a lovely chai latte with my brunch. The food was average - I'm pretty sure the beans and shrooms (at least) came from a can, and the sausage was probably Linda McCartney (though I can't really remember). They subbed baked tofu for the fried egg - unseasoned, unmarinated baked tofu, which was kinda weird.

Then we went to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. It was, again, a bit of a hodge-podge - everything related to Brighton, but stuff like the Ancient Egypt exhibit felt a bit incongruous next to the "life in Brighton"-type exhibits (which most of the rest of the museum was). But it was good. We were gonna go to the Royal Pavilion, but Mike was bored/tired, so we skipped it and instead did a bit more shopping. We checked out Taj, which was like a cross between Real Foods and Maqbool (the shop across from the AI building on Potterow). Then we got Mike a new t-shirt - a gray shirt with Clyde, the orange ghost from Pacman, on the front. We then got some snacks at Waitrose, including the elusive Isis Luxury Belgian Pralinoir - I've looked at both Edinburgh Waitrose locations for this stuff multiple times and never found it. It's amazing - more on it in a later post.

Mike decided that he was too tired for dinner, so I went to Loving Hut (again) by myself and got the burger and fries (and also grabbed a few more Go Max bars). Honestly, this was one of the best meals I'd eaten the whole trip - it was exactly what I wanted in a burger and fries. I also got a piece of the cheesecake. I stupidly forgot to ask what was in it - I even thought about it but decided not to ask (mostly because I'd already paid for it). Mistake!

About 2 bites in, I started to feel tingly in my mouth/throat (I assumed it was made from cashews). I calmly took my plate inside (I was eating outside because there were too many people inside when I got there) and took 2 Benadryl, which usually does the trick. I got something for Mike to eat and went back to the hotel. At this point, my eyes and pallet started to swell, I couldn't breathe through my nose, and I broke out in hives. We ended up having to go to A&E (in a taxi - the NHS Direct nurse said, since I was still breathing, she couldn't justify an ambulance). They gave me more meds, kept me there to see I got better, checked me out again and sent me home. They wanted to give me a scrip for an epipen, but I would've had to get it filled at their pharmacy (which was closed at the time), and we were leaving the next day, so they strongly suggested I speak to my dr about getting one. And I will - promise! They also sent us to an all-night pharmacy to get some OTC stuff, and the pharmacy turned out to be closed. And then it turned out that the taxi driver didn't take cards, so we had to be taken to a cash machine so we could pay him. We eventually got sorted and got back to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 5 (Friday):

Last day in Brighton! We started off with a trip to Infinity (the shop) to pick up some stuff I don't have access to here - Pepperjack, Bacon, and Bleu Cheezly and Tofutti sour cream (which seems to be available everywhere but Edinburgh). We then went to the Infinity Cafe for brunch. We both had the vegan full breakfast, which was so much better than the one at Wai Kika Moo Kau. First of all, it contained veg! The sausage was the same as the sammich I'd had a couple of days earlier, and they just threw the beans on top of the toast. But the mushroom (a big-ass portobello) was delicious - garlicky, meaty, a little salty - and I got two since Mike doesn't like shrooms! It was incredibly filling - shrooms, spinach, potato wedges, beans, toast, rashers and sausage. Some evil bastard bought the last piece of mocha cake, and the only other option that would've been appealing the day before was the cheesecake, of which, by that point, I was terrified, so we didn't get dessert. Then we walked to the train and went back to London.

Our first stop in London was Ms Cupcake. We got a half-dozen cupcakes (3 each), a sandwich cookie with chocolate frosting (they were out of vanilla), and some Plamil milk chocolate spread (I buy the plain almost exclusively, so we wanted to try this other option that we don't otherwise have). I'll talk more about Ms Cupcake in another post, but know this - if you're vegan and in London, it's worth the trip no matter what part of town you're in.

Despite the fact that we'd just eaten a giant-ass sammich cookie, we decided to go to lunch first, then find a place for Mike to sit at the station while I went to my next destination. Lunch was at Mestizo - their vegan menu isn't online, but they do have a separate one that you can ask for.

We split an order of panuchos

and an order of the enchiladas with salsa roja.

The panuchos - corn pastries filled with refried beans and topped with a red sauce and marinated onions - were incredibly delicious. The enchiladas - potato with probably the same red sauce, served with black beans and rice - were perfect. The whole experience was excellent - perfectly seasoned beans, fluffy rice, red sauce wasn't too spicy, potatoes were cooked properly. I wish I didn't have to go to London to get that again, but if we ever do have to go to London again, we'll definitely be hitting Mestizo for a proper meal (because I could eat the hell out of a couple of orders of panuchos).

After Mestizo, we got back on the Victoria line and headed for King's Cross. Mike found a convenient place to sit, and I headed up the road to Vx. It's a small shop that manages to pack in a ton of stuff - mostly vegan junk food, but also fresh-baked sweet and savoury goods from Ms Cupcake, shirts, shoes, accessories and a few cosmetics. I got 2 packages of fake Oreos, some chocolate-covered vanilla sandwich cookies (prepackaged), another Ms Cupcake sandwich cookie (this one with vanilla frosting, which I prefer), some Ms Cupcake sausage rolls, a donut stick, and a tube of chai spice lip balm. Then I went back to the train station - this whole trip took all of 30 minutes, so we still had about 2 hours to kill before our train at 7.30 (last one out until the sleeper).

About an hour before our train, we discovered that there had been a fatality at Alexandra Palace (I think), so all the trains were delayed. We thought we'd be sitting in the station for a few hours, but luckily Mike checked on our train and found that we'd been assigned a platform. When we got on the train, we realised that we were sharing with the 7pm train, so there were no seat reservations. Luckily, we found two seats together. Of course, it being first class, there were bound to be some privileged, entitled middle-class white folks who got their knickers in a twist because people were sitting in "their seats". We explained to them that there were no reservations because the trains were combined, and they continued to bitch and moan - but as they walked through the door, so I didn't have to pay any more attention to them. We left near 8pm, and then we were further delayed for some other reason, so we ended up being about an hour behind schedule. We finally got in to Edinburgh around 1.15am, and then we had to wait for a taxi. The taxi rank was full of people but empty of taxis because, of course, it was well past the time for the last train. But some kind soul at the station called one of the companies, so the taxis started arriving, and we managed to get home just before 2am.

Overall, it was a decent trip, though I have to say that I preferred Nottingham. I guess I just had my expectations too high, so I was disappointed on a lot of fronts. But I'm super picky about my food, so others who are less so would probably love it. I also had to contend with someone who, let's face it, doesn't really like to do stuff, so actually doing anything other than eating was a bit of a chore. Maybe next time, we'll agree a couple of things to do together but otherwise explore separately (or, more accurately, I'll explore while he reads in the hotel room). I'd still recommend Brighton to anyone, especially if you're more able to explore or are more inclined to Brighton's other amenities, like the pier or beach.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Holiday in the sun

We just got back from Brighton early this morning (nearly 2am - more on that later). We had a really good time, met some awesome folks, and ate a ton of junk (candy bars for breakfast more than once). I felt that giving a more detailed account than I would've given on the Facebook would be a good way to get me back into the blogging habit outside of Vegan MoFo (and give me more license to ramble), so expect a couple of posts in the next few days. Not only do I have a couple of posts about the holiday lined up, I'm also gonna do a couple reviews - specifically on chocolate and Ms Cupcake. So, on to the holiday review!

Day 1 (Monday):

We traveled from Edinburgh to London first class. Having gone to London on our honeymoon, Mike decided that 4.5 hours in standard was just no good on his legs. I didn't think first class was all that different to having a table seat in standard, but I guess it was better for him. We started off the trip with a mini-adventure - we had a last-minute change of platform and none of the catering stuff got onto the train. Apparently you get a bunch of free stuff in first class, but we mostly didn't bother (though we did on the way back).

We had planned on stopping for lunch in London, but we'd both eaten enough on the train that we weren't that hungry and just wanted to get to our final destination, so we skipped it. We got to Brighton around 2.30 and made our way to the hotel. We got a bit lost on the way there because Google's directions were a bit crap. When we finally got there and checked in, we were given the wrong room and ended up walking in on some people (who thankfully were fully clothed). We did eventually get a key for an empty room (which we later discovered had a nasty kettle with junk all over the inside (possibly limescale) that they didn't change after we asked - avoid Travelodge Brighton if you can).

It was balls hot in Brighton that day, and we hadn't had much to drink since we were on the train, so we made our way to Shakeaway. We'd had a good experience with them in Nottingham, so we were really looking forward to it. Mike got the coffee shake and I got a Bourbon biscuit shake (both of which we'd had last year). I have to say, neither of us was impressed. It tasted like they used Tofutti ice cream, which frankly isn't that great. (If you've ever had ice milk (not vegan), that gives you some idea of what Tofutti ice cream tastes like. It's nothing like it is in the Cuties.) After that we hit up Lush (we needed shampoo) and Waterstones (Mike had already finished all of his books), then went to dinner at Loving Hut after an insane taxi driver made me fear for my life. Mike had the veggie chow mein, and I had the stir-fry vermicelli. They were both really tasty, but I preferred mine. For dessert, I had a Tofutti Cutie and Mike had a Tofutti Rock 'n' Roll cone, and we bought a few Go Max candy bars (2 each of Twilight and Buccaneer).

Day 2 (Tuesday):

We had another mini-adventure on the second day. The plan was to do lunch at VBites, so we got on the bus to go most of the way and then walk the rest of the way. There was a march that held up the bus for about 15 minutes (we later guessed, from their "Psychiatry - an Industry of Death" banner, that they were Scientologists). We weren't sure where to get off the bus, so we ended up getting off way too early and had to walk about 20 minutes before we got there. Mike got a burger, chips and a mocha, and I got a bacon cheeseburger, chips and a chai latte. They screwed up 2 of the 3 elements of my order - no bacon on my burger and coffee with chai syrup for my chai latte. They fixed the chai, but I couldn't be bothered with the burger. Oh, and the chips were overcooked. Then, worst of all, the main reason I was there was for a soft-serve ice cream cone, and their machine was broken. Boo-urns. After that, we went to the Hove Gallery and Museum. It was a bit strange - there was no theme other than stuff that may have happened or is tangentially related to Hove. This part of the day was punctuated by a couple of pretty hefty thunderstorms that we just managed to miss the worst of - we saw some lightning at VBites and heard some thunder at the museum but were inside for most of the rain.

That evening, we were privileged to have dinner at Pho with a few PPKers - jojo and her mr, messyveggie and her mr, baps, and Ruby Rose. We had a great time, and the food was fantastic. I had some fried noodles (can't remember the Vietnamese name) and Mike had the tofu pho and veggie spring rolls. I really wish they'd open a location in Edinburgh. We then moved on to Terre a Terre for dessert, where most of us had the famed (and one of only 2 vegan options) churros with chocolate sauce and vodka cherries. They were delicious, though not really churros (not the way I remember churros) - they were thicker and doughier and not quite as crispy. I wouldn't say no to them if offered, though. Meeting everyone was really great - everyone was so nice and funny and just completely awesome, and I'm really looking forward to the PPKamping trip in August!

Day 3 (Wednesday):

This was a lazy day - we didn't even get up until about noon. We had lunch at Infinity. Mike had the sausage and puy lentil stew (special),

I had the hot sausage sandwich (which was cold by the time I ate it),

and we shared some garlic bread. The food was average at best - my sammich had a single piece of (probably Taifun) sausage, split down the middle, and Mike didn't eat most of his. We both had mocha cake for dessert, which tasted really good but was a bit dense.

We kinda had our early anniversary dinner on the Wednesday night at Terre a Terre. We started with the garlic foccacia and hoisin tofu, both of which were really nice. Mike had the Rosti Raj and I had the Rosti Revisited. Mike didn't seem super keen on his - I think he thought the mango was a bit weird. Mine, on the other hand, was one of the nicest things I've ever eaten. It was basically just a giant hash brown with spinach and a bit of tofu with some green sauce, but it was incredibly delicious. I wish I could've eaten it again, and the memory of it is making my mouth water. Nom. The choice of sorbets didn't strike our fancy, and we'd had the churros the night before, so we just had the boozy rum truffles for dessert. They were great - just enough rum to taste without having an overpowering feeling of alcohol, and the chocolate wasn't overwhelming (not too dense or bitter). Overall, it was a really good meal, and I didn't expect to be so full when it was finished considering the usual inverse correlation of price to amount of food (i.e., the more you pay, the less you get).

I'll leave this for now and do the last two days in another post, since we did a bit more in those two days. I apologise for the lack of pictures - I kept forgetting and didn't take very many.