Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Easter Weekend in New Orleans

Hi Friends! I just got back home after a whirlwind week in New Orleans and Disney. My husband and I went to NOLA with my in-laws for Easter and I went straight to Disney for the Capture the Bite workshop upon our return. More on that workshop to come!!
This marked our 11th trip to NOLA in the past 5 years and this was our first time spending a holiday there. We had no idea upon booking our trip that there would be so much activity in the city on Easter Weekend!
We kicked off Easter Weekend with a Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters in the French Quarter. They offer a Jazz Brunch 7 days a week which is a great option for those traveling to NOLA mid-week.
This was our second time attending a Jazz Brunch here and both times we truly enjoyed ourselves. The live Jazz and ambiance on the courtyard set for the perfect lazy New Orleans Saturday. Plus they have very good drinks!
The Brunch Buffet has a large variety of New Orleans staples and is $30 a person. That day we had a choice of shellfish (crawfish!), jambalaya, gumbo, prime rib, freshly made specialty omelets, red beans and rice plus so much more. Not to mention, their turtle soup is served without Sherry in it (it's on the side) which means those who are allergic to Sherry like yours truly can still enjoy a New Orleans favorite.
Following our Jazz Brunch, we headed to the Central Business District, where we experienced an Adult Easter Egg Hunt at The Cathoula Boutique Hotel. While we were unsuccessful of finding one of the 288 eggs hidden (the ones in the pic above were snagged before we could get them), we had a great time. We even saw Bunny Burlesque - I guess when in NOLA (a fun but odd experience to share mid-day with your in laws!)
On Easter Sunday, we began our morning watching The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade which consisted of of mule-drawn carriages and old convertibles making its way through the French Quarter, taking the participants to Easter Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. We saw some amazing bonnets for sure.
We then made our way over to Steamboat Natchez for their Easter Brunch Jazz on the Mississippi. It was a perfect relaxing Easter afternoon and I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Following Easter Brunch, we headed back to our AirBNB where we watched our second (but not last) parade of the day, Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade. I saw Lamas and were thrown a few full sized carrots (not joking).
It was fantastic being able to watch the parade from our balcony - the route went directly by our rented condo. I did get hit in the head with a giant bag of beads, giving me a nice black eye for a few days. I was more concerned with my beer spilling! Oops.
After adding a few new beads to our ever growing collection (thanks to the bag of 50 that hit me in the head), we headed over to the third parade of the day, The Gay Easter Parade. While I didn't see a Lama in this parade like Chris Owens, we definitely had a great time spectating.
We truly enjoyed walking around the quarter, seeing all the decorated houses. We've now seen houses made up for Christmas, Halloween and Easter in the big easy.
When we booked our trip to NOLA during Easter, we never thought our weekend would be full of festivities. We found ourselves looking to book Easter 2018 in New Orleans!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ruth's Chris Dauo Vineyards Tastemaker Dinner

A few weeks back Gabe and I had the opportunity to check out Ruth's Chris Dauo Vineyards Tastemaker Dinner. Ruth's Chris holds a special place in our heart as it was one of the first places we dined at when we moved to Tampa 6 years ago. There's something about the steak and melted butter that gets me every time.
We had a fantastic time at the Tastemaker dinner and I hope to attend more in the future. The April Ruth's Chris Tastemaker Dinner will be a 5 course pairing with Jonnie Walker. Click here to find a location and date near you. Along with Johnnie Walker, there is a fantastic lineup for the rest of the year including: Chateau Montelena Winery, Moet Hennessy (which I must go to) and Marchesi Antinori. You can check up the lineup and get the dates for your Ruth's Chris by clicking here.

So back to the Dauo Tastemaker Dinner, we had 5 courses perfectly paired with Dauo wines. Each plate was excellent as was the wine. Overall, I was very impressed with the Tastemaker dinner and Ruth's Chris did an excellent job with it.
First Course:
JERK MARINATED PORK TENDERLOIN
Jamaican Coconut Rice Cake, Mango Chutney
Paired With: DAOU “CHEMIN DE FLEURS”, Paso Robles, California

This pork was cooked to perfection and had a great spice to it. The Chemin De Fleurs was a perfect pairing to this slightly spicy dish. I have never had this varietal of wine before, which is very rare. I am pretty picky with white wines and this was one anyone could drink.
Second Course:
HONEY & SOY GLAZED ATLANTIC COD
Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes
Paired With: DAOU CHARDONNAY, Paso Robles, California

The cod was full of flavor and I loved the roasted fingerling sweet potatoes. I was thankful that the portions were not full plates as we were already getting full on course 2. Of course I was happy with the wine pairing on this course, a beautiful chardonnay from Paso Robles. I may have stolen my husbands glass :)
Third Course:
CHOCOLATE & COFFEE BRAISED SHORT RIB RAGOUT, Pappardelle Pasta
Paired With: DAOU CABERNET SAUVIGNON, Paso Robles, California

Anytime I am presented with pappardelle, my life becomes 10x happier. Mix that pappardelle with chocolate and coffee braised short rib...well be still my heart. Seriously one of the best, if not the best, pastas I have had in the US. Dear Ruth's Chris, I need this recipe. The Daou Cabernet was an excellent companion to this dish.
Main Course: 
PETITE FILET MIGNON, BALSAMIC GOAT CHEESE GLAZE, Zucchini Fritters, Potatoes Au Gratin
Paired With: DAOU CABERNET SAUVIGNON, “RESERVE”, Paso Robles, California

The star of the show at Ruth's Chris is always the filet mignon and this one did not disappoint. Not seen in the photo of meat and butter was our sides, consisting of zucchini fritters and potatoes au gratin. All was delicious. Then to pair it with a reserve Daou Cab was an extra treat. This wine drank beautiful with the steak.
Dessert Course:
MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE, Chambord Cream
Paired With: Pessimist Red Blend, Paso Robles, California

Apparently after 4 courses and glasses of wine, I tried to get artistic with my dessert photo. Excuse the super sideways pic! The chambord cream was insane and I could have happily ate an entire dish of it. We truly enjoyed the Pessimist red blend with the dessert.

Awesome job to the Tampa Ruth's Chris team. You left us impressed!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2017 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Recap

A few weeks ago, my husband Gabe and I ran the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Relay. This is our third time running this event and we absolutely love this series. 2017 was a little different of an experience for me but at the end of the day, it was still a great time.
The 2017 relay started off not exactly as planned. We stayed a couple miles away from the start line and got a late start to the morning. Luckily we had no traffic (totally different scenario than 2014) and when it was time that we passed the start line (10 minutes before the wheelchairs were scheduled to begin), I made the poor decision to stay with Gabe and park the car vs. jump out then and go to the start line. Well, as luck would have it, we were nearly a mile away from the start when I heard the National Anthem. I sprinted to the start line and was the last person to start the race.....by 4 minutes.

I have ran over 20 half marathons, 5 full marathons and multiple other race distances. I have yet to experience something like this before. I was alone in the pitch black, most of the crowd had already moved away from the start and the photographers already moved on. I had already sprinted a mile, far above my normal pace to get to the start.
I finally caught up with the back and then spent the next few miles weaving. I caught up to the 3:45 pace crew and shortly after the 3:30 pace crew and so on. I had intended on running with the 2:10 pace crew but knew there was no way I would ever catch up to them. I caught the 2:30 crew right before I transitioned to Gabe.
This was mentally rough for me. We have been training at Orange Theory Fitness for a few months and my base pace has significantly gotten better. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get a PR. Since this was a relay, I knew I could go all out. I've never been the person to harp on PR's or my pace but deep down, I was pretty bummed.
With the additional sprint at the beginning and the mental test of being alone in the back, non-stop weaving and the realization that I wouldn't get to the pace I wanted, I was a mental nightmare.
Once I took in my surroundings, I got over the situation and made the best of this gorgeous morning. How could one possibly be upset in this surrounding. Plus all this was nobody's fault by my own. I learned a lesson for sure!
Aside from all the drama, I felt pretty good. My cardio is the strongest it has ever been and there is no doubt in my mind Orange Theory helped me get over the dreaded Ringling Causeway Bridge not once but twice.
When it came time for the switch, I wished Gabe good luck and started live tracking him. The really cool thing about this years series is that you could do live tracking with Athlilnks. When I opened the app, I was pleasantly surprised to see my husband running a 9:10 pace. At one point, he dropped below 9:00 per mile. I was very proud of my hubby, especially being he ran Savage Race the day and was head to toe sore.
Along with the awesome tracker app, Athlinks offered free photos to participants! Our finisher photo was not available but we still got a pretty great photo of us crossing the finish line.
While we didn't finish in the 2:10 pace group like we intended, we still finished at 2:16 and I will take that all things considered.
Following the race, we grabbed brunch at First Watch finishers tent. I was very happy for pancakes and fresh fruit.
The beer tent was buzzing at 9am. I grabbed a Michelob Ultra but couldn't do it.
After a few sips, we quickly grabbed a shot with the Ringling Causeway in the background and headed off to check out of our hotel.
I flew out to Atlanta shortly after this race but took advantage of a few hours and saw Beauty and the Beast before I headed out! It was so good!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Chopped Salads at Sea, Fresh Creations – Carnival Vista

When I first started researching the Carnival Vista, one of the many things that caught my attention was the Fresh Creations Chopped Salad station located at the Serenity Deck offered only during days at Sea.

It’s like a salad bar on steroids.
I can honestly say if Carnival offered this every day vs. days at sea, I would probably eat here on a daily basis. I had the hardest time selecting what salad I wanted to build. I was an adult in a kids non-candy store.
I ended up with: Arugula, Pickled Radishes, Pickled Red Onion, Corn, Cucumber, Kidney Beans, Crispy Quinoa, Cilantro and Herbed Marinated Chicken with Moroccan Vinaigrette. We took our salad back to our room and ate it from our balcony. The salad bowls fit in our room’s mini fridge which made a perfect mid-afternoon treat!

This was a great addition to the many daily offerings Carnival has for guests. You build your own salad from ton's of toppings, below is what we had to choose from:
Choose your Greens: Radicchio, Baby Spinach, Belgium Endive, Boston Lettuce, Ice Berg, Mesclun, Hearts of Romaine, Arugula, Baby Kale

Vegetables and Fruit: Cauliflower, Pickled Radishes, Cherry Tomatoes, Peppers, Sprouts, Pineapple, Sundried Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Pickled Red Onion, Chopped Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Corn, Green Peaks, Kidney Beans, Watermelon, Local Market Produce More Toppings: Golden Raisins, Cranberries, Toasted Chickpeas, Black and Green Olives, Mint, Cilantro, Crispy Quinoa, Chia Seeds, Herbed Garlic Brioche Croutons, Toasted Coconut, Elbow Macaroni, Sunflower Seeds, Pita Chips, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Slivered Almonds, Tortilla Strips, Feta Cheese, Parmesan Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Bacon Bits, Blue Cheese

Add a Protein: Herbed Marinated Chicken, Steamed Shrimp, Tuna, Hard Boiled Egg, Anchovies, Ham

Top it Off: Balsamic Sherry Vinaigrette, Moroccan Vinaigrette, Cesar Dressing, Ranch Dressing, Blue Cheese Dressing

Fresh Creations Dressing: Coconut, Pineapple, Sesame Oil, Black Sesame Seeds, Rosewater and Pineapple Vinegar

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 Steps to living a pain free life with Curamin #StopPainNow

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #StopPainNow #CollectiveBias

Pain. It's the four letter word that will ruin anyone's day. However chronic pain can stop you in your tracks. Chronic Pain is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and is something I have lived with for over 20 years (and will deal with for the rest of my life). I want to share with you my tips for dealing with Chronic pain. In home PT exercises, Epson soaks and Curamin® Stop Pain Now relief are a few of my go-to remedies. I will share those with you shortly, but first I want to tell you a story.

I became familiar with chronic pain on May 15, 1994....I remember the day like it were yesterday. We took the boat out to Disappearing Island in Ponce Inlet, FL, a place where we spent many weekends with friends and family. I was a Freshman about to finish my first year in High School. That day I had 2 friends who were supposed to go on the boat with us but they cancelled last minute, forcing me to spend the day with my little brother and his friends. That was not how I wanted to spend my Saturday.

Disappearing Island got it's name due to fact that during low tide every day, an island appears as the water recedes at the inlet where Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna almost meet. The water can be murky and many times you are unable to see the bottom of the Ocean floor. In the beginning of the day, I hung out with the boys who were doing flips into the water from the sand bar. After lunch, I fell asleep for a few minutes...or so I thought. Upon waking up, I did a running front flip from the sand bar into the water, exactly what we were doing (what I thought) minutes earlier.

I must've dozed off for a while as low tide made its way upon us and I didn't notice the change of the island. Entering the water, I slammed the back of my head and neck on the bank which was about 3' deep. It was a pain I've never felt before. Imagine a million knives being jabbed in your spinal cord and feeling it all over the rest of your body. It was the scariest day of my life.

A helicopter was called to airlift me to the ER. However, there was no where for it to land so I went via Ambulance. Every bump that we went over radiated through my body. Once I got to the ER, it was a rush of MRI's, Cat Scans and X Rays.

Then we got the news. My Mom and Dad were told first and I remember my Mom crying. The Doctor informed them I bruised my C3, C4, C5 & C6 discs in my spinal cord and that although I had some movement at the time, I may wake up the next day as a paraplegic. Now a bruise may not sound severe to you but this injury was equal to breaking your neck. The next day I was still moving but everything was reversed. When they told me to push my foot forward, I went backwards. My left and rights were switched. I only had 10% strength and was completely freaked out.

I lived in the SICU ward of the hospital for a week. I had to learn to walk again and every step I took was worse than running a full marathon. I cried non-stop from the pain I was in and the fear of the unknown. However, I had an amazing Doctor who did not pump me full of drugs and I was cured without a spinal fusion. My health record is used today throughout the US for non-surgical treatment of this severe injury.

Learning how to walk again was not the only thing I had to go through. I went through 10 years of Physical Therapy and still to this day do my PT exercises at home. I have flare ups, especially if it's raining or cold outside. I get frequent massages that are not something you would ever get at the Spa - they hurt and not in a good deep tissue kind of way. I will live with this the rest of my life.

I'm sharing this story with you today because there are ways to get through chronic pain without the treatment of prescription medication. Here are my three favorite ways of getting relief from chronic pain at home.

1. Pain Relief
I am not a fan of prescription medication. I have an extremely week tolerance to it and have gotten sick more times than I like to remember from taking one pill. Over the years, I found what works for me and what doesn't.
About 10 years ago, I was introduced to Curamin® Stop Pain Now. It's a safe, effective and non-addictive herbal formula including Boswellia, DLPA, Nattokinase and Curcumin. It's no question as to why Curamin® has been voted #1 for Pain Relief.
2. Epson Bath Soaks
I take 3-4 Epson salt baths a week. My friends often joke that I love my baths because I am unable to drink wine in the shower. Truthfully I have been taking Epson salt baths for many years and they bring me comfort by reducing pain. And yes, being able to drink a glass of vino while relaxing your muscle is a huge perk :)

3. At Home Physical Therapy Exercises 
I have a stack of exercises that I still do to keep my neck strong and the pain away. Here are a few of my favorite at home PT exercises that I try to do daily:
Neck Flexion: Bend head forward and hold 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10-20.
Neck Extension: Bend head backward and hold 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10-20 times.
Lateral Neck Flexion: Slowly tilt head toward one shoulder, then the other, holding each side for 3-5 seconds. Change sides and do the same. Repeat 10-20 times.
Neck Rotation: Turn head slowly to look over one shoulder, then the other. Hold each for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-20 times.

I hope this brings relief for those living with neck pain. In case you were wondering, I purchased my Curamin® Nutrition S'mart in Wesley Chapel FL. I was very impressed with the stores offerings. I could get natural supplements while grocery shopping without a crowd! Check out the Curamin® Stop Pain Now store locator to find a retailer near you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Review of La Casa en La Playa in Cozumel – Carnival Vista

While on our Carnival Vista cruise, the weather didn’t cooperate with us. Our first day at sea was rainy (we explored the Vista), the following day was just the same and we couldn’t port in Jamaica. The third day came with a huge chance of not being able to port in Grand Cayman due to high seas (which resulted in cancelled excursions) but luckily that wasn't the case and we ended up having an amazing day. Needless to say, we wanted to book an amazing excursion in Cozumel.
The day before we got to Mexico, we found out there were a few cancellations in the very popular and highly rated La Casa en La Playa - A Select Retreat. This was booked directly through Carnival at their Shore excursion desk.  We wanted a day where were pampered and didn’t have to think about anything.
We didn't want to be surrounded by a ton of people and noise. We wanted something a little nicer than the traditional all-inclusive resorts (sugary drinks and buffets). The La Casa en La Playa excursion was exactly what we were looking for.
Set at a private residence, you are part of a small intimate group of 30 people. After a short 10 minute drive, you arrive at the beach house and are introduced to your staff for the day – private chef, bartender, servers and adventure guide.
After claiming our beach chairs, our server for the day brought us beach towels and offered water shoes in case we wanted to go in the water. You can snorkel on your own or wait for the guided snorkel later in the day. Our residence also offered a pool for those who didn't want to go in the Ocean.
There is an open bar but they are pretty known for their fresh margaritas. If you aren’t a drinker, unlimited soft drinks were also offered. Imagine sitting in your beach chair, having a full margarita at all times.
We then headed over to the cooking class – where the chef made homemade guacamole. It was without a doubt the best guac either of us have ever tried. They used a habanero oil, which gave it the perfect amount of punch without being too spicy.

After we laid out for an hour, it was our time for lunch. When we first arrived, our order was taken, this way when we were sat, our food was ready for us. This allowed for a great meal without wasting part of our day waiting for our food to be prepared. We both ordered the Chile Rellano which was authentic and delicious.
We took advantage of the organized snorkel activity. The snorkel took us to the same location as many of the snorkel boats take their clients to. We saw a couple of cool fishes but it was just relaxing being in the bright blue waters. The property offered a variety massages at different prices which we both signed up for but opted to do the snorkel instead. Then we took selfies on the beach.
If you are looking for a perfect day in paradise while visiting Cozumel, I strongly suggest this excursion. While it may seem like a costly excursion, you get the following: authentic Mexican meal, cooking class, unlimited drinks, guided snorkel, private residence, transportation to and from the house, 3 hours of paradise.
We ended Cozumel with a gorgeous sunset. I look forward to our next visit!