This piece was published in partnership with The Influence.
Cali*, a renowned artisanal Brooklyn pot dealer, tries to take her veganism very seriously.
"Everything that I do will always be vegan, although personally I will sometimes do honey," she confides. "But I like to know where my honey comes from. I will always make everything gluten free."
She increases the feel-good factor for her loyal customers by promising to donate one of her renowned edibles to a homeless person for every ten she sells. She gives them out on the streets every week or so, and says that she considers it "tithing."
Cali shows me some of her wares. "These do have soy in them, which is my only exception," she says. "My primary reason for doing this is to provide healthier options for something [my customers] already want."
She calls her signature product "my Calicakes," although in addition, "I like to call them chronic super food."
Unlike in some select states out West, the black market remains the sole source for recreational marijuana users in New York City. And delivery services have been a staple of this market for as long as I can remember.
Even though pot is still illegal in New York, some changes in enforcement—overwhelmingly applied to white marijuana users in wealthier areas—have created an unevenly liberalized environment.
In uber-cool Brooklyn, for example, scores of mom-and-pop-sized artisanal operations are flourishing to cater to an ever more discerning clientele. It's all a far cry from the sketchy, furtive meetups of yesteryear.
To sample this burgeoning culture, I'm spending the day cooking and delivering with Cali, who specializes in vegan organic edibles, delivered in an environmentally and socially conscious fashion. And as I quickly learn at Cali's kitchen in one of Brooklyn's more gentrified hoods, making "Calicakes" is no easy trick.
"As you know, coconut oil is a solid—anything over seventy-five degrees, warm it up," she says. "I infuse it with [weed] flower that comes from a really awesome source: organic outdoor. I take that flower, and I infuse it in coconut oil. I do it in a crockpot. I cook it low and slow for a few hours, and then I let it sit and infuse for a few hours. I put the flower and the oil and a little sunflower lecithin in the crockpot, then you have to strain that out. I use cheesecloth to strain it."
Once the oil is hot, the next step is heating up vegan marshmallows in a pot and mixing them with other crucial vegan ingredients, which will eventually all be mixed with puffed brown rice. Cali mixes sunflower lecithin, merengue, and mesquite into the marshmallows once they have melted, "You use lecithin in your oil because it helps the absorption of the THC once it's in your body," she says. "Also, the absorption of the THC while you are infusing it, which is why I put it in my infusions."
The lengthy process of making Calicakes involves other feats of both gastronomy and science, with different ingredients increasing the potency of the THC and balancing the flavor of the actual cake. I'll dispense with further complexities for fear of frying your brain or spilling Cali's secrets.
Plenty of trial and error apparently took place before she arrived at her formula, but Cali had a breakthrough when she decided to work with the weed flavor instead of hiding it. "For me, it started out with a desire to kind of mask the flavor of the oil, to at least make it tolerable. My oil has gotten much much better, but at the beginning it was like, Oh my God, this tastes nasty—it literally tastes like brown sludge."
Now the much-improved Calicakes are ready to be cut into squares.
Cali shows me the packaging she uses for deliveries. "So the bags are one hundred percent biodegradable instead of just cellophane plastic," she explains. "They are probably about seven cents more than I would pay for a normal bag, but I really firmly believe that we vote with every single cent, every single dollar, so if I buy crappy cellophane bags, that's the karma that I am putting out into the world. It's important."
After throwing about 40 Calicakes into her backpack, we head out to make deliveries at destinations dotted along the L line. Needless to say, everything sells fast.
The area around NYU is particularly fertile ground for sales, and a handful of college-age Calicake enthusiasts meet us in the open on the streets around Union Square. Cali says she has a good sense of which streets have the most security cameras, and that she prefers hiding in plain sight to trying to stay out of view.
The kids we meet are clearly repeat customers, picky enough to order their edibles from all the way out in Brooklyn—even though Union Square itself has something of a reputation as a hangout spot for weed aficionados.
Cali prefers to avoid traveling too far for deliveries, but sometimes it's necessary. "It's easier for me when people stay stationary, and it's so much easier for me to coordinate if I know they are gonna be there," she says.
They're there, all right, and they seem well satisfied.
Cali says she could just throw together edibles that get people high and turn a profit, but takes pride in her style of cooking, her expensive ingredients, and her grateful customer base.
"My main goal is really to show people that healthy can be delicious," she declares. "And if you are going to consume such a wonderful healing herb, then why do you want to balance that with cakes and candy and Oreos and crap all the time? You can still get your fix and not jeopardize your health."
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
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