Tuesday, September 01, 2015

VeganMoFo Day1: Breakfast time!



WoooHooo! It's MoFo Season again! This is my 9th year straight of participating. That first year that I participated, I missed one day because we stayed in a hotel and their wifi didn't work. I was bummed. Other than that, I have a perfect streak of posting every single MoFo day for all those years. Hopefully I can keep the streak going this year. This month is a busy one, so I actually got a head start a couple of weeks ago with some of my posts. I can't wait to see all your posts and Instagram pics and Facebook updates and all! Please leave a comment and tell me where to find and your MoFo efforts. (I'll be doing bonus posts on Instagram: @ameyfm)


Tofu Cubes (from Oh She Glows Cookbook), Stone fruits, hot coffee, crossword puzzle.

Today's MoFo prompt: "Rise and shine! It's MoFo time! Tell us about your breakfast"

First things first, I am a fan of breakfast. I wake up hungry and I generally start eating within about 15 minutes of getting out of bed. Ha ha. A couple days a week, I work out early with my trainer, and have to wait until I get home again to eat. It is such a hardship.



Here's how the best-case-scenario morning goes:

I wake up, at least 30 minutes earlier than I actually intend to get out of bed... mostly so that I can appreciate the joy of pet cuddles while awake. During this time I like to surf around on my phone, or just cuddle the various sleepy cuties surrounding me on the bed.

driveway time

Once I get up, the first thing I do is go out into the driveway to get the paper. (Yes, I still get the newspaper delivered. I am old-fashioned / actually old). This outing is partly so that I can fetch the paper, and partly so that I can have a fun little driveway time with the pets. It started out that it was just a special time for Yummers and me, but then the dogs caught on that Yummers was getting to go out to the driveway, and now the whole gang comes along. It's really cute. Yummers goes straight to work at eating grass. Dottie goes straight to peeing on the orange tree. Snoopy follows her, mostly to pee whereever Dottie has peed. Sweet little Stevie just comes out to say hi and get some extra morning enthusiasm, and then she goes right back inside and right back to bed until we feed her. It is so damned cute. She is really the best. Footie goes off and disappears to do his own thing, which is mysterious and unknown to us.

Then I take my newspaper, assemble my breakfast, and get to work with my favorite little routine. If there's time, I love to do the crossword puzzle. I started doing the crossword puzzles about a year ago and I'm getting better. Mondays and Tuesdays I can definitely do the NYT puzzle. Wednesdays it's hit or miss, it's often too hard for me. After that, I'm really out of the running. But luckily for me, our local paper also carries an easier crossword puzzle, so when in need I do that one instead. If there's no time, I postpone my crossword joy for lunch, which is something nice to look forward to. 

Rice cakes with Kite Hill Chive Cream Cheese, white nectarine, coffee.

I usually get into a bit of a system for breakfast, and eat the same thing for at least for a week or so at a time. Mostly this is so that I can wake up and begin eating as soon as possible, without a terrible wave of breakfast uncertainty washing over me in my fragile morning hours. 

One thing that has been consistent through the summer is a good, summery nectarine. I LOVE nectarines! Especially the white ones. Also coffee. At least half the time, I just make decaf, but I still like to have coffee. I like the taste, and I like how it's super warm and toasty and makes me feel cozy. Also I like how I can savor my coffee long after I've finished eating my breakfast. 


Homemade soy yogurt, white nectarine, muesli

The yogurt and muesli is a good fall back, and it's light and fruity, which I enjoy on a nice sunny morning.

I couldn't wait to take a bite.

 That said, lately I've been a bit more enchanted with savory breakfasts. I find them much more satisfying. Lately I've actually been eating loads of Kittee's pudlas for breakfasts, like day after day after day. I love that I can make a batch of batter and then divvy it up, and cook up a piping hot veggie pancake each morning in about 10 minutes. Even with a savory breakfast though, I gotta have my white nectarine or the world will go out of balance.

Nectarines won't be in season too much longer, so then I'll have to switch to oranges or back to strawberries, or whatever fruits I can find at the farmer's market. 

Here's to a hearty breakfast that keeps us all going strong through the rigorous demands of MoFo! 


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Complete Guide to (Even More) Vegan Substitutions: Review and Giveaway

Back in the day, when I was a wee vegan, there weren't many vegan cook books out there. I think I was already vegan for a couple years before I bought my first all-vegan cookbook ("How It All Vegan" by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard). I had been a vegetarian since age 14, so I had a number of vegetarian cookbooks with recipes that were vegan or mostly vegan, but I also frequently engaged in the lost of "veganizing" non-vegan recipes.

i had a ponytail back then

Of course it's wonderful to have vegan cookbooks coming out of our ears these days (remember when you felt a moral obligation to buy every vegan cookbook that managed to get published? ha ha). But there's also a part of me that misses the adventure and mystery and reckless abandon of the time when there was all that veganizing going on. 

you can't tell in this picture, but this book is a really great & user-friendly size

Well, now there's a new cookbook that does it all! "The Complete Guide to Even More Vegan Food Substitutions," by Joni Marie Newman and Celine Steen is both an excellent cookbook full of appealing recipes, and a very thorough guide to learning how to make your own veganizing decisions. It's so cool! 

The book is broken into sections based on what is being substituted: Milk Substitutions, Cheese Substitutions, Egg Substitutions in Savory Dishes, Egg Substitutions in Baking, Chicken and Beef Subsittutions, Seafood Substitutions, Bacon Substitutions (a whole chapter!), and also a chapter called "No Mimicking Meat." Plus, there is an extensive "Complete Chart of Vegan Food Substitutions" ~ including all the possible substitutions you could imagine. Again, I must say, it's so cool! 

Mushroom Broth Powder

This homemade broth powder was easy and fun to make, and was called for in several of the dishes I made. It's a quick zip-zip in the food processor, and suddenly you've got a lovely umami blast to add to your other recipes. I love that The Complete Guide to (Even More) Food Substitutions includes so many recipes for kitchen staples like this.  I still have about half of this batch left, and I put it in a spice jar so that it will last until I need to make another batch. 

Cook-Off Chili with Roasted Corn

One of the features that I really like in this book is that every once in a while they'll have a two-page spread, and on the lefthand page is a non-vegan recipe, while on the right is their veganized version of the same recipe. Substitutions that they made are highlighted and clearly explained... all so that you can start to understand the art and science of veganizing recipes.

This is one of the recipes in the book that includes a non-vegan (aka "original") version of the recipe on one page, and then a veganized version on the opposing page... along with the authors' thoughts and ideas on converting the original recipe into a vegan adaptation. It's really interesting to read, even as an experienced vegan.

Let me tell you, this is a really great chili recipe!! I have plenty of chili recipes in my life, but this is one of my new favorites for sure. I absolutely loved the flavors, and the edition of the roasted corn -- which was as easy and very worthwhile addition. My other favorite chili is the one with Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes from Appetite for Reduction, but not everyone is up for Brussels sprouts in their chili, if you know what I mean. I think this is now my favorite "traditional" chili recipe. I'm already looking forward to making it again.


Scallion Kale Pudla

Yum yum yum yum! Lately I've been on a real pudla kick. In case you don't already know about these savory veggie pancakes made with chickpea flour batter... you should check out Kittee's inspirational pudla post from quite a while back. The recipe in this cookbook is a great variation with a slight twist of East Asian flavors, and packed full with scallions and kale, both of which I love. I made this for breakfast a few days in a row and really loved it.


Cauliflower Taco Crumbles

Genius Idea! These little cauliflower crumbles were so easy to prepare and were so tasty. Cauliflower isn't as high-protein as seitan or tofu, but it actually does have a pretty good protein level - and it's also super yummy and healthy and low-cal. This minced cauliflower (I used a food processor) is mixed with a rich array of seasoning and then roasted until just a little chewy. So good!

the crumbles put to use in delicious tacos

As you can see, we had a lovely little taco night with these crumbles, along with some good salsa, some fresh yellow tomatoes, guacamole, and cabbage. Such a great summery dinner.


Sassy Hot Sauce Chickpea Sticks

MmmmMmmm. Imagine Torta di Ceci (aka Farinata) + Polenta + Umami Blast, then cut it into little french fry shapes, and roast it all up... and that's what you've got here. These little babies were rich and dense and somewhat irresistible. I dipped them in some homemade ranch dressing, as per their suggestion, as that was a great idea. I gave some to Mr. VE&T, but then I "accidentally" kept eating his. Oooops!


Asopao de Frijoles
We have a winner!!! Mr VE&T loved this dinner so much that he actually said "I'm making out with this." ha ha / ew? Anyhow, we both loved it. It was easy and quick to make, low-cal, and packed with flavor. This recipe is a veganized version of a Puerto Rican stew that is traditionally made with chicken -- instead, this recipe uses black beans. The flavors are abundant and rich, without feeling at all heavy or overdone. I also loved the addition of capers and green olives, for a little special touch... This recipe is definitely going on our re-make list.

Overall Thoughts:
I think this book is totally great as a cookbook: it's chock full of super appealing recipes for meals, and it also contains many recipes for elemental vegan substitutes that you can make yourself: things like broth powder, creamer, yogurt, cream cheese, seitan, bacon, ricotta, vegan butter, etc etc. The layout is clear and easy to use, with one recipe per page, many beautiful pictures, and clear indications of which recipes are soy-free, gluten-free, no-added oil, quick-and-easy, and so on.

I also think this book is super useful as a resource for learning to veganize your own favorite recipes and family recipes from your pregan days, if that exciting world of veganizing recipes is of interest to you.


Giveaway! 
In addition to the copy I was sent to review for this post, the publishers have also offered to send a copy to one winner from the USA or Canada. To enter, please just leave a comment on this blog post -- tell me about something you've successfully veganized, or un-successfully tried to veganize, or just dreamed about veganizing. Maybe this book will help you in your quest! I'll pick a contest winner in one week, using the random number generator. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Super Fancy Miyoko Creamery Vegan Cheese Party

Our gal Miyoko is on fire! Super Vegan Phenom Miyoko Schinner is busily promoting her stellar new cookbook "The Homemade Vegan Pantry" (read my glowing review here) and adding more cheeses to her line of Miyoko's Creamery Products. I saw Miyoko speak on a panel at the VidaVeganCon Conference and it was great. She seems to be bursting at the seams with ideas and energy and passion and commitment!! 

YES!

Five glorious boxes of vegan majesty! I must say, I absolutely love the Miyoko's Creamery packaging. It's classy and elegant and beautiful. When you open the boxes, each cheese round is carefully wrapped and sealed with a sticker. It all makes you feel very elegant. I like pretty things and I appreciate the work that goes into making something feel fancy and special.

a note about the shipping process:
These were sent to me from Miyoko's Creamery for review, and I must say, the shipping worked quite nicely. I think they were sent via 2-day shipping, but when they arrived, they were in a very tidy, thoroughly insulated box and the ice packs (and the cheese!) inside were still cold. If you're considering an order, you can rest assured that the shipping method will keep your cheese cool!

~~~~

What's a girl to do with five lovely rounds of Miyoko Cheese? 
Invite some vegan friends over for a Super Fancy Vegan Cheese Party! 
(Duh! )




I invited my friends Sophia & Max and (my new vegan friend) Connie over for an evening of cheese tasting and sampling. It was so much fun eating and comparing notes and laughing and generally just having a gay old vegan time. 



Here are the cheeses all laid out on my nicest cutting board. Is it weird that I have more than 5 cheese knives? Fellow VidaVeganCon attendees will spot the lovely cheese knives we each got from Miyoko's Creamery in our swag bags. Up to this point, my cheese knives have been more useful for dips or spreads at parties... but it finally feels like the World of Vegan Cheese has gained enough momentum that I'll actually be busting them out more and more often for fancy cheese plates!


Nerd Party

Warning! We did indeed have a classy affair, but it was also tres serious, with much sophisticated nerdery going on. When my guests arrived, they were greeted by a glorious spread, but also by some homework: tasting cards and pencils so that we could each annotate our thoughts of each of the different cheeses. I looked online for ideas about what questions to ask, and my friends later ribbed me about the redundancy of a few of them. Whatever! I may have 5 cheese knives, but I'm still a vegan for god's sake. I wasn't sure what kinds of cheese questions to ask about cheese, but this is what I came up with: 

First Impression: / Appearance: / Consistency: / Favorite Pairings: / Overall: 

Cheese Tasting Go-withs

In keeping with my nerdy nature, I looked up ideas for cheese parties online and got lots of ideas about what sorts of nibbles were most frequently paired with fancy cheeses. I had so much fun coming up with ideas, and I basically went with every suggested item that was already vegan.

Here you see, Baguette slices, Late July Classic Rich crackers, dark Danish Rye Bread, water crackers, fresh basil leaves, and sun-dried tomatoes.


More Elegent Cheese Pairing Options

This was the less savory side of the table: roasted delicata squash half-moons, cucumber slices, halved cherry tomatoes (from our garden!), fresh figs, Charentais melon slices, black and red grapes, fig jam, and agave. So much beauty all on one table! I loved that I finally got to justify owning so many small, darling little plates and dishes for this party.


Oh, and of course there were apple slices!
and heart-shaped mini-plates!

My friend Sophia also brought along some beautiful steamed beans from the farmers market. We thought it would be a good idea to have something green and crisp and fresh on the table... and it definitely was appreciated. With all the rich cheeses and carby little crackers and breads, it was nice to clear the palette and take a green bean break every once in a while.


My beautiful plate, Round 1 (of many)

We had such a good time nibbling at our cheeses and then trying them with different pairing combos, and sharing our thoughts. As soon as everyone sat down with their plates, there was a hush across the room as we each began (very seriously) tasting our different cheeses and thinking about them and jotting down notes. Poor Max took this whole affair so seriously that he was still taking notes by the time the rest of us had pretty much eaten everything on the whole damn table. After a while, we each went around and read what we had written and shared our thoughts and impressions with each other. It was so fun!

We came up with ideas for other tasting parties - like a miso party and a make-your-own-sodas party. Note to self: it's fun to combine good food, good friends, and a healthy dosage of nerdery.


Our completed tasting cards

Overall, there were two categories of cheeses: soft & spreadable vs. firm and sharp. The spreadable varieties we tried were the Winter Truffle, Sundried Tomato Garlic, and Double Cream Chive. The Black Ash and Sharp Farmhouse were firm and sharp. 

All of the cheeses are made with a cashew base, and of the varieties we tried, all but the Winter Truffle are also made with Chickpea Miso. There is definitely a consistent current of miso flavor through all the varieties made with it. The creamy cheeses all had a very similar texture to one another, as did the two sharper varieties. 

What follows is a flavor-by-flavor break down, with some of the thoughts and impressions we had from our tasting party: 

Winter Truffle

Consistency: Soft and creamy. This was by far the softest of the cheeses we tried. It's made with coconut oil, and didn't really stand up to a long exposure at room temperature. It was definitely good that we had only put out half the wheel. That said, it was also super spreadable. A few of the tasters felt it was just too soft and melty. I would definitely recommend keeping it cool until the last moment. (Actually I think this would be a good idea with all of the softer cheeses, since they are partly made with a base of coconut oil) 

Appearance: As you can see this cheese is speckled throughout with mushrooms, which gives it a lovely, earthy appearance.

Favorite Flavor Pairings: Dark Rye + Roasted Winter Squash

Overall Thoughts: I really loved the umami flavor of this cheese, which surprised me a bit, because I am generally not a mushroom fan. Here, the mushrooms impart a rich earthiness to an already rich cheese. The aroma is also very nice and earthy. There were mixed reviews on this cheese, mostly because of how soft it was, but I was a fan. I also think this is a very unique product in the ever-expanding world of vegan cheeses, and that was part of why I enjoyed it so much. 


Double Cream Chive

Consistency: Soft and Creamy, Rich and spreadable

Appearance: We all appreciated the pale green hue of this cheese, and the visible abundance of chivey specks throughout the cheese

Favorite Flavor Pairings: Cucumber + Tomato + Baguette
Late July Rich Crackers*
(*in many cases we found that these crackers had too much flavor to compliment the cheeses, but here they paired really nicely together. In general, the water crackers had a much more neutral flavor but still provided a nice crunch and a foundation for the cheese and any other goodies)

Overall Thoughts: This was one of my top two favorites! Of the varieties we sampled, this is closest to the Boursin cheeses that I loved as a kid. This cheese is rich and smooth and imparts a definite chive flavor that's perfectly balanced: you definitely taste the chive, but it's not at all overbearing. I can definitely see myself getting this one again and again. I think it would be really great on sandwiches!

Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic

Consistency:  Soft and creamy. A little firmer than the previous two, but still spreadable

Appearance: Beautiful rich orange hue, and with tomatoey flecks throughout. 

Favorite Flavor Pairings: With Fresh Basil Leaf on Cucumber 
On Baguette + Fresh Basil Leaf + Sundried Tomato
On Water Cracker + Cherry Tomato + Fresh Basil Leaf

Overall Thoughts: One taster noted that this cheese had a nice "pizza" flavor (especially when paired with fresh basil and tomato), but on it's own the sundried tomato flavor is not overbearing at all. I think this would be really good on pasta or even mixed into the fillings of a lasagna. This cheese is very rich as far as texture goes, but not too strong with the flavor. It's got a Mediterranean flavor profile, and I think it would go nicely with any dish or dinner party in that range.


Aged English Sharp Farmhouse 

Consistency: Firm, sliceable. A little crumbly

Appearance: Beautiful golden color, the color of miso. 

Favorite Flavor Pairings: Apple
Rye Bread + Apple
Baguette + Grapes
with Sundried Tomato and Basil

Overall Thoughts: This is a delicious, sophisticated sharp cheese. It's a little bit smoky, packed with umami, and absolutely special compared to the other vegan cheeses on the market -- which tend to be more creamy chevre-type cheeses. We all really liked this cheese, and the vegans in the group were especially excited to be eating sharp cheese again, since that's not a flavor we get to experience very often! Like the Black Ash, this cheese paired really nicely with anything sweet, especially with the fresh fruits. 


Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash

Consistency: Firm, sliceable. The beautiful black ash gives a very slight grittiness to the mouthfeel, but not necessarily in a negative way. We all noticed it, and still this sharp cheese was a unanimous favorite

Appearance: That super dark ash coating on the pale creamy cheese is really striking! One taster was a little put off by the dark blackness of it at first; I guess we're not really used to eating pitch black foods. I was in the other camp though - I immediately found this cheese to be visually surprising, beautiful, and definitely very unique. 

Favorite Flavor Pairings: with Apples or Grapes on Baguette
with Fig Jam on Water Crackers
with Apple on Rye Bread
with Fresh Fig
(here, Mr VE&T just wrote "Ash is cool" -- very helpful!)

Overall Thoughts: This cheese was a unanimous favorite, we all liked it a lot! It's sharpness is strong, but not excessively so. As you can see above, the sharpness of this cheese paired very nicely with a number of the different fruity items we had out. As a former cheesaholic, it's really wonderful to experience these taste sensations again after so many years. I had forgotten how lovely and unique the sharp cheese + fruit combo is. So glad to be reunited! I also just think this cheese is crazy beautiful. It would be a striking contribution to any party table, but you probably shouldn't wait until the next time you host a party to try it. It's really good!



These cheeses are beautiful and special and would be great on a platter at pretty much any party. On their site, Miyoko's Creamery also has some suggestions for using the cheeses in recipes and I'm looking forward to trying some of their suggestions with the other half-rounds that I still have left. Since the time that I received these cheeses, Miyoko's Creamery has also come out with a limited edition version of fresh mozzarella (which sold out immediately! - I heard great things!), and they are also working on a cream cheese. The world of vegan cheeses is so exciting right now, and these products from Miyoko's Creamery are on the vanguard! Vegans rejoice!

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The Abundance Diet Giveaway Winner!

p.s. I used the Random Number Generator to pick a winner for my giveaway of Somer McCowan's book "The Abundance Diet" -- and it picked #13. Guess what?? Comment #13 just happened to be from my aforementioned vegan pal Connie!! How fun! Congrats to Connie.

Sorry to those of you who didn't win. "The Abundance Diet" is such a great book, I really recommend it so highly. Also, I have at least one more cookbook giveaway scheduled before the start of MoFo2015, so you might still be a winner! xo

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Summer Dinner Party

You know what's super awesome? Finally re-connecting with old friends and having even more fun together than ever before. Recently one of my vegan pals and her husband came over for dinner. They live over an hour away, so it was a good trek that took a little coordinating. She and I first met online at the PPK, and we used to see each other more frequently, but it had been quite a while. 

I didn't know if they would have a favorite Santa Cruz restaurant that they were hoping to visit, but I was so happy when she said that they would love to come to our place for dinner. Yay! I just love cooking for friends so much. I love the process of thinking about my friends and what they might enjoy, and considering all the many directions a meal might take - and what dessert would go with what dish, and what about appetizers, and so on. So, I got right to work, dreaming up a summery menu that would be yummy and special and seasonal. 

Panzanella

After much deliberation, I went with an Italian-summery-tomato route and took it from there. We started with a giant Panzanella salad. I looked at recipes from Vegan Italian Kitchen, Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, and Nonna's Italian Kitchen. In the end, I used elements from each of the recipes: lettuce, arugula, loads of fresh basil (some ribboned and some torn in semi-small bits), fresh parsley, red onion, one million cherry tomatoes from our garden, and avocado (which was a nice, if non-traditional addition). The dressing was a simple oil + vinegar concoction - olive oil, red wine vinegar, a dash of balsamic, pressed garlic, a dash of agave, salt and pepper. I think this was one of the best salads I've ever made. I loved it so much. It was also extremely huge, and even though we each had seconds (possibly even thirds), there was still a little left over for the next day.


Croutons Croutons, yum yum yum

I didn't get a proper picture of the whole salad all mixed together, because I was probably too busy enjoying the company of my friends.* The thing about Panzanella, is that it originated as a way of using up old bread in salad - so an abundant quantity of bread is really a key ingredient to the salad. I used the crouton guidance from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen - and I loved her recipe and technique. Rather than roasting (and the risk of burning) the cubed bread, you simply toast it in a large skillet with a little bit of oil. They were really good and together in the salad, the whole thing was altogether gloriously better than salad should be.


*I also neglected to get a picture of the beautiful Double Cream Chive cheese from Miyoko's Creamery and Crackers that my friends brought along. It was SO good and fit perfectly with our dinner - offering something rich and creamy alongside an otherwise light and produce-filled meal. And it was also perfect because I hadn't bothered to make any appetizers. (oops!) So, as I was finishing up dinner and grilling the polenta, we all got to nibble away happily at that lovely cheese. Tummies were happy.


Grilled Polenta Wedges with Cherry Tomato Sauce

Booya! This is an old favorite, but I hadn't made it in years. This year we are experiencing a Bumper Crop of cherry tomatoes out in our veggie garden... so I knew that our special summertime dinner party just had to feature these guys as the star of the show. This is based on a recipe from "Fresh Food Fast," a vegetarian cookbook by Peter Berley that I really like. The polenta has fresh corn kernels mixed in (of course I added even more), which makes it feel so much more lively and interesting than just a wedge of cornmeal. Also, Mr VE&T suggested I grill the polenta, which was really easy and definitely added a lot -- the grill marks made the polenta wedges so much more beautiful, and also the grilling made the exterior a little crispier and denser, while the inside stayed just as creamy as ever. So good and so easy! 

The cherry tomato sauce is pretty straightforward: a little olive oil, garlic, loads of cherry toms, and big handful of fresh basil and fresh parsley. Super easy, but somehow, also super delicious. 

Along with the tomatoes and polenta, we also each added a dollop of the mild and creamy ricotta cheese from Kite Hill -- which was a very nice addition.


Apricot + Blackberry Crisp

Of course there was dessert! I had some perfect Blenheim apricots that I had frozen recently - at the now-passed peak of apricot season, and I was looking for something special to do with them. Then, this dinner party came along, and so did a vendor at the farmers market with the world's most spectacular blackberries ever. So, my work was mostly done for me. I combined ideas for fruit crisp recipes from Fresh Food Fast and Local Flavors (by Deborah Madison), and I loved the end result! I didn't add much sugar at all (maybe 3 Tbsp?), because the fruit I was using was already 100% perfect. The recipe from FFF included a suggestion to include sliced almonds in the crisp topping, that is so good! Do it! We enjoyed our dessert with some soy vanilla ice cream. Fruity desserts + ice cream really makes me feel like summer is in full swing.

It was a totally wonderful evening, and mostly not because of the food. We just had such a great time talking about all sorts of things and laughing and exchanging ideas - we stayed up so late (and our friends still had to drive all the way home!) I was still feeling all jazzed up and happy about it for days afterwards. Good connection with good friends really is one of the best things about this crazy human experience.