Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Back - Community Connections during the Holiday Season #SimplyHealthy

This shop has been compensated by #CollectiveBias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SimplyHealthy

Something I do not talk enough about on this blog is my personal and professional involvement with the communities I work and live in. I co-lead an initiative at work to promote and encourage volunteerism among our co-workers. I also project manage an international day where all of our offices throughout the world give back to their community. Volunteerism is something I am passionate about and my goal in 2015 is to become even more involved.
I was first introduced to the New Image Youth Center through our annual Day of Giving Back at work. It was one of two charities our Orlando office volunteered at.  New Image Youth Center aims to improve the lives of youth by providing an environment where students feel safe to dream, and to support the realization of dreams through programs designed to foster academic, social, and physical well-being.
New Image is located in Parramore, one of the worst communities in Orlando. In most recent studies, of the 73% of Parramores 2,000 children lived in poverty and 84% were in single parent households. 47% of Parramore adults had neither a high school diploma nor GED and the median household income was $13,613. Parramore had the City's highest rate of reported child abuse and neglect, a juvenile arrest rate 2½ times that of Orlando's citywide rate and a teen birth rate nearly six times the rate of the surrounding county.
Since the new Image Youth Center was founded, they have had a 100% success rate with their students graduating high school Six of whom have gone onto college. None of the kids who attend New Image Youth Center have been in the juvenile system and teenage pregnancy is down. They help in the community and have grown up to become amazing young adults.
While doing my bi-weekly Sam's shopping trip, I found myself picking up a few extra items after reading the Healthy Living Made Simple article on volunteering. You can download the interactive magazine by clicking here. We decided to do a two month food and clothing drive at work for New Image. The items below are what I purchased from Sam's.

During this trip, I grabbed multiple canned vegetables, canned soup, 12 boxes of macaroni and cheese and 3 boxes of cereal.  If you are able to pick up one item during every shopping trip to donate to a local food bank or shelter, it would really help. 
How do you give back to your community?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Savory and Spice pairing at Maritana Grille at Lowes Don CeSar and a Cyber Monday deal

When two foodie mecca's in St. Petersburg partner up, you better be prepared to be wowed.  Maritana Grille at Loews Don CeSar teamed up with Savory Spice Shop of St. Pete and created a spectacular tasting menu which features four-courses. The "Savory and Spice" tasting highlights exotic spices and offers a diverse selection of both seafood and beef.  Each diner has an option of two items for the four courses. There is also a wine pairing option available. Gabe and I had a chance to check out the new "Savory and Spice" menu the other night and we couldn't have been more impressed.

Savory & Spice First Course
Jamon Iberico or Marlin
marlin sashimi
The Marlin Sashimi was as delicious as it was stunning in presentation. Topped with lotus root and a pomegranate sorbet. The flavors complemented each other well. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were thai chilies and coconut oil. This dish was paired with Vincent Delaporte Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
jamon iberico
Don't let looks fool you - the Jamon Iberico was one of the highlights of our meal. Ibérico Jamón from Spain is valued at $100 a lb and is considered by many to be the finest cured ham in the world. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were Melina international Organic Olive Oil and Lemon Grass. It was truly amazing. This dish was paired with Champalou Chenin Blanc, 2011.

Savory & Spice Second Course
Diver Scallop & Palmetto Creek Pork
diver scallop & ox tail ravioli
When I first received the tasting menu, this was the dish that excited me the most. A seared diver scallop over a deconstructed ox tail “ravioli” with shaved truffle. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were Italian Black truffle sea salt and Porcini Mushroom. This dish lasted all about 3 seconds on our plate. It was every bit amazing as I imagined it would be. This dish was paired with Crabby Range Proprietary Blend, 2011.
palmetto creek pork with pumpkin gnocchi
The locally raised Palmetto Creek Pork with Pumpkin Gnocchi was also a home run. This dish had Quince, Pumpkin Spice and Star Anise in it and was full of flavor. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were pumpkin spice and star anise. One thing that impressed me was that the dish wasn't overly pumpkin. So many times, pumpkin will overtake all the other flavors but not the case here, it had just the right amount. This dish was paired with Joel Gott Zinfandel, 2011.

Savory & Spice Third Course
Anderson Ranch Lamb Rack & Sea Bass
sea bass with rice grits
This dish. WOW. Perfectly seared sea bass over anson mills "rice grits" with saffron, asparagus, chard tomato and a lemon verbena sauce. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were saffron and maldon sea salt. Every bite was better than the next and we found ourselves fighting over the last bite. Of all the dishes we had this night, the Sea Bass was my favorite. This dish was paired with Antica Chardonnay, 2009.
anderson ranch lamb rack
Our last entree course of the night was an Anderson Ranch Lamb Rack with fiji apple, foraged mushrooms, glace onions and a sherry sauce. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were fennel pollen and maldon sea salt. I loved the addition of the apples to this dish. This dish was paired with Orogeny Pinot Noir, 2011.

Savory & Spice Third Course
Artisan Cheese & Frozen Espresso Parfait
frozen espresso parfait
The Frozen espresso parfait was pretty amazing. I was pretty full at this time and only had one bite but the spiced hot chocolate was the perfect touch to this dish. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were hot chile cocoa and coffee extract. This dish was paired with Broadbent Maderia. 
artisan cheese
When we were in Europe a few months ago, I noticed many restaurants offered a cheese plate for dessert. It didn't make sense to me, until now. Cheese at the end of a meal is very satisfying. Especially if you don't have a sweet tooth like me. The almonds were coated in a truffle glaze - oh my wow. The four cheeses were accompanied by a rose petal jam. Although we were full, this dish got cleaned. The spices used from Savory Spice Shop were rose petal and wild flower honey.

The new tasting menu is just the start of a long-term partnership between Loews Don CeSar and Savory Spice Shop St. Pete. The two are planning to host a series of specialty dinners in Maritana Grille in 2015, as well as cooking demonstrations, culinary tours and more. When you book your table, ask to be seated with CeSar, Maritana Grille's famous Eel.
CeSar the EEL at Maritana Grill
Cyber Monday Sale & book directly through Facebook!

Loews is offering 20% off stays throughout 2015 on Monday, the biggest e-shopping day of the year. Starting December 1st, you can book your hotel stay directly through Facebook and twitter! This year’s Cyber Monday offer is available for 24 hours only on December 1, 2014, and applies to all hotel stays in 2015, based on availability. You can book this deal through, the Loews Reservations Center (855-74-LOEWS), Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Loews Don CeSar on Facebook | Twitter 
Follow Savory Spice Shop on Facebook | Twitter

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Visiting The Colosseum, Rome Italy - Honeymoon

Rome was the second to last destination on our European honeymoon. We arrived to our hotel and instantly headed for the Colosseum. We bought our Colosseum tickets in advance which and did not have to wait in line. Our ticket included touring the Colosseum, the roman forum and the palatine.
While Rome wasn't my favorite city during our honeymoon, being inside the Colosseum was unlike anything I've ever experienced. It's hard to conceptualize the amount of history that lied inside the walls and being inside a structure that was built in the first century honestly leaves you speechless.
The Colosseum was giant - much larger than I anticipated. It held between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests, public spectacles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.
After we left the Colosseum, we ventured over to the neighboring Roman Forum. At this point, I wished we did a guided tour so we would know what everything was. However, after fighting through multiple tour group after multiple tour group, I quickly changed my min.

After we were finished at the Roman Forum, we headed to Palatine Hill. Being able to walk in remains of homes that belonged to gardens of Imperial Rulers was truly enchanting. 

The Colosseum was my favorite part of Rome. If we were to do it all over again, we would have taken the train into Rome and stayed in Florence (it's only an hour train ride). In a weird way, the area of Rome we were in reminded me of times square. Not my cup of tea, but you can't miss seeing it if you are in the area.

Rock Marathon Series 2015 tour announced and a one day sale

The 2015 Rock n Roll Marathon tour was officially announced with the return of Rock n Roll Brooklyn! Today only, you can register to run Rock n Roll marathon series with the lowest prices of the season. Races start as low as $59! Click here to see all of the cities and one day prices.

As part of the Rock n Roll Blogger team, I will receive a 3 day "tour pass". This pass (retailed at $199) allows me to run any 3 Rock n Roll races in the US. We are already committed to New Orleans in January but I have no idea what the other two races will be. Rock n Roll created a virtual running calendar which lets you create your tour stops. Here are the two options I am thinking of:
The ending results could very well be a mix of those two. However, those are the 5 I am torn between. Decisions Decisions......

What #MYRNRTOUR are you running this year?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Trio of Party Dips, Delicious Party Food #SeasonedGreetings

This shop has been compensated by #CollectiveBias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SeasonedGreetings

It's hard to believe November is almost over. I am in full Thanksgiving mode, googling holiday party recipes all day long. This year we are doing things a little different for the big turkey day, renting a large house in Orlando with Gabe's family. I am looking forward to spending time with our family, going shopping, watching college football and of course, going to Disney.
One thing I love about Thanksgiving is being able to cook all day. Cooking is my way of relieving stress and nothing makes me happier than spending all day in the kitchen. While our Thanksgiving menu is well underway, our Saturday menu is lacking delicious party food ideas. Saturday after Thanksgiving is a BIG day in our household - the Florida vs. Florida State game. We are a split household..... I'm the Gator fan and Gabe is the Seminole. Let's just say I am not so pleased with how the past few years have gone, so I will be spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen so I don't throw things at the TV. Here are three flavorful party dips that would please everyone and you can use throughout the Holiday season.

Corn Guacamole
This is a delicious concoction I came up with one day due to lack of ripe avocados. I only had one avocado and we needed guacamole. So I added corn, jalapenos, red peppers, cilantro and lime juice. It's delicious with chips and also on salads. Combine the ingredients below and serve immediately.
  • 1 Avocado, diced
  • 1 Red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon or more of TABASCO Jalapeno Green Pepper Sauce
  • 1/8 cup fresh Cilantro
  • Juice of one lime
Peanut Hummus with a Twist
This is what I call an accident gone right. I found a recipe on Tabasco's website for Peppery Peanut Hummus. I followed right along and accidentally grabbed my ground ginger instead of ground cumin. I realized too late and decided to continue with both ginger and cumin. The flavor ended up reminding me of Thai food. I loved it!! Combine all the ingredients below in a blender (I used my blendtec) or food processor and blend for 1 minute or until smooth.
  • 1 can of chick peas, undrained
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon TABASCO original red sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • Optional 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Chipotle Black Bean Dip

I created this delicious dip from another one of TABASCO's recipes I found online for Smoky black bean dip. Theirs calls for cheese which I left out to keep it healthy. This was delicious and leftovers would be amazing in a steak burrito!
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 diced white onion (I used vidalia)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cans black beans, one drained, the other with the juice
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons TABASCO Chipotle Pepper Sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Heat oil in a skillet, add onion and cook until softened (5 min), add garlic, cook another minute. Add green chilies and cook 1 minute, then add both cans of black beans, salt and water. Simmer for 5 minutes.  If you are using cheese, add at this step. I poured the mixture into my blendtec and hit pulse for a few minutes, so I would have a creamy dip. TABASCO's website suggests using a potato masher but it was too chunky for my taste.

I purchased my TABASCO products at Publix in Tampa, FL. I was surprised to see the multiple sizes and flavors that TABASCO comes in these days. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why you should do a first look wedding shoot

I will be honest, when it was first suggested for us to do a first look wedding shoot, I was very apprehensive. Having having a second line parade between the ceremony and reception practically forced us to do our wedding portraits before we got married. That meant Gabe would see me hours before we said "I Do" and I thought that would take some of the magic out of the day.

Boy was I wrong. Having a first look was by far one of the best decisions we made on our wedding. I strongly encourage any brides to be to have a first look. Here are my top 5 reasons why a first look is a great idea.

  1. You have intimate photos of the first time you see each other
  2. It's just the two of you and your photographer(s) - it felt like the calmness before the storm
  3. You can have your family photos directly after the first look, allowing more time to spend with guests at the reception
  4. You have less of a chance of crying at the ceremony
  5. You can enjoy cocktail hour with your guests vs. taking wedding portraits.

The girls and I had just gotten back from getting our hair and makeup done while the guys were downstairs doing their photos. I was instructed to go on the balcony/veranda of our suite at Hotel Mazarin because Gabe was on his way up. I was SO SO SO nervous. Here was the first times we saw each other......

This is when Gabe told me I was beautiful and I almost started to cry. At this point, I was super thankful we did the first look because I knew I had less of a chance crying at the ceremony.
Same shot, opposite angle - and it cracks me up - why is he grabbing my arm so hard!?
I have no words for this photo. Apparently I said something really funny.

After the first look, we did our family photos and our wedding party photos in the courtyard of Hotel Mazarin. They were setting up for our cocktail party and the only thing I would have changed was for the tables to not be in the photos.

Would you do a first look photo shoot?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ulele Tampa now open for lunch

A few months ago, I had the chance to check out Tampa's newest hot spot Ulele during their media night. Since they opened in September, Ulele has made it's mark in Tampa Heights, right down the street from our Ybor City condo. This Friday, we were looking for somewhere to eat lunch in the Ybor area and I stumbled upon the fact that Ulele is now opened for lunch. While their full dinner menu is available during lunch hours, Ulele's lunch menu is quite impressive. Multiple sandwiches, salads and entree's that will have you jumping out of your office chairs. Make sure you make reservations - we dined at 1:30 and the place was packed.
We couldn't decide on an appetizer, so we got two. Upon walking in the doors, you could smell the butter and garlic from the Charbroiled oysters. It's a smell we are familiar with during our many visits to New Orleans. We ordered the half dozen of charbroiled oysters ($12) and Gabe's 3 were gone before I could blink an eye. Delicious.
We also got one of my favorites - Blistered Shishito Peppers ($5). These little peppers are addictive - you can pop them like french fries and are tossed in sea salt, garlic and olive oil. However, one out of ten are spicy. It's like playing Russian Roulette with peppers.
For our entree's, Gabe and I were torn between two items so we got both and split them. As soon as we saw the Ulele Burger ($12), we had to order it. Their signature burger is made with char-grilled ground short rib, brisket and chuck blend burger. Topped with Wisconsin sharp cheddar, house signature steak sauce, portobello mushrooms, fire-roasted red peppers and fried leeks. I can honestly state that this burger is in my top burger list. While it had a lot going on, the flavors meshed perfectly. My husband is not a fan of fancy burgers and he stated "this may be the best burger I've ever had".
We also ordered the Lobster Roll ($16). If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know our obsession with Lobster Rolls. Ulele's is made with fresh poached North Atlantic lobster, tossed with garlic, lemon and butter served with a mango citrus aioli, diced vine-ripe tomato (which we had them hold) and most importantly, an authentic New England split-top buttered baguette. The flavors of the Lobster Roll was spot on. I do wish there was more lobster on the bun though. Add a little more lobster to this sandwich and it would be the best Lobster Roll we've had in FL.

Ulele already had a fan in me, but now Gabe is already looking for an excuse to go back for dinner. For those in Tampa who are going to utilize the Coast Bike system, I noticed a bike station in front of Ulele.
  Ulele on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wedding Hangover Welcome Bags

I was provided with partial product for this post. As always all opinions are my own

I did a post a while back about our wedding welcome bags and today I am showing you the final product. I wanted to personalize everything and make our guests get in the spirit and make sure they were taken care of the day after our big day. We used our save the date image for the sticker on the bag and included everything one may need for the morning after.
We purchased personalized plastic mason jars in our wedding colors and gave each guest one. I left a letter for each guests with recommendations on restaurants, bars and activities based on their interests. For instance, Gabe's grandmother got different recommendations than my party animal friends.
My father in law created the personalized maps - he gave me half of them ahead of time and I forgot them in Tampa, so I had to print out others in black and white, as seen above. My friend Jen took the photo below and you can see the color full size maps.
When we first got to NOLA, my Mom and I headed out to get small airplane sized bottles of Vodka for the bags. Little did we know, up until June, mini bottles of alcohol were illegal in New Orleans?! The city who has drive through bars was not permitted to carry 50ml bottles of alcohol. I cannot tell you all how much this stressed me out. We had everything for bloody mary's in the bags with no vodka. We ended up finding small (but larger than 50ml) bottles at a gas station and bought all of them. Thankfully the labels still worked.
In the bags were morning after necessities:
Zing Zang bloody mary mix
Blowfish for Hangover Relief
Pretzel Crisps Everything Flavor
Haribo Gummy Bears (my favorite candy)
Snickers (Gabe's favorite candy)
Mardi Gras beads (just because)
People are still talking about how much fun they had at the wedding, so I did something right! Many thanks to Zing Zang, Blowfish and Pretzel Crisps for contributing towards these amazing bags.