Desserts. Those have been by far what I've missed most since becoming a vegan three months ago.
Meat? Not a problem, I've been a vegetarian for over two years. Cheese? A walk in the park. Never really loved it anyway.
But ice cream, pies and cupcakes? Those can't be replaced. At least not with the store-bought boxed versions. Their texture is off, or they taste … healthier. That's because they are. They have no eggs, milk, butter and other animal products, but that's not what desserts are supposed to taste like. They're supposed to taste like they're bad for you. It's what makes them great. And, contrary to popular belief, whether we give up all animal products on moral reasons (like myself) or for health reasons, we vegans do enjoy good food, we're just pickier about the ingredients.
If I lived in a vegan-friendly mecca like Los Angeles or Portland, I'm sure I could have a vegan treat that tastes like the real thing. But could I get that Florida? I embarked on a quest to find out.
A quick Internet search and a phone call and I found Frostings, Etc. in Tampa. They didn't make them every day but if I let them know when I would stop by, there would be a batch of vegan cupcakes waiting. I made my way across the Howard Frankland the next day — with a meat- and dairy-eating friend who could objectively judge their taste — and there they were, 12 white fluffy coconut vegan cupcakes. Who needs cream cheese when you can make light frosting like this with coconut oil?
I tried my pre-veganism favorite spots after that, but none fit my new diet. Luckily word travels fast when you vent to your friends, and soon one told me to visit Sweet!, a gourmet cupcake store on Fourth Street in St. Pete.
The pink and white shop had cupcakes in all different colors decorating the counter and two vegan flavor options, strawberry or chocolate. I chose the latter and was in heaven. If a brownie and a cupcake ever got married and had a love child, this would be it. Thick, dense and chocolatey with a creamy palm oil-based frosting, I had to call back to make sure it was vegan.
My next stop took dedication and a GPS. To find Stacy's Gluten Free Goodies, I drove 45 miles to New Tampa. The petite cakes carried an intense chocolate flavor made extra moist by the frosting. And their cookies were delicious too.
Many phone calls and many "no's" later, I passed by Rollin' Oats, the health food store where I shop every week, after work. I swerved into their parking lot, but it was too late, they were sold out. If I wanted a vegan cupcake, I had to come back another day, preferably in the morning. Two days later I left my house early. There they were, fist-sized chocolate cupcakes with a thick fudge-like frosting and small pieces of toasted coconut on top. It was so flavorful it took me all day to eat the whole thing.