Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Getting Beach Vaction Ready with Speedo #VacationWithSpeedo

This post was sponsored by Speedo. I received Speedo product as compensation.

Last week the groundhog saw his shadow, meaning 6 more weeks of Winter. While some of my friends were upset about this, it didn't really affect us in FL. It's been a very warm winter, with days in the 80's, meaning lots of pool time and a nice Winter tan :)

Both my husband and I grew up on the beach. He lived directly across from the beach while I was a short 3 miles away. We spent the majority of our childhood with sand in our toes, salt in our hair and not a care in the world. Now that we are adults, I yearn for those weekends. Although we live in Tampa, we are an hour from the beach which is a big change from crossing a road.
While planning a vacation or a trip back home, we always pack workout clothing. If we are vacationing somewhere with a pool or a beach, we try to plan to get a few laps in. For me, that means packing essentials that do not take up much room in the suitcase. Today I am going to show you how to easily pack the necessities you need to stay fit and stylish for a beach or pool vacation.

The first necessity of a beach vacation is a cute bathing suit. However, finding a cute bathing suit for swimming laps is very difficult. Have you ever tried swimming laps in the beach wearing a string bikini? Yeah, don't do it, waves are not your friend. Thankfully Speedo USA has a ton of suits, both one piece and two piece that can go from fitness to beach style. I was particularly fond of the Speedo Keyhole One Piece with PowerFLEX eco.  With its contemporary cut and key hole cutout, it can quickly go from swimming laps to laying out in the Caribbean. One thing I love about this suit is that it has removable padding. Most one pieces do not have padding.
Aside from the right style bathing suit, you need a cute beach cover up that can act as a sundress, easily going from the beach to your next destination (shopping, beach bar, lunch, spa). I always have a headband handy for such an event. Also, be sure not to forget a cute hat, cute sunglasses, your favorite book and of course sunscreen! I keep all of these items in my beach bag and leave them in there, so I never forget to bring the necessities with me.
Speaking of beach bags! The best kind is one you can use for multiple purposes. The Speedo Teamster Backpack is just that for me. I took my Teamster Backpack with me on a recent cruise. I used it at the beach, at the pool and it doubled as my computer bag! With its multiple zipper pockets and a removable dirt bag, you can easily stash your wet suit without making the rest of your stuff damp and keep your valuables safe. Not only is it functional with a side water bottle holder and multi media pouch, it's also a super cute bag with pink flamingos.
Swimming laps in the pool means you need goggles and I will be first to say that having a decent pair of goggles is very important. The MDR 2.4 Polarized Goggle with Elastomeric goggles I received from Speedo are amazing. They reduce glare and are so clear you forget you're wearing them. Speaking of forgetting that you're wearing goggles, I have yet to have red marks around my eyes when I get out of the pool. My husband also owns a pair and lost his sunglasses one day while we were at the pool. He decided not to take his goggles off after getting out of the water, using them to shield the sun. We won't make fun of him :)
Last but not least, let's talk about my biggest pet peeve after getting out of the pool or beach - being wet. I hate wet clothes, wet bathing suits and the feeling of not being dry. Sure the sun will dry you off but I am all about anything to expedite this process and Speedo has such a product. The Out To Dry Microfiber Towel was the answer to my wet bathing suit nightmare. It's super absorbent and will quickly dry you, your clothing and your hair! This towel is very thin and compact so it does not take up too much room.

Now off to dream of my next cruise or beach trip. Cheers!

My blog may contain links to other websites. I am not responsible for the privacy policies of those other websites. When you click on a link, your information may be collected by those websites so I encourage you to read their privacy policies. These Affiliate links are not associated with Speedo.

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Lounge Menu at Council Oak, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

My favorite place to celebrate a special event in Tampa is the Council Oak Lounge located inside of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Delicious food, amazing wine and live music - what else can you ask for? A smoke free environment! This is huge news for all Council Oak Lounge fans, this establishment recently became smoke free!

Sundays - Thursdays, Council Oak's lounge menu offers a variety of  specially priced items. The famous Council Oak Prime Burger is how we first got introduced to the lounge a few years back and still stands out as one of the top 5 burgers I've tried in the US.
In January, my husband Gabe passed his Mental Health state licence exam and we celebrated at Council Oak. I was very excited to check out the recently updated lounge menu which includes many new dishes and suggested pairings (craft beer and wine).
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
We'll start with my meal first - the Lobster Roll ($26) with housemade spiral chips. The suggested pairing for this dish was Rombauer Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($22). Interestingly enough, I was introduced to Rombauer for the first time 2 weeks prior to this dinner while in Houston waiting on a flight and quickly gave myself a note to buy a bottle when I returned home. I couldn't have paired a better wine selection with this perfect lobster roll. It was full of perfectly prepared lobster meat and giant in size. I must state for my fellow Lobster Roll connoisseurs, this was served on a housemade roll, not a traditional New England style toasted bun.
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Gabe ordered the Council Oak Steak Sandwich ($19) served on a pretzel roll with wild mushrooms and sautéed onion served with housemade spiral chips. The wine pairing for this was Cabernet Sauvignon, Brandlin Estate, Mount Veeder, California ($28) but Gabe opted for a glass of the The Prisoner Proprietary Red Blend, Napa, California ($25). If you're a fan of Council Oak steaks (I mean, who isn't), I strongly suggest trying this sandwich out. It's literally a perfectly prepared steak inside a pretzel roll at a very affordable price.
A few other new items on the Council Oak Lounge Menu that I am looking forward to checking out: Short Rib Open Face Grilled Cheese ($18) with pimento cheese and arugula salad. Suggested pairing: Shiraz, Yangarra, McLaren Vale, Australia ($16)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Fried Oysters ($15) with pickled vegetables, spicy crème fraiche tartar sauce. Suggested Pairing: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin “Yellow Label” Brut Champagne, Reims, France ($25)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Smoked Salmon Tartine ($14) with Salmon caviar, avocado mousse. Paired with: Vermentino, La Spinetta, Tuscany, Italy ($13)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
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Monday, February 6, 2017

Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on Carnival Vista

If you follow this blog, you know my love for food and trying new things. When I first dined at a Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on Carnival a few years ago, I instantly fell in love and claimed it as my favorite Carnival restaurant. To date, Ji Ji still holds this title for me.

Aside from delicious food, the family style dining at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is what makes this my favorite restaurant at sea. It's incredibly affordable considering the amount of food you receive. For $15, each person gets a starter, an entree, a side dish and a dessert. I suggest if you go with a large party, to have everyone order something different, giving everyone a chance to try their favorite and something new. If you have a party of two, be sure to order different things.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on the Carnival Vista has an open kitchen so we were able to watch the chef's hard at work from our table!
I will state, my best friend is not an adventurous eater. She allowed me to order for us and ended up realizing after this trip that she loved Asian cuisine. Also, I loved the art work at this restaurant! Here's a tip - if you want a wider wine selection while at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, ask your server for a wine list. We were able to order a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay vs. getting Kendall Jackson by the glass.
Below is a sampling of what you will receive as a party of two. You can check out the whole Ji Ji Asian Kitchen Menu here

Slow Braised Pork Belly with Caramel Chili sauce with black vinegar, Pomelo citrus fruit, Chinese chives with gorgonzola and spiced purple onions. I had this dish last time I dined at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and it will always be a staple for me while on Carnival ships. If you find yourself at Ji Ji, do yourself a favor and order this dish without a second thought. Our appetizer was giant and we could have easily had this as an entree.
Jiaozi (Pot Stickers) Shrimp dumplings with pea shoots, radish and green apple salad. This was my first time ordering Pot Stickers at Ji Ji and they did not disappoint. This was a good dish to order having Keri with me, being they are a menu item that doesn't scare picky eaters.

Peppered Beef with Chinese Vegetable (Shen Li Ho), bird's nest, Chinese mustard, young garlic, ginger root and scallions. I asked our server what her favorite item on the menu was and she quickly answered - Peppered Beef. This is never something I would have ordered on my own. If you find yourself at Ji Ji, ask the staff what they like best and go with it - you may end up getting blown away like I did. Not only was the presentation stunning, the beef had an amazing amount of flavor, only to leave me on the mainland craving this dish a month later.
Kung Pao Chicken with Sichaun peppercorns , chiles and cashews. Not at all surprised Keri went with Kung Pao Chicken, a dish whose name she knew from other Chinese restaurants. This dish was the perfect amount of spice - not too much to burn your mouth but enough to make it water.

Hakka Style Noodles a traditional flat rice noodle. This noodle dish was perfection. I wish we were able to order it to go other nights when the restaurant was booked. It had the perfect amount of flavor and the veggies were cooked to perfection.
Himalayan Basmati Fried Rice with Chicken. Fried rice is something I am pretty picky about and this one did not disappoint. A perfect side dish to an excellent meal

Rose Creme Brulee
Caramelized Crepes with Ice Cream 

At closing, for $15 additional dollars per person, dining at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is well worth the price.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Seminole Hard Rock Paul Hobbs Dinner at Council Oak and a New Three Course Chef's Menu

My husband Gabe and I recently had the opportunity to experience a Paul Hobbs wine pairing dinner at Council Oak, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Without a doubt, this was my favorite pairing dinner at Council Oak (and we have been to quite a few). Everything from the food to the wine was executed perfectly.
The night started on the red carpet, or shall we call it the wine carpet. This particular dinner was extra special as it was on the 7th year anniversary of our first date. Seven years?! Crazy!
We also got to dine with our friend, fashionista and PR goddess Nikki from Hard Rock Tampa. While we see her often at these events, we hardly ever get to sit down and spend time with her. Seriously, how cute is her outfit!
The night began with a glass of wine in hand. We received a beautiful glass of Paul Hobbs 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir which was the same bottle each guest got to take home that night. There were three hors d'oeuvres during the cocktail event and all knocked my socks off. Charred Octopus with Romesco Sauce; Wagyu Hot Dog with pickled mustard seeds; Mini Croque Monsieur with Iberico de Bellota Jamon.  Funny thing, I look back at these events for job research. I frequently work with caterers and restaurants for events throughout the US. My biggest thing is thinking outside the box and giving my guests a food experience that they've never seen before. I had a call this week with a caterer and told her I wanted Wagyu Hot Dog bites at an event I'm planning in March. Thank you Council Oak and Chef Dave Puatu :)
The first course was off the chain. When I saw the  menu, it noted: Chilean Sea Bass with Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River Valley. What I wasn't expecting was a perfectly prepared Chilean Sea Bass with giant chunks of Lobster, Manilla clams and a Pernod Cream Sauce. I would have been happy with just this meal alone! The Chardonnay - wow. I am a Chardonnay girl and love creamy butter bombs. The Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River Valley drank perfect with the fish (it also drank perfect on it's own, I had quite a few refills of this one!).
The second course, a Smoked Quail Ragù with shaved winter truffle was mind blowing delicious. I am all about truffle anything and mix that with house-made Garganelli pasta and a glass of Malbec? Talk about perfection. The wine served with course two was a Bramare Appellation Lujan de Cuyo Malbec, Argentina. It was a perfect balance to the pasta.
Oh course three.....I don't think any dish I will eat again will be as good as you were. This is depressing when I think that way. Without a doubt, this was the best plate and best wine I have ever had. The entree consisted of a Japanese Wagyu File Mignon topped with butter that was made with 4 bottles of the same wine we drank with the course - Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena. This wine will be sold at Council Oak for $600 a bottle. So do your math on the cost of that butter. Served with tempura lobster at that. I cannot explain this dish in words. The steak literally melted in your mouth and was unlike any steak I have ever tried. I couldn't finish the steak and brought it home with me, butter and all.
The final course was called Sweet Escape - Ice Wine sous vide Fiji Apple with salted caramel ganache and a white chocolate streusel. Say what!? Mad Scientist Pastry Chef Stephan Schubert did it again! Paired with a glass of Stratus Vineyard Ice Wine Riesling, Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

I want to thank Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for hosting Gabe and I at this dinner.  There will be an announcement soon about the next pairing dinner at Council Oak so be sure to follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's blog for more details.
Council Oak launched a new menu called the Chef's Trio - offered Sunday - Thursday from 5pm-7pm. This is a perfect night out at a great price point. You receive a salad, filet mignon and tuxedo cheesecake for $59 a person. We typically celebrate Valentines Day the day before or day after - I think I know where we are going this year!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fueling up for the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon and a Giveaway

A very common thing people ask me is what to eat the night before their first half marathon (or enter race distance here).  What may work for me may not work for you but I am someone with a stomach who controls their running. For me, bananas are a no-go. My pre morning meal is half of a bagel with peanut butter and I run with a mini protein bar if I get hungry on the course.  

So I reached out to my friends at First Watch and had them put together some fueling tips for the upcoming First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. I never expected to be this excited upon getting the email back - Corporate Chef Shane Schaibly literally went inside of my brain and crafted the tips on what I eat! Avocado Toast and eggs are my go-to post race meal. Granola, fresh fruit and yogurt are a staple in my house. Lastly, anytime I see a carrot ginger fresh juice on a menu, it is instantly ordered.

I am happy to post these amazing fuel tips a Half Marathon thanks to First Watch Corporate Chef, Shane Schaibly.

First Watch is giving away an entry to the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. Click here to enter it. This means I have three giveaways going at this time! Click here and here for the other two. 

Fueling up for the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon by Chef Shane Schaibly

     When Megan asked me to put together some tips to fuel up for the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon, I was pretty pumped. There are a bunch of things I love about running – well, I really like watching other people do it, and I love the part where it’s over and especially the part where you get to eat afterward.

In all seriousness, it takes a ton of determination, discipline and intense training to work up to a half marathon, and I applaud you for all of your hard work! In addition to a dedicated training program along with hydration, your diet and nutrition are vital to your success when running the race. Food is fuel, and I’m excited to provide you with some quick tips to fuel up for this year’s Sarasota Half Marathon.

Throughout your training, eat healthy snacks like these to keep your energy levels high.

With the race just a few weeks away, I hope your training programs are in full swing! As your runs get longer, try reaching for pre- and post-workout snacks and meals containing things like fruit, nuts, Greek yogurt or natural fruit and veggie juices. If you’re in our neck of the woods, stop by your neighborhood First Watch to try one of these:
Energy Bowl – Your choice of our housemade granola or Muesli cereal of oats, sliced almonds, pecans, dried cranberries, wheat germ and raisins. Topped with fresh fruit and a touch of cinnamon. Served with non-fat vanilla Greek Yogurt.
First Watch Sunrise Granola Bowl
 Sunrise Granola Bowl – Non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt layered with fresh, seasonal fruit, nuts and our housemade granola.
First Watch Day Glow Juice
Pair the Energy Bowl or Sunrise Granola Bowl with our fresh Day Glow juice (Carrot, orange, lemon and organic ginger). This healthy combination should give you that extra pep you need to get through your training!

Race week should have you fueling up with a healthy, balanced diet to prepare your body for the 13.1 miles ahead.

In the days leading up to the half marathon, you should be eating healthy foods, but you don’t need to carbo-load. A balanced diet containing a mix of healthy fats, lean protein and carbohydrates will help get your body ready for the 13.1 miles ahead. Swing by First Watch for breakfast, brunch or lunch to try this:
First Watch Avocado Toast
Avocado Toast – Our thick-cut whole grain toast topped with fresh smashed avocado, EVOO, lemon and Maldon sea salt. Served with two cage-free basted eggs.

The night before the race, eat a simple dinner that contains carbs to give you energy for race day!

The night before the race, it’s important to eat something that’s easily digestible and contains carbohydrates to give you energy for the race. Pasta is always a good choice, but try to avoid any thick, heavy sauces or too much butter, since you definitely don’t want to feel weighed-down on race day.

On race day, eat a light breakfast to give your body the energy it needs to finish the race.

The morning of the half marathon, you’ll want to eat something to get your body going. This breakfast should be simple and something that your body is used to consuming. Toast, oatmeal and cereals are all good sources of energy that will be slowly released throughout the morning during your run.

Don’t forget about the post-race Pancake Party (and Michelob Ultra beer garden)!

After the race, we’ll be waiting at the finish line with lots of fun snacks to help you refuel. This includes our famous post-race pancake station, along with lots of fruit and other healthy snacks to replenish those energy levels. Don’t forget to stop by the Michelob Ultra beer garden to celebrate your accomplishment too!

Keep in mind that no two bodies are exactly alike, so it’s important to pay attention to your nutrition and the way your body responds to different foods to figure out what works best for you.

Race day will be here before you know it, and I know I speak for the rest of the team at First Watch when I say we are thrilled to be part of your awesome accomplishment. See you all on March 19!

Shane Schaibly
Corporate Chef
First Watch Restaurants, Inc.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Carnival Vista Seafood Shack Review

It is easy to get wowed while on board the Carnival Vista. Everywhere you turn, something will amaze you. While on our recent 6 night cruise, I fell head over heals for the Seafood Shack. An open air restaurant, where your fresh seafood is cooked to order at a small additional fee.
When the Carnival Vista released their first press video, the Seafood Shack was mentioned. Right then and there, I knew I had to sail on this ship ASAP.
One of the coolest things about the Seafood Shack is that you can purchase local fresh catch from the and have it prepared to your liking at any restaurant on the ship, at any time. When the ship is docked, the Seafood Shack will get locally sourced fresh fish to offer when you're back on board. The prices are not bad either!
Ordering at the Seafood Shack is simple. You receive a pager and when your freshly prepared food is ready, you pick it up. Keep in mind, this is not a quick counter service style restaurant. While it is outside in the open air just like Guys Burger Bar, this is just like ordering at a restaurant. Don't expect your food to come out in a flash - everything is cooked to order.
I am a huge fan of everything Lobster. My family has a house in Maine and we have a reunion every three years. Six years ago, I had my first Lobster Roll and everything changed. I became obsessed. Anytime I see it on a menu, I have to order it. Most of the time, I am left disappointed.
I was not disappointed with the Seafood Shack's Lobster Roll. In fact, if I didn't have to be in a bikini multiple times on this trip, I would have eaten one everyday. The lobster roll is actually lobster roll's. For $12, I got two filled fresh lobster salads stuffed in perfectly grilled buttery buns. There wasn't too much mayo or filler. It was just lobster perfection served with a side of fries.
My friend Keri ordered the Lobster BLT - and she said it was one of the best sandwiches she's ever had in her entire life. Using the same lobster salad as the lobster rolls, this was stuffed between bacon, tomato, lettuce and two grilled pieces of bread. Also served with fries for $12.
I was starving when the order was placed, which resulted in me ordering two dishes. We also got the buffalo shrimp for $8. I was only able to eat one, and gave the others away. These shrimp were giant. While very good, it was too much combined with the lobster rolls I already devoured. We did see another group order grilled shrimp and those looked amazing. We had planned on going back but cruises go quickly and next thing we knew, it was over.
I strongly suggest dining at the Seafood Shack at least once if you are on the Carnival Vista. I am hoping that other ships will receive this amazing restaurant. Having the option to order fresh oysters, steamed crab legs, beautiful lobster tails and customized fresh fish is only the beginning. You can check out the entire Seafood Shack menu here. Now I want a Lobster Roll!

Friday, January 27, 2017

GIVEAWAY! First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon and Relay

Hi friends! Today I have some pretty awesome news for my fellow runners. For the third time, I am partnering up with First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon which is taking place on March 19, 2017! We have some fantastic memories at this event and I am giving a few people a chance to run this race for free!

photo from First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Facebook

I cannot say enough about the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. It's sponsored by First Watch, a restaurant where everything is made fresh to order and has some surprisingly healthy options. All First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon participants receive a gourmet breakfast at the finish line and if you feel inclined, a free Michelob Ultra (I am definitely one of those inclined people).
photo from First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Facebook
The First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Course
The course is amazing, starting at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, then over the John Ringling Bridge to St. Armand’s Circle. You make a loop and go back over the bridge.
photo from First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Facebook
At this point, those doing the relay will find the exchange at 6.2 miles and the second half will continue the race with those running 13.1.
photo from First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Facebook
The second half of the race continues on Tamiami Trail, then onto residential Indian Beach Drive, heading over to the John Ringling Museum, then looping back to finish at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.  The finishers medals are huge and along with delicious food, you will find live entertainment at the finish.
2013 was our first time participating in the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon series and we did the relay. Looking back on the race recap makes me smile (and laugh at the horrid iPhone photo quality)! At the time, my husband and I were not engaged yet and very into running. I reread the post and my statement of "I was jealous of everyone running the full vs. the relay" made me LOL. Read about our 2013 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Relay Recap here.
We returned in 2014 and I clearly remember this race. It was shortly after I went race crazy, running 10 races in 3 months, 2 were full marathons, 4 were half marathons, including one Dopey Challenge and one Glass Slipper Challenge. The 2014 relay began with me doing the first 6.2 miles - and I struggled hard. We finished slower than anticipated but that was fine with us. We enjoyed the course and the amazing sunrise. Read about our 2014  First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Relay Recap here. This was the last race we ran before our wedding!

Although I am 4 years older than the first time we did the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Relay in 2013, I feel much stronger. I've never been one to write about hopes of a PR but I cannot lie that there is a huge part of me that want's to slay this course.
I have not one, but two race entries to giveaway today! I am giving one away here on the blog and one away on Instagram (click here to head over to that post from your smart phone). This race is selling out fast so this will be a quick giveaway, ending a week from today. I encourage you to share away on twitter daily through the rafflecopter below to gain extra daily entries.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Register for the 2017 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon & Relay and receive the following:

First Watch gourmet breakfast items for all participants
Free Michelob ULTRA beer for all participants over the age of 21 (ID required)
Largest medal in Florida for all half marathon and relay finishers
Custom made, tech short-sleeve shirt
Live band at the finish line presented by First Watch
Kids Corner featuring face painting, balloon artists, interactive games and contests
Great photo opportunities throughout the course

First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Start / Finish Line
6:45 am – first wave race start time
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
777 North Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34236