Thursday, February 28, 2013

I am bling crazy! 8th annual First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon

It's official, I have gone bling crazy and I have a serious medal problem. While at the Rock n Roll St. Pete Half Marathon Expo, I was able to get a sneak peak of the 8th annual First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon & Relay medal. I instantly fell in love with this huge dolphin medal.

Seriously, HOW cute is the 8th annual First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon & Relay medal?! What makes this race even better is that it is sponsored by FirstWatch, one of my absolute favorite breakfast restaurants.

The 8th annual First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon & Relay also has a great course, running over the causeway, through St. Armands Circle and passing through Ringling Brothers Museum of Art. All I ask is to keep the clowns away from me!
Here's the great news, I have a discount code for the 8th annual First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon & Relay medal. Click here to register.
Half Marathon Code ($7.50 OFF) - SARASOTA13 
Relay Team Code ($12.50 OFF) - SARASOTA13R

I know a lot of my Tampa blogger friends are already trained for this event as we've been doing so many half marathons over the past few months. I cant even grasp that this will be my 5th half within a three month period of time! Come join us and add the beautiful medal to your collection.

Race Perks Include:
  • First Watch Gourmet Breakfast items for all participants 
  • Free Michelob Ultra for all participants over the age of 21 (ID required) 
  • Largest medal in Florida for all half marathon & relay finishers 
  • Refreshing gender specific tech short-sleeve shirt 
  • Live band at the finish line presented by First Watch 
  • Kids Corner featuring Face Painting, Balloon Artists, and Interactive Games and Contests 
  • Great Photo Opportunities throughout the course, bring your camera 
  • GU Energizing Station at Mile 7.5 
You can follow me on twitter and instagram the day of the event. I will be posting photos using the Hashtag: #RUNSARASOTA. - Date: March 17, 2013 - Start Time: 7:00 AM - Location: Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236

Oak Alley Plantation Part Two - Oak Alley Restaurant

My family and I enjoyed a spectacular trip to Oak Alley Plantation during our trip to New Orleans. Not only did we see amazing scenery and learned a bit of history, we also had a spectacular lunch.

Our server, Sheridan, welcomed us with true Southern hospitality. She offered us a drink and I promptly asked for Oak Alley's famous Mint Julep. I couldn't leave the plantation without one. I was pre-warned it was a strong drink, 3 parts bourbon.... It was in fact strong but very delicious.
Gabe got the Praline Coffee. He loved this drink so much, he purchased the Praline Liquor from Oak Alley's gift shop.
When I first viewed Oak Alley's menu, the first thing that stuck out in my head was the Louisiana Crawfish Cake, made with Louisiana Crawfish Tails and grilled in a cast-iron skillet with a delicious Cajun cream sauce. I loved every minute of it.
For our entree's, I made sure everyone ordered something different so we could get a true taste of Oak Alley's restaurant.

Starting off with my meal, I tried the Seafood Au Gratin made with Fresh Louisiana shrimp and crab meat. It was cheesy and delicious. Everyone at the table loved this dish.

My Mom ordered the Louisiana Redfish, blackened and topped with a Pecan Butter. WOW - that pecan butter! This was my first time eating Redfish and certainly will not be my last.
Gabe ordered the Sharecropper's Lunch which was a mix of popular dishes. It included a cup of shrimp gumbo, red beans, crawfish etouffee and rice. He loved the combination and enjoyed trying the different dishes.
Gabe's Father ordered the Red Beans & Rice with Smoked Sausage - Creamy red beans seasoned with ham, sausage and a link of smoked sausage. It was so good! Also surprisingly delicious were the peas.
Gabe's Mom had the Chef's Special, a baked potato topped with seafood stew. It was amazing. I love topping my baked potatoes with stews and this took it up to a whole new level (there are those peas again!).
Finally, my Dad ordered the Shrimp Po Boy. It was traditionally dressed and came with hand cut french fries.
We were all sitting there with full belly's when Sheridan's Mother, Donna, came out with a dessert tray. Donna has worked at the plantation for 30 years and her family has multiple recipes in the Oak Alley Plantation Cookbook. How could we possibly say no to that?

Gabe and I ordered the chocolate pecan pie, which reminded me of pecan pie and a brownie having a baby. It was hot, gooey, chocolaty goodness.
My Parents ordered the Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake with Praline Topping, which is not in the cook book and I am hoping to receive a recipe to make this at home. My parents were spoon fight over the last bite.
Gabe's parents went the traditional route with the Pecan Pie and as you can see from the photo below, it was Pecan Pie Perfection.
It is no wonder that the Oak Alley Plantation has been featured in National Geographic, Martha Stewart Weddings and Southern Living.

Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Root New Orleans - pure culinary magic

Upon planning my trip to the big easy, I received dozens of tips on restaurants from many friends. This was my third trip to New Orleans, yet there are so many restaurants I have yet to check out. So much to eat and never enough time.

Of the many suggestions I received, one stuck out. This was from Todd of Tasting Tampa (who just had a book released, Food Lovers' Guide to Tampa Bay: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings) - so his advice was well received. Todd told me we had to try Root and  my parents are still talking about their meal, one of the best we had in New Orleans.

Root - a restaurant located in the Warehouse District of Nola by Chef Phillip Lopez, who proudly offers modern American cuisine rooted in traditional flavors and techniques. You simply have no idea what this Chef is capable until you try it yourself. My parents mentioned several times that they didn't think Chef Lopez slept at night, that his mind must work 24-7 to have this amount of creativity and presentation. I agree.

Todd told me that we had to get two items off the menu - Face Bacon and Foie Gras three ways.

First, the Face Bacon, something I purposely didn't google prior to eating. It was very smokey, tender and delicious. I still haven't googled it but it was seriously good.....
Second - the Foie Gras three way. Missing from this shot was the foie gras pate which was also excellent:
In this trio, we had Foie Gras dippin dots with a coconut consommé. Words cannot express this dish. Gabe and I were spoon fighting over it. It plays tricks on your mind - especially if you grew up on Dippin Dots.You expect a cold sweet treat yet you get a very rich and savory bite that melts in your mouth. Amazing (I can technically say Amazeballs here).
Next up is the Foie Gras Cotton Candy with strawberry pop rocks in the middle. When I tell you this is the best thing I have ever ate, in my life - I am not joking. It was so buttery, rich, decadent and light! Perfection in a bite.

My father ordered the Louisiana Pickled Shrimp Shrimp Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Truffled Egg Yolk Mousse. If you know me, you know that I am not big on truffle, so the mousse was hard for me but the shrimp was delicious and overall, a very beautiful presentation.
Moving to the the entree's, Gabe didn't get passed line one on the menu - the Smoked Veal Pastrami Sandwich (Marbled Rye, Fennel Choucroute, Gruyère, Pickled Rutabaga Rémoulade). In his words, the best thing he has ever ate in his entire life. The best sandwich he has ever had in his life. The best pastrami he has ever had in his life - ok you get it. The boy loved this!
 My Mom ordered the Louisiana Oyster Pó Boy (Cornmeal Encrusted Oysters, Bread & Butter Pickles, Smoked Tomato Buttermilk, Bitter Greens) which was also delicious. Yet three days later, she was still talking about Root's homemade ketchup. Root makes everything from scratch and this ketchup was no joke. PS Root, if you read this, please let me know if I can order some of your house-made ketchup, I would receive worlds #1 daughter award - thanks!
Now it's my turn - I went to New Orleans and ordered a Banh Mi. Yeah, it is safe to say I have an addiction to Vietnamese cuisine. I couldn't help it though....it had the delicious Face Bacon we feasted on earlier which Chef turned into a jam! Vietnamese Bánh Mì (Jambon Persillé, Chicken Liver Pâté, “Face” Bacon Jam, Pâté de Campagne, Kewpie Mayonnaise, Fresh Herbs). Boys and Girls, this is unlike any Banh Mi you have ever had. YUM.
Onto dessert..............

Only a Chef as talented as Phillip Lopez could concoct this...adult coco crisps, technically known as the  Yorkie (Chocolate Covered Peppermint Pattie, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Coco Puffs, Minted Milk). It was truly delicious and I ate myself into a coma.
Also presented and well received Indian Falooda  - the most beautiful Falooda I have ever layed eyes upon in my life (Louisiana Citrus, Rehydrated Basil Seeds, Blueberry “Vermicelli”, Meyer Lemon Thyme Sorbet, Moroccan Coconut Milk). It was so light and flavorful - a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
So do yourself a favor. If you are in New Orleans and want to have an out of this world meal, go to Root.  Don't give it a second thought, just go. You and your taste buds will thank me later.

Root on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rock n Roll Half Marathon New Orleans Recap


February 25th, 2013 marks a very special day for me. One year ago to date, on February 25, 2012, I Megan Wood, ran my very first 5K at Disney. After completing this fun run, I had illusions that maybe one day, I could run a half marathon. Fast forward one year later.....

On February 24th 2013, I completed my fourth half marathon. My 4th!!!! My goal was to run one half marathon before the one year date - somewhere down the line, I officially got bit by the running bug.

Now that my self gloating is aside (I think I deserved that 5 seconds!), I want to recap my 4th half marathon, the Rock n Roll NOLA. Let's rewind to Wednesday the 20th when we arrived to NOLA. We were so excited to be in the city and I couldn't wait to get my hands on that glorious medal. Thursday came around, then Friday. Saturday happened and I really had doubts about arriving to the start line. We were in bed by 11pm on a Saturday night with Bourbon St. at my feet. Who is this person I have become? I am not sure yet myself but I am impressed with her.

On Sunday, with a week long of really rich foods and booze in my belly, I arrived at the Rock n Roll New Orleans Half and Full Marathon. We were in corral 16 but arrived after the first gun so we didn't get into corral on time. We jumped into 13 and off we went.....

When I say mile 1-5 came and went, I am not joking. Mile 1, I remember other runners shot gunning beers. It was 7:30am!! Mile 2 was an awesome moment - Mo Farrah passed us (he would have been at mile 7 at that time). I can officially state that I raced with Mo! All of mile 2-8 were surrounded by the beautiful Garden District of New Orleans and I was in awe.
Around mile 5, I glanced up to Gabe and asked how we were at 5 already. At mile 7, our parents were waiting with both cold and room temperature water. We took a few moments to say hi and bye....my parents left NOLA after they saw us. My runners emotions hit after we left them. I was so happy both of our parents traveled up to spend time with us in NOLA and to cheer us on and I know how privileged we both are to have such supporting parents.
After we left the Garden District, we entered the French Quarter. Amazingly, I was ok - I think I owe it to the many miles we walked prior to this run. I should have mentioned the weather, while it was cooler, the humidity was out of control. It was in the 50's cold and humid. the wind went right through you but when it wasn't windy, it was quite nice.
I saw some interesting stuff along my 13.1 miles. A fireman dressed in head to toe fire gear, including an oxygen tank. A man dressed as a chicken while running (feathers!?). People handing out beer, people drinking and running. Beautiful architecture. Delicious smells of 5 star restaurants prepping for a busy Sunday. I truly loved this race.
Once we hit mile 13, we realized that there were people crossing the marathon mark the same time we crossed the half marathon mark. Ego blow. It's beyond my mind to think that the 1st place marathoner crossed the finish line at 2:28, 12 minutes faster than it took me to cross at 13.1 (Meyer Friedman, full marathon at 2:28:43). PS Mo Farah finished the half in 01:00:59.
I cannot express my love for the Rock n Roll Marathon Series. They are very well organized events with people who care about their runners. They put on great entertainment during the race for spectators and runners plus their post race activities are the best I have seen. NOLA was no exception to this. I loved the brass bands on and off course. Hearing them along with the sights truly put a sparkle in your eye.
I am officially obsessed with the Rock n Roll Marathon series. Nola was my second RNR race in a two week period. Ironically, one of my best friends just moved to DC....and I see that Rock n Roll DC Marathon and Half Marathon has less than 1,000 spots left in their race which is only 4 weeks away. hmmm....maybe!?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Visit to Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana Part 1

During our week long whirlwind vacation to New Orleans, we decided to take a step back in time and visit the magical Oak Alley Plantation. Oak Alley is a 1,360 acre plantation located about an hour away from New Orleans. It is well worth the trip and a perfect break from the busy French Quarter.

Click here for our updated visit to Oak Alley Plantation for our engagement photos.

While driving up to the plantation, we saw quite a few smaller plantations. When we turned the bend and saw Oak Alley, all of our jaws dropped as this is what we saw:
Words cannot express the beauty of this plantation. Stunning, enchanting, peaceful, I could go on and on. We learned quite a bit of history while at the plantation and you truly felt as if you stepped back in time while on the property.

While waiting for our tour to start, we learned that the oak trees which line up the front entrance of the house are 300 years old. They were built before the house was. I sat there staring at the front of the house, imagining drinking a mint julep on the veranda.
Once inside the house, we walked into the living room, where we learned history of the original owners of the plantation, Jacques and Celina Roman. Celina's father built the house for the couple with his daughters comfort in mind. The veranda extends 13 feet from the walls, keeping the home in shade most of the day. What I found even more interesting wast that the tall windows and doors face each other, allowing for cross ventilation and the ceilings are 12 feet high. This allowed for maximum comfort during those hot summer Louisiana days. You can read more about the history of the plantation by clicking here.
Across from the living room was the dining room where Celina hosted many parties. I could imagine myself back in the day being entertained in this house. If you notice, the silverware is turned upside down. This was the way the French Creole did things and would have their family crest on the back of the silver. It was said that the Roman's silverware was the most expensive item in the house.
After a visit to the dining room, we headed up stairs where we first were greeted with the solitary room. This was the room a sick family member who was contagious or one who was passing went. We learned that once Jacques passed away from tuberculosis and from that point on, Celina wore black until the day she passed.
Across the hall was the nursery. The Roman's had 4 children, two of whom passed at young ages. The eldest surviving son was Henri who assumed the Sugar plantations responsibility and family affairs in 1859. It didn't go so well, with Henri turning it over to the creditors for a mere $32,800 in 1866.


There were many new owners at the plantation, most importantly Stewart's. In 1925, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Stewart purchased Oak Alley for $50,000 as the 5th and last resident owners. They restored Oak Alley were the ones who began the trend towards saving old plantation homes in this area. The restoration took two years at a cost of $60,000 ($10,000 more than what they paid for it).
Once Mr. Steward passed, Mrs. Stewart moved out of the master suite pictured above. She moved across the hall into a guest suite and made the room lavender, her favorite color. To insure the house would remain open for everyone to enjoy, Mrs. Stewart created a non-profit foundation.
This plantation is nothing aside from spectacular. There have been plenty of movies filmed at the location which you can check out by clicking here. You may recognize it as the house of Brad Pitt from Interview with a vampire! You are able to rent the grounds - can you imagine getting married here or having a private function? I could only dream for this being one of my wedding portraits (hint hint Gabe):

Update: We've since been engaged and had our engagement photos taken at Oak Alley Plantation 6 months following this post. Click here to see our photos!

I have this shot in the meantime ;)

Oak Alley Plantation also has guest cottages which you can stay in while visiting the area. On our next visit to the big easy, we may just do this one night to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Quarter. Brad Pitt stayed at one of the cottages during the filming of Interview with a Vampire (cottage 3).
The Oak Alley Restaurant located inside the plantation was superb and I will cover that on my Part 2 of Oak Alley Plantation. Until then, here is a Mint Julep teaser (3 parts bourbon...VERY delicious and strong):