When is a Sno Ball not a Sno Ball?

Yesterday I visited a newish vegetarian/vegan restaurant named Source. Despite the hippie-dippie vibe (their fermented tea beverages are “infused with energetic information of love”), their pizza, made in a gas-burning brick oven, was divine, dripping with so much truffle oil that it gave off that earthy pheromone scent that drives me crazy. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to eat it or to *&$#@ it. It’s odd to think that I would make a special trip to a mostly vegan restaurant to eat pizza, but I would absolutely go out of my way for one of their Magic Mushroom pies. (The restaurant’s two concessions to non-vegan food are honey, which sweetens some of the beverages, and cheese—which is not surprising, considering that one of the owners starting making homemade mozzarella in NYC more than 20 years ago).

But some of the most charming items on the menu are the vegan desserts, many of which mimic the junk food many of us ate as kids. Do you think Twinkies are gross? Well, how about a Twinkee, a vegan sponge cake filled with vanilla creme? Or maybe a Moon Pie, made with vegan chocolate chip cookies? But the dessert that really called my name was the Snowball, which came in a bajillion flavors, like lemon cake with lemon frosting and chocolate cake filled with strawberry jam and covered in thin slivers of decorative dried strawberries. After much waffling I decided on this one …

The vegan chocolate frosting covering the vegan chocolate cake may not have been as creamy as the brown sugar buttercream frosting I made last weekend to frost a birthday cake (which contained, I might add, the decidedly un-vegan ingredients of heavy cream, a bucket of egg yolks, and a whole pound of butter), but with all those well-salted crunchy peanuts coating the outside, you would never notice, and it also achieved the perfect sweet-salty balance that makes me go bonkers for chocolate-covered pretzels and salted caramel ice cream. Though I usually choose desserts that contain a healthy (or unhealthy!) dollop of cream and eggs, I’ll take  this vegan version over the original Sno Ball any day, which apparently contains the following:

Sugar, Water, Corn Syrup, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour, Coconut (Sulfite Treated), Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable and/or Animal Shortening (Soybean, Cottonseed and/or Canola Oil, Beef Fat), High Fructose Corn Syrup. Contains 2% or Less of: Cocoa, Pork Gelatin, Modified Corn Starch, Glucose, Sweet Dairy Whey, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Mono and Diglycerides, Soy Flour, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Cornstarch, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Dextrose, Cellulose Gum, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate and Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness). Coatings Contain: Blue (FD&C Blue 1 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Green (Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 1 Lake), Lavender (Blue 2 Lake, Carmine, Red 40 Lake), Orange (Yellow 6 Lake), Red (Red 40 Lake), Pink (Carmine, Red 40 Lake), Teal (Blue 1 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake), Yellow (Yellow 5 Lake)

I can’t think of any better reason to pull out the stand mixer and do a little baking from scratch.


The end of an era


A few weeks ago, my parents, who live in Houston, decided at the last minute to host not one but two different parties (on consecutive nights, no less) to celebrate my father’s retirement. It’s not clear whether it was their fondest wish to have their beloved youngest daughter (ahem, that would be me!) in town for the celebrations, or whether they simply didn’t want to be bothered manning the cocktail shaker for each of the  parties. Regardless, they flew me home for a quick two-day trip to join in the festivities. Though it was undoubtedly generous of them to spring for my last-minute plane ticket from San Francisco, at least it was cheaper than hiring a bartender two nights in a row, as I frequently reminded them during my short trip home.

I’ve written about having parties in Houston before. I like to whinge about how my parents’ suburban liquor store doesn’t stock Miclo creme de violette from France or my favorite brands of French Cognac, or about how I have to make do with my parents’ too-large tumblers instead of having access to my own collection of highball and old-fashioned glasses. The same was true this time, and so, mixologically speaking, these parties weren’t my finest moment of cocktail achievement. I tried to take advantage of the produce in my parents garden (at this point a bit wilted from weeks on end of 100+ degree heat), and I had to concede that half of the guests would rather have a Shiner Bock beer (Texas’s best brew) or vodka martini (the saddest “cocktail” ever, in my opinion) rather than take a leap with a cocktail concoction they had never heard of before. At least I turned my most loyal blog reader onto my own desert island cocktail, the Sidecar, which was initially a hard sell among the Houstonians.

Although the cocktails I made  (basil-gin gimlets, mojitos, sidecars, and the London Dry Sangria I worked out for a wedding a few weeks ago) weren’t particularly inventive, the parties were a great success … less because of the food and drink and more because of the occasion we were celebrating.

My father went to work for the U.S. space program, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in 1966, two years before I was born. With his electrical engineering degree, he started working on the primitive computers that guided the Apollo rockets in their flight. I love these photos of my dad working for the space program during the Apollo program because in some ways they look so unlike him (he’s nearing his 70th birthday), and yet in other ways they are so clearly him.

Dad during an Apollo flight

Dad supporting an Apollo flight

Dad is on the right

Since Dad starting working for the space program not quite two years before I was born, it has been a part of my life all my years. My very first memory as a child is of watching one of the Apollo rockets lift off. We lived in Titusville, Florida, at the time, about 15 miles away from where the rockets launched. My father always had to be at work during the launches, which took place in the early morning, which meant that my older sister and I were always home alone with my mother. I remember our mother plucking us out of bed in our pajamas and sitting on the back of our Dodge sedan in the carport while we watched an Apollo rocket rise into the sky, looking for all the world as if it we could just reach out and touch it.

As much as the space program has been a part of my life, this was even more so for my parents. At one of my Dad’s retirement parties he mentioned that there had been 135 shuttle launches. Since he specialized, among other things, in launch support, he would always get up in the wee hours and go to work at Mission Control for each launch (actually, he was usually in the room next to Mission Control, where he and the other engineers would monitor the systems). I asked him how many of those 135 launches he had missed, and he said that he had been at Mission Control, or at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for all but three or four of them. Add in the 15 or so Apollo launches he participated in between 1966 and 1972 and he witnessed the arc of the U.S. space program for 45 years.

So even though Dad is more of a beer drinker than a sophisticated cocktail tippler (hey, at least he graduated from Schaefer Light to Heineken some years ago!), I raise a cocktail (maybe a Blue Moon, one of the few cocktails other than Aviation to use my beloved creme de violette) to Dad. Now all I need is one of these cocktail shakers for my next party in Houston.