Pints for Pigs Peace!

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I just bought tickets to an event that sounds really fun, and I wanted to spread the word for those who live in the general area.  It’s called Pints for Pigs Peace, and it’s a fundraiser to support the wonderful Pigs Peace Sanctuary.  The event is going to be held at Central Cinema (1411 21st Avenue in Seattle) from 2:00 to 5:00pm on Saturday, January 11, 2014.  There is going to be a screening of the film, Babe, which I’m excited about as I’ve never seen it on the big screen.  There is also going to be a documentary about the beautiful work being done by Judy Woods at her sanctuary, Pigs Peace, in Stanwood, Washington.  On top of all that, there’s going to be beer and wine, vegan “pigs-in-a-blanket” and vegan pizza.  Something for everyone, to be sure!

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When we first moved to the area, Queenie and I visited Pigs Peace, and it was a glorious afternoon.  These lucky pigs have landed in an extraordinary place, 39 acres of piggie heaven!  They have options galore as to where they hang out, wander and sleep.  The sanctuary is gorgeous, a mix of meadows and forest, and it did our souls good to spend time out there.  We also had fun giving belly rubs to those who wanted it!

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The founder of Pigs Peace, Judy Woods, is doing incredible work, shouldering the vast majority of the sanctuary’s to-do list herself.  She has volunteers who help, and she relies on donations, fundraisers and the profits from the vegan grocery store, Vegan Haven (one of my favorite places on earth!) to keep the place running.  This fun event is a great way to help support this work and connect with kindred spirits.

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Here is some more information about the event, including info on purchasing tickets:  http://pintsforpigspeace.bpt.me/

And here is the Pigs Peace Sanctuary website.  I cannot recommend a visit highly enough!  http://www.pigspeace.org/main/index.html  

Hope to see you there!

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Enjoy!  xo

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Product Review: Vegan Cuts Snack Box!

I was asked to review the Vegan Cuts Snack Box, which I was quite happy to do.  I had heard about Vegan Cuts but hadn’t checked them out yet.  I am so glad that I did.  They can count me as a new loyal customer!

First, in case you have no idea what Vegan Cuts is, let’s start with the basics.  Vegan Cuts is a company that offers monthly deliveries of vegan products that have been carefully selected for your enjoyment.  For $19.95, you receive a box of goodies, delivered right to your door.  You can opt for the Snack Box, which I received, or the Beauty Box, which I haven’t played with personally but which looks great on the website.  More on that in a moment.  The $19.95 includes shipping – yay.

The point of both of these boxes appears to be to turn people on to great products that they might not otherwise have been exposed to yet.  As a long-time vegan who loves to eat, I was quite amazed that out of the nine products I received, I had only heard of one!  It was great to be able to sample those products and add them to my list of items I want to keep in rotation around here.  And while most of them are likely to be readily available at your local veg-friendly grocer, Vegan Cuts also stocks a wide variety of them on their website in full-size portions.  I was happy to see this, as it would be a bummer to fall in love with something and then not be able to find it!

Before we dive into the contents of the box, I want to share with you something that has very much impressed me about my Vegan Cuts experience:  the customer service is phenomenal!  Before the box shipped, I received an email from Jill and John, the founders, informing me that it was coming and that they’d made a substitution.  They also sent out an email clarifying a packaging mistake that Harvest Snaps, the manufacturer behind one of the products, had made.  While the product is vegan, Harvest Snaps had mistakenly noted “Contains Milk” on the packaging.  Jill and John very kindly assured their customers that there is, in fact, no milk in the product.  Great communication.  I was even more impressed, however, when I hopped on the website to poke around.  I was on for a few minutes when a chat box opened up.  It was the aforementioned John, asking if I needed any assistance.  Cool!  He was super friendly and fun to chat with, and in fact I did have a question.  I had noticed that all of the items in my box were palm oil-free, which made me very happy, but I wondered if that was a coincidence or a policy, so I asked him.  I’m thrilled to report that ALL of their products are ALWAYS palm oil-free!!!!  Awesome.

So what did the November box contain?

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There were nine products in sample-sized portions, along with a complete list of the box’s contents and a couple of coupons.  It was a nice mix of sweet…

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… and savory…

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… plus some tea…

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… and some useful info.

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First, the sweet!  I cannot believe I’ve gone this far in my life without knowing about Michy’s cookies!!!!  Oh my.  The sample cookie was the “Pumpkin Eater,” a pumpkin spice cookie with chocolate chips.  It was absolutely divine, reminiscent of a delicious, home-made cookie, assuming whoever is making them in your home is a baking genius.  The consistency was moist as opposed to crispy, along the lines of Uncle Eddie’s cookies but WITHOUT THE PALM OIL!!!  I popped onto the Michy’s website and saw a variety of mouth-watering flavors, including cookies and brownies galore.  I will be trying them all.  http://michysfoods.com/

See those crumbs at the bottom of the bag?  They were too good to toss.  I fished them out and ate them, too.  Yes, I’m serious.  It was that good.

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Queenie and I both sampled the Barbara’s Organic Snackimals Cereal in Vanilla Blast, and we both gave it a thumbs up.  I tried it straight out of the bag, and it was tasty and crispy and not cloyingly sweet.  Then Queenie had a bowl of it to see how it held up with soy milk on it.  She loved the taste and said it stayed nice and crispy right to the last bite.  We don’t eat too many sugary cereals around here, but Queenie would be very pleased if I would bring home a box of Snackimals one of these days.  Added bonus:  cute animals on the packaging.

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On the healthier end of the sweet spectrum:  the Chocolate Coconut Bliss bar by Raw Revolution.  Consisting of just a few ingredients, this was a wonderfully pure and simple bar that reminded me of the raw cacao truffles I sometimes make.  I will be keeping one of these in my bag at all times!  Delish.

At first glance, I thought the ChickPz “Premium Roasted Chickpea Snacks” by Nutty Bean Co. were in the savory category, which is where I photographed them initially.  Call me crazy, but roasted chickpeas sound savory to me.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that the flavor is “Cinnamon Crunch,” and a review of the ingredients showed them to be squarely in the sweet camp (cane juice, vanilla, etc.).  I must confess that I was a little nervous to try these, as it sounds like a strange combination.  I am happy to report, however, that these crunchy goodies completely won me over.  They pack a nice cinnamon punch, being heavily coated with the spice, and have a really nice crunch to them.  A very pleasant surprise that I’m quite sure I would never have tried on my own.

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Finally, the one item in the box with which I was familiar:  the Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates caramel bite.  I have enjoyed Sjaak’s on many occasions and can recommend them whole-heartedly.  In fact, the caramel bite is Queenie’s very favorite of their flavors, so please don’t tell her that I ate it before she could get her hands on it.  Solely for research purposes, of course.

And now, on to the savory (all of which were gluten-free)…

First, our minds and taste buds were blown by the Snapea Crisps Black Pepper crisps.  Yeehaw!  If you like the original Snapea Crisps (which we do), I predict you will LOVE these.  They have the same fun consistency, but they have a wonderful savory kick from the black pepper that is just perfect.  Warning:  they are wildly addictive.

The MixtBag Yellow & Blue Corn Tortilla Chips from RW Garcia were quite tasty.  The yellow chips were nice and dense, while the blue chips were light and lovely.  Both were perfectly salted.  While they would be great with salsa, guacamole or hummus, I devoured the whole bag by itself!

The Multiseed Crackers from Crunchmaster were super crunchy, as billed.  I loved the ratio of sesame seeds, which was high, giving it a nice flavor.

The final entry in the savory category was the Cracked Pepper Baked Lentil Chips from Mediterranean Snacks.  They had a nice crispness and would be great for dipping, as I don’t think they’d break off in the dip.  They had a nice after-taste and are also gluten-free.  For pure snacking, though, we preferred the Snapeas, which are hard to top.

Finally, we enjoyed the Stash Spice Dragon Red Chai Tea.  Naturally herbal (no caffeine), this tea has a beautiful red color from the rooibos tea.  It is nicely spiced without being overpowering.  Perfect on an autumn or winter morning!

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As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed my Vegan Cuts Snack Box experience.  The treats were tasty, and it was fun discovering so many new bits of yumminess.  And I really want to check out the Beauty Box!  I poked around on the website, and every month, subscribers to the Beauty Box receive at least $40 worth of products to sample in trial sizes, for only $19.95.  Pretty cool!  And all of the full-sized products are available for purchase on the site.

The people who make up the Vegan Cuts team are fantastic, making it a company I’m happy to support.  I encourage you to check it out, too, and can’t help thinking that not only will you enjoy it, but its snack or beauty boxes would make fantastic gifts for your friends and family!  http://vegancuts.com/

Enjoy!  xo

Cookbook Review: Isa Does It! (exclamation point added by me)

Let me begin by saying that I, like about a zillion other people, am a HUGE fan of cookbook goddess Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  I own and love every one of her books and am thoroughly grateful that she’s on the planet, generously creating wonderful recipes for the rest of us to enjoy.  So when she releases a new book, it is cause for celebration, indeed.

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With this book, she has once again managed to create something special that everyone who loves preparing delicious food is going to want to get his or her hands on.  With her track record, I expected the recipes to deliver super tasty results, and that is certainly the case.  What she has done here that’s new, however, is present those recipes in a spectacularly photo-filled, gorgeous, hard-bound book.  What a treat!  And this book’s focus on “amazingly easy, wildly delicious vegan recipes for every day of the week,” makes it a great addition to every kitchen, whether you’re a newly transitioning vegan or a seasoned veteran or somewhere in between.  The recipes are geared for people trying to get real food on the table in a reasonable amount of time.  Yay!  There are wonderful tips and lots of fun notes, which make it feel like you have a super fun, cool friend in the kitchen with you.

And now for some of the food I’ve made from the book.  I’ve only had the book for less than a week, but I’ve made five recipes so far, all with great results.  While it’s a close call, I’d have to say that the family favorite was the Chickpea-Rice Soup on page 32.  It’s a simple and homey recipe that is truly great.  The flavors come together beautifully, and the dish feels centering and nourishing.  Queenie had two bowls the night I made it, and then a thermos of it in her lunch the next day.  When she got home from school, she asked if there was any more.  It was a hit!

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Queenie and I also enjoyed the Roasted Potato and Fennel Soup on page 46.  I had received both fennel and a variety of potatoes in our CSA box this past week, so when I read this recipe, it seemed the perfect way to play with these ingredients.  This soup was SO easy.  By roasting the ingredients, there’s very little active time, with the oven doing all of the work.  And roasting brings out wonderful flavors.  Super tasty and hearty.    It was really thick, and I’d probably thin it a little more next time, but definitely a tasty addition to my soup repertoire.

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There are some great-looking recipes for bowls, and while I have a long list that I’m looking forward to trying (including the Chimichurri-Pumpkin Bowl next week!), so far I’ve only made one bowl:  the Spinach & Black Bean Burrito Bowl on page 196.  Sadly, we dove into these bowls so quickly that I didn’t end up taking a photo of them, but I can tell you that it’s a really filling, balanced bowl of food that’s super quick and easy to make.  Definitely check it out!

Now, on to pasta…  I’ve made two of the pasta recipes from this book so far, and they’ve both been divine.  Last night, I made the Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne on page 124.  Oh my.  Heavenly.  A tomato cream sauce made with sun-dried tomatoes and cashews blends with penne, red onion, broccoli and more sun-dried tomatoes to make a scrumptious dish.  Loved it.

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I also made the Goddess Noodles with Chickpeas & Broccoli on page 136 (which is actually entitled Goddess Noodles with Tempeh & Broccoli, but chickpeas are a suggested substitute, and I went that route on this particular evening).  I absolutely adored this filling, quick dish, with its lemon-tahini sauce.  YUM.  One caveat:  you need to like tahini to love this dish as much as I do.  Mr. Man and Queenie aren’t big tahini fans (something I can never quite get my mind around), and they weren’t as enamored with it as a result.  More for me!

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This book clocks in at 311 pages, so I have barely scratched the surface here.  My hope is that I’ve inspired you to want to pick it up and start working your way through it, too.  In addition to the soups, bowls and pasta sections I’ve mentioned, there are mouth-watering recipes for salads, sandwiches and wraps, stews, chilis, curries, stir-fries, breakfasts, desserts… and more!

Final happy note for my Seattle-area friends:  the author will be speaking tomorrow night at The Book Larder in Seattle at 6:30!  http://www.booklarder.com/events/info/isa-does-it

Enjoy!  xo

Thanksgiving Feast!

My friend and fellow blogger, Sundry, asked me to share my tips for holiday cooking, which I am happy to do.  (Quick aside:  Sundry writes a very fun blog called Any Given Sundry on wordpress – check it out!)  With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to assure you that you can enjoy a vegan feast that is hearty and satisfying with all of the flavors that you’re used to.  No problem!  First, the visual proof:

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And yes, it is every bit as delicious as it looks.  How is this possible, you ask?  In 2009, I had the good fortune of attending a series of cooking classes offered by Jessica Porter, a macrobiotic chef and cookbook author, at the home of the wonderful Sanae Suzuki and Eric Lechasseur, macro chefs extraordinaire and proprietors of Seed Kitchen in Venice, California.  One of those classes was a holiday feast menu, and it has become our annual tradition (and the culinary highlight of Queenie’s life each year – she adores it).  There are many options for vegan Thanksgiving meals, and I’ve tried quite a few of them, such as mushrooms in puff pastry, stuffed acorn squash, store-bought holiday loafs, etc., but if you’re like us, once you taste this one, you’re going to be hooked!

The menu:  home-made tofu centerpiece dish with stuffing (I’m not calling it a tofu turkey because it’s not a turkey, it doesn’t look like a turkey, I don’t want to focus on the fact that most people eat turkey… but it does stand in for that place on your plate quite nicely); yam casserole with pecan topping; mashed potatoes and gravy; steamed green beans with lemon zest; cranberry relish; and pumpkin pie.  It’s all the great flavors you’re used to, but entirely cruelty-free.  It’s also super healthy, devoid of both animal ingredients and also processed sugar, something that macrobiotic cooking eschews.  When I started making this feast, Mr. Man and I marveled at how light and happy we felt, even after stuffing ourselves!  No food comas for us.

To begin, you’re going to turn a lot of tofu into something to house your delicious stuffing.

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Using an immersion blender is the easiest way to do this.  Whir and whip that tofu into a smooth, creamy puree.  Here is Queenie blending in 2010.  She is in charge of the tofu every year.

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Next you will press all of that tofu into a colander that has been lined with cheesecloth.  Weigh that down and let the excess liquid drain out in the refrigerator for a day, making sure to have something to catch said liquid underneath.  You are creating a tofu dome, that you will then hollow out and stuff with the yumminess of your choice.  The stuffed dome is then basted with a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil and slow baked to heavenly perfection.  Here are the complete instructions from Jessica Porter’s site:  http://www.hipchicksmacrobiotics.com/blog/its-that-time-again/

Be sure to invite your loved ones over to enjoy the deliciousness.

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And, naturally, you must have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Or, at least, I must.  Vegan pumpkin pie?  Of course!

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There are a million vegan pumpkin pie recipes out there, both searchable on the internet and in cookbooks.  I’m not yet sure which one I’ll be making this year.  I will let you know!

Two added bonuses to this wonderful feast, one that’s typical and one that’s not:

1.  Leftovers!!!  This food tastes great for days, if it lasts that long.

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2.  You’re saving lives when you eat this way.  That’s something to be thankful for, to be sure.  This photo was taken at the Celebration for the Turkeys at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California.

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I encourage you to host a compassionate Thanksgiving celebration.  With food this tasty, your friends and family should be won over and you’ll have tons of fun, amazing their taste buds.  And your home will smell SO good while everything’s cooking!  If, however, you are going to someone else’s house for the holiday meal, I suggest offering to bring some dishes that work for you.  I have, upon occasion, brought this stuffed tofu dome, but an easier solution is to bring a variety of sides that will form a complete meal for you and complement the things being served by your host.

However you end up celebrating, may it nourish your body and your soul.

Enjoy!  xo

Potluck Possibilities

It turns out that yesterday was the “Virtual Vegan Potluck.”  I’d never heard of it before, but after a flurry of posts from various people, I deduced that it was the rather fun idea of having vegan bloggers post about a dish that they would bring to a vegan potluck, should that vegan potluck occur.  There are lots of tasty suggestions, so check it out:  http://virtualveganpotluck.com/  

Yesterday was also the day that Mr. Man and I were invited to an actual potluck.  It was not of the vegan persuasion, but of course, my contributions were.  To make sure I had a variety of things to eat, I brought both an entree and a dessert.  The entree was the Baked Pumpkin Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping from Veganomicon, although mine was technically baked gluten-free penne.  I’ve made this dish before for potlucks and it always satisfies.  It hits the spot on an autumn evening, with its luscious combination of sweetness from the pumpkin and caramelized onions and the savory crunch of the sage topping.  Yum.  It’s best straight out of the oven, but it holds up fine in a potluck setting.

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For dessert, I flipped to the back of Veganomicon and turned to a cake I’ve made on numerous occasions, the Coconut-Lemon Bundt Cake.  However, this time I made a few changes.  The host of the evening’s gathering, the lovely Daisy, has quite a few dietary restrictions, and I wanted to make sure she could partake of the cake, too, so I made it gluten-free and soy-free in her honor.  As I was working with the batter, I was not sure that it was going to work.  It was more gummy than typical cake batter, so much so that I almost threw it out, but I decided to go ahead and pop it in the oven to see what would happen.  After a bit, it started behaving more like a cake, rising and browning and doing its thing.  The finished product didn’t have the same delightful crumb that the wheat version does, but it had a nice crust and a moist interior.  And happily, there were others in search of gluten-free options, so I was glad to have conducted the experiment.

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Bringing vegan dishes to non-vegan gatherings is a great way to both ensure that you’ve got something to eat and share the vegan love.  You never know who you might inspire!

Enjoy!  xo

Entertaining, Vegan-Style: A Fancy, Dressy Birthday Party… for Kids

For Queenie’s 11th birthday, which was her final bday as a Los Angeles resident, she wanted a very intimate, dressy dinner party.  She had four of her closest friends over, and they all dressed in their best party frocks.  I was the chef, and Mr. Man was the waiter.  Queenie crafted the five-course meal (having multiple courses was key to her), and we came up with the table decor together.  We were living in the hills at the time, and the view provided a magnificent backdrop to a special evening.

The menu is planned and the menu cards printed.

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We made everything from scratch, except for the bread, which we purchased at the amazing Italian deli, Bay City, in Santa Monica.  Here, I’ve got the roasted garlic olive oil going.  I didn’t use a recipe for this.  Just baked A LOT of garlic in oil for a while and then let it sit.  Seriously delish.

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And here is our gnocchi manufacturing plant.  I used the recipe from the Candle 79 Cookbook.

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The table is set and ready for an elegant evening.  Because Queenie’s birthday is in late October, we went with an autumnal feel for the table settings, blending new things with old, some from her grandparents and great-grandparents.

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Taking advantage of the view.

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Mr. Man was an excellent waiter.

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The birthday cake, which is the tiramisu recipe from Eric Lechasseur’s wonderful book, Love, Eric.  It’s been out of print for a while, but I understand a new edition is imminent.  Be sure to pick it up when it comes out!  His desserts are exquisite and not only vegan, but free of processed sugar.  I can assure you that you won’t miss it!  We served the cake with fresh mint tea.

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It was so much fun cooking for these kids.  Since Queenie was the only vegan at the table, and some of the food was deliberately “fancy,” I wondered how it would go over.  This is how:  every single guest polished off every bit of food, often requesting seconds.  They were all effusive and thankful, ooohing and aaahing over each course.  They couldn’t have been more receptive and appreciative.  A fantastic evening.

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(I deliberately chose a blurry group shot, as I don’t want to focus on other people’s kids too much in this forum.  Just wanted to give you the idea of the fun time.)

The bottom line:  Any day is a good day to get dressed up and savor some tasty food!

Enjoy!  xo

Entertaining, Vegan-Style: A Costume Birthday Party

For this installment of the Vegan Entertaining posts, I’m featuring Queenie’s 10th birthday party, which occurred two years ago at our home in Venice, California.  Because her birthday is only a few days before Halloween, she opted to have a costume party.  The theme of her choosing was snakes.  Yes, snakes.  There were snakes on the invitations, and snakes on the cakes.  We went with two home-made bundt cakes, with both recipes from Veganomicon (do you own this book yet??).  One is the Lemon-Coconut cake and the other is the Deep Chocolate.

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Close-up of the snake fun:

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Queenie even dressed as a snake, a Queen Cobra, to be exact.

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Queenie made a couple of her signature dishes, including her agave-sweetened lemonade and the cinnamon apples with peanut butter dip.

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The party was a lunch, and I served the Roasted Eggplant and Spinach Muffuletta Sandwich, also from Veganomicon, Tofurky hot dogs, potato chips, a green salad and a fruit salad.  I don’t have any food shots – it went before I snapped any!  But here are some happy diners.

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Queenie very much enjoys sleight-of-hand, close-up magic, and she requested that a magician appear (magically, of course) at her party.  After a bit of research, I found the perfect person:  Joe Skilton.  If you are anywhere in Southern California and need a magician for your event, look no further!  Joe absolutely blew our minds.  Adults and children alike were amazed and delighted.  On top of his talent, he is also a genuinely lovely person and a delight to have in your space.  I obviously cannot recommend him highly enough.  http://www.joeskilton.com/

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(sorry the above shot is blurry – I was too busy trying to pick my jaw off the floor to focus the camera.)

Next it was time for presents and general merriment.

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Bottom line:  costume parties are fun!!

Enjoy!  xo