Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The LakeHouse at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

During runDisney Wine Dine Half Marathon, my best friend Keri and I stayed at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and had our pre-half marathon dinner at their restaurant LakeHouse which overlooks the properties 21 acre private Lake Windsong.
Neither Keri or I are big into heavy carb-loading prior to a race and will typically eat and drink what we normally would put into our bodies on a Saturday night (with the exception of 2 glasses of wine vs a bottle).
We started off dinner with bread service which we were quick to joke - ok you can consider this carb-loading! LakeHouse does have a few pastas on their menu for those looking to carb load prior to running and we ordered one of them to split - the Roasted Vegetable Ravioli. It was nice and light and not too filling. The veggies were a big plus for me!
We shared a starter and what we thought was a flat bread but was actually a pizza! The starter was a delicious beef carpaccio which we devoured in seconds. I could probably live off of beef carpaccio if able.
And our not so flatbread Pizza was a BBQ chicken pizza. It had a ton of flavor and we could have seriously split this and called it a night being we were already full.
The entree we split was Steak Frites, a grilled skirt steak served with fries. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare and melted in your mouth.
We were too stuffed for dessert and it was getting late. So we called it a night and watched Bad Moms before falling asleep at 10:00 for our 2:30am wake-up call! The following day, we had breakfast at LakeHouse an it blew my mind. As I stated in my recap of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, we had ordered it to go following the Wine Dine Half Marathon so I didn't get any photos but found one online from Visit Orlando. I am still thinking of this breakfast, Avocado Toast topped with two poached eggs, hollandaise, arugula and asparagus. We substituted the Canadian Bacon with regular Bacon. It was devine.
photo from VisitOrlando.com
While waiting for our breakfast, we stepped outside to see the views offered from LakeHouse (we dined when it was already dark). The first thing I noticed aside from the beautiful lake was the fresh herb garden! How awesome is this! I need to see about getting planters like this on the side of my house.
The setting of LakeHouse is stunning everywhere you look. It was serine and I could have sat out there all day.
We were overall impressed with LakeHouse and I look forward to dining there again!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Our first trip to Disneyland, California

2016 marks as the year my husband Gabe and I shared new Disney experiences. We visited Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park in September and had a blast. While there, I never thought we would be making the trip to California weeks later to visit Disneyland California for the first time!
Growing up in Central Florida, it is a very common thing to spend a weekend at Disney World. My co-workers who aren't Florida residents think of this as an oddity, that I can decide on a whim to spend the day at Disney but this is how we grew up. With that said, this is the reason neither of us have ever been to Disneyland. When the World is in your backyard, your parents aren't going to be quick to fly across the country to take you to another park.
When we found out I was heading over to Disneyland to run the Super Heroes Half Marathon, we both became filled with excitement for visiting Disneyland for the first time. I don't know if it was the time change or the fact I was more excited than any Christmas morning I could remember, but I was up at 5am waiting to enter the parks.
We stayed on property at Disneyland Grand Californian (blog post to follow) and we had extra magic hours on Saturday morning which permitted us into the park an hour early. I will say that Disneyland's security is tighter than Disney World's - after we got through the security gates, we only had 15 minutes before the park opened to non-hotel guests. If you are staying on property and want to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, plan accordingly - I would be there 15 minutes before the early time starts.
Once inside, we entered through Main Street USA and just like Paris, we first noted how alike the parks Main Streets were. Then we rounded the corner and saw Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Growing up in Disney World, this was much of a shock to us. While many have warned me not to be surprised at how small the castle was, I was not prepared for this. If you've been to Disney World, you can see in the photo above why we were both a little confused - yes that is the castle in the middle!
We immediately went over to Space Mountain to learn it was closed until further notice. NOOO! We had no idea when (or if) it would reopen. So I started stalking the Disneyland App so we would know about getting fast passes. I am sad to report, we did not get to ride Hyperspace Mountain. By the time we got back over to the ride, the fast pass distribution time was at 7:30 and we had the Super Heroes Half Marathon Pasta Party that night to attend. Also for those used to Magic Band and my Magic Plus, Disneyland still uses the original paper ticket fast pass method.
Although slightly bummed over missing out on Space Mountain, I quickly got over it when I rounded the corner to find Mr. Toads Wild Ride. As a kid, this was 100% my favorite ride and I've never gotten over Disney replacing it with Pooh at Disney World. Mr. Toads was the #1 thing I had to ride while at Disneyland and it was the first ride we did in the park. I couldn't get the smile off of my face. It was exactly how I remember.
We decided to go on Splash Mountain since it only had a 5 minute wait. It was almost exactly like ours. This seemed like a great idea since it was such a short wait but then we got soaked....not a great idea sans poncho.
We got to take advantage of riding the Haunted Mansion Holiday before the parks got packed, which was taken over by Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. We literally walked right on the ride which was great being 20 minutes later they were up to an hour wait. Essentially, the ride itself is very similar to our Haunted Mansion but with the Jack twist to it, the entire experience was 100% different and we absolutely loved it.
Although I didn't ride the Mad Tea Party Cups, I saw the same facial expressions as those I see in Orlando. My friends Nicole and Chad got engaged on these very cups a few years ago!
(Photo by Jimmy DeFlippo, © Disney)
Another original ride to be taken over by the Holidays was It's a Small World. Thanks to being stuck on it at Disney World for over 30 minutes, this is one ride I refuse to go on (along with the Tea Cups). However, I thought it was super cute that they redid the ride for the Holidays.
Once you pass It's a Small World, you find yourself entering Toon Town. This was a super fun part of Disneyland and I love how they did it. You seriously felt like you were inside a cartoon. Gabe and I rode Roger Rabbit's Toon Car Spin. I don't do spinning rides and the only reason I went on this was because it was Roger Rabbit. Once I took over the wheel and prevented us from spinning (thanks Gabe...), I really enjoyed the ride.
After leaving Toon Town, we met up with my friend and fellow ASICS ambassador, Linzie (Sharp Endurance). Although we have been connected via social media for nearly 4 years through a number of partnerships and ambassadorships, this was the first time we have met in person. We rode Indiana Jones Adventure together which became our last ride of the day.
While at Disneyland, we did partake in one food staple - the Mickey Beignet. We are hard critics - we visit NOLA two to three times a year. Everyone I know raves on the beignets found at Disneyland's French Quarter but they sadly did not meet up to our real life French Quarter expectations.
I did love all the French Quarter flair at Disneyland! Live Jazz performances and smells of gumbo and Jambalaya in the air. I wish we had this section at Disney World!
Before leaving the park, I had one goal in mind.....a Disneyland Corndog. The line was close to an hour long and luckily we had Linzie w/ us who was quick to inform that the same corndog was available next door at California Adventure. We said our goodbyes to both Linzie and Disneyland and headed next door for a ton of fun.

To be continued...............

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rock n Roll Half Marathon Winter Virtual Run

It's that time of the year. The time where you break out your comfy sweatpants because nothing else fits. Starting with eating too much during Thanksgiving then back to back Holiday parties, it is hard to keep motivated. Drinking wine with friends is far more exciting than going out for a run.
However, my friends at Rock n Roll Marathon Series are making it very easy to encourage you to lace up those sneakers with an adorable virtual run called Winter Runningland. Since this is a virtual run, you can collect the awesome Rock n Roll medals from the comfort of your town or your treadmill. There are three segments of this run and if you sign up for the trio, you get a special snow globe medal.

If you missed the date window for the races below, you can still sign up for the challenge while supplies last.
WINTER HAT MEDAL
Nov 18 – Dec 04
Register Now: $29.99
RUNNING SHOE MEDAL
Dec 05 – 18
Register Now: $29.99
EARMUFFS MEDAL
Dec 19 – 31
Register Now: $29.99
BONUS : SNOW GLOBE MEDAL
Those who sign up for the challenge receives this bonus spinning Snow Globe medal along with the three above!
Register Now: $99

When it comes time to participate in your virtual run, Rock n Roll has gone the extra distance by making themed bibs for each of the events. Click here to download your bib! Then go to the online finisher zone to add your results!
Will you be adding any of these amazing medals to your collection? Thanks to all of these Rock n Roll virtual events and challenge medals, I need to add a new medal holder to hold my ever growing collection of fabulous bling. I can't wait to see the snow globe in person!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Steps from Disney - Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

Just steps from Disney World Resort is a piece of paradise: Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. My best friend and I stayed there for the runDisney Wine Dine Half Marathon. This was my first time at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and I instantly fell in love with this property.
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress screams luxury but is also inviting and family-friendly so you get the best of both worlds. Although you are staying at the craziness of Lake Buena Vista, you easily forget the hustle and bustle going on outside the gate once your on property.
At registration, I met Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress ambassador, Merlot the Parrot. I am actually terrified of birds so I didn't get too close but he was very pretty! At registration, we were handed a welcome glass of champagne. The lobby is beautiful and had a very relaxing feel to it - perfect for unwinding after a busy day at the theme parks!
We stayed in a Buena Vista Double Room which was spacious and overlooked the pool, lake and Disney. We had views of the nightly fireworks and gorgeous sunsets.
We had a 2:30am alarm for the race and our car was instantly ready from Valet. The trip from Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress to Epcot was simple and we had zero traffic. Of all the runDisney events I have done, this was the only time I did not get stuck in traffic. In less than 15 minutes, we were parked. I would at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress again in a heart beat for runDisney events.
Following the race, we ordered breakfast from LakeHouse, one of restaurants located on property. Since it was to go, we didn't get a photo of it but this breakfast was the BEST eggs Benedict I've ever had. The Lakehouse Benedict was avocado toast topped with a poached egg, candied bacon and roasted tomatoes. It was devoured in less than 5 minutes.
After running 13.1 miles, there was no place I would rather be than Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress pool. This pool was something out of a fairy tale with 12 waterfalls, a water slide, rope bridge, and a swim-through rock grotto with a hidden jacuzzi.
The hidden jacuzzi's were our favorite. There were two, one was inside of the grotto which came in handy when a quick rain storm came through.
You had an option of a heated pool and unheated pools. The unheated pools were cold but perfect for post running and we didn't need to take an ice bath! Another runner perk - the 24 hour fitness center has a stretching station with foam rollers so you don't need to travel with yours!
The chairs at the pool were super comfortable and I took a 30 minute snooze. 
Aside from the amazing pools, there are quite a few activities to do at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. There is a 21 acre private lake called Lake Windsong and you can choose from a wide variety of non motorized water activities. 
Paddleboat, Kayaks, Hydro Bokes, Canoes, Aqua Cycles, and Sailboats are there for you to enjoy. 
 You can also sunbathe on their 1,000-foot-long white sand beach.
There are a ton of bikes available for you to rent and take a nice ride out along the 1,500 square foot property. 
There are also three jogging trails on property ranging from 1.3 to 4.7 miles.
As you can see, staying at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a vacation inside a vacation. I did not feel that we were in Orlando and there is so much to do and see. We stayed two nights and could have easily stayed a week doing various activities each day. For those who participate at runDisney events, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress was an ideal location with easy access to the race. We loved staying here and look forward to a return trip!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Keep Organized with Holiday Shopping and a $100 Shopping Spree Giveaway! #HowDoYouHoliday

Can you guys believe Thanksgiving is a few days away? That turkey sneaked up on us! I am looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with the family while spending the week at Disney.
I have always been the shopper who was done with everything before Black Friday yet I am slacking a bit this year with all the traveling I've been doing. Luckily for me Westfield Shopping Centers their Big Shopping Week taking place prior to Black Friday, November 20-27. Beat those crowds and get your shopping done early.

How to keep organized & in budget for the holiday's:
(this is an example from the main template. I did not buy my husband Coal or my best friends Scrabooking materials and xbox games 😄)
To keep organized during the holiday's, I keep an excel spreadsheet to track everything I buy both online and in stores. This comes in handy when you have a large family with multiple people to buy for and is available on Microsoft Online's free downloads. It's called Holiday Shopping Budget. If you cannot find me, send me and email and I will happily send it over to you!

The spreadsheet includes:
  • What the gift is
  • Cost of the gift
  • If it's been purchased or still outstanding
  • If it's arrived (include link to tracking number if it's outstanding)
  • If it's been wrapped


To kick off Big Shopping Week, I am giving one lucky reader a $100 shopping spree at ANY Westfield Mall in the US!

Tell me in a comment below what is at the top of your holiday wishlist. Be sure to enter the contest through the rafflecopter widget below. If you don't go through the widget, the entry will not be counted.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Before you head out to the Big Shopping Week, be sure to download the Westfield App. Click here to get it today.

Also, if you plan on seeing Santa while shopping, there is no reason to stand in an hour plus long line. Westfield Mall is offering a fastpass to jump the lines. How brilliant is this!? Click here to access the calendar and get your fastpass today.

Friday, November 18, 2016

AD Death by Gumbo on the Grill #CheersToAPerfectPair

This post is written by me on behalf of Tyson Foods, Inc. All opinions are entirely my own. This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. #CheersToAPerfectPair #CollectiveBias

Messaging below is intended for ages 21+ and is intended to be enjoyed responsibly, in moderation.
Last month my husband and I went on our 10th trip to New Orleans. It is without a doubt our favorite city in the USA. We love it so much that we had our destination wedding there! I am frequently asked why we love visiting NOLA and there are multiple answers: It's romantic, fun, historical, beautiful and you will find some of the best food there. We plan our trips to the big easy based around what and where we are going to eat.
On this trip, we finally made it over to Restaurant Revolution, an award winning restaurant located in the French Quarter. I had one goal at this restaurant, to try their famous Death By Gumbo, a dish where they stuff a whole bird of your typical gumbo ingredients (rice, sausage, oysters, spices, etc) and serve it whole in a bowl, covering it with gumbo broth. I have many friends who have tried this dish and rave about it. I can truly say, after trying it myself, this goes on my must eat NOLA list and instantly started thinking about how I can make this at home.

Two weeks after we arrived home, I started looking up various Death by Gumbo recipes, all of which called for roasting the bird (either Cornish hen's or Quail). We recently bought our first house as a married couple and were excited to move from a condo so we could finally grill again! I have made it a mission to grill out on a near nightly basis. Gumbo on the grill? Yes! I've seen recipes around where people stuffed Cornish hens on the egg and instantly knew how I would be making our Death by Gumbo at home.
Luckily for me, Sam’s Club currently has a promo through 11/20 for a 6 pack of Tyson® All Natural Premium Cornish Hens where you can save $3.75 off, which made it a very affordable meal for 4 people (I froze the other two hens). I've cooked with Cornish hens a few times and it has always ended up as an elegant, delicious, simple and affordable meal which is great with the holiday's coming up! You can check out this video to see how to cook Cornish hen's if you've never cooked them before.
I started off the process by defrosting the hens. The 6 pack at Sam's Club are located in the frozen food section (however they are all natural with no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, no added hormones or steroids). After spending the night in the refrigerator and a day in the sink, I had 4 defrosted hens waiting to be stuffed.

Since I am not in Louisiana, I had to modify the ingredients (I couldn't find Tasso or fresh andouille sausage) but over all, the recipe turned out magnificent and I will be making it again. The recipe I am providing below is for the 6 pack of hens, you can modify it based on how many you are feeding. I will say that one hen per person was too much food with this recipe. My recipe was modified from the original found here.

Cornish Game hens
6 pack of Tyson® Cornish Hens
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 cups long grain cooked white rice
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. gumbo filé powder. If you cannot find this don't worry but my local grocery store carried it
1 lb andouille sausage, cut into 1/8 inch slices
6 raw oysters, shucked (I opted not to use these in my recipe one of my guests had a shellfish allergy)
1/2 cup vegetable oil; more as needed
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 stick butter, melted

Gumbo
2-1/4 oz. (1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
3 medium celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced (2 Tbs.)
3 oz. white button mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
2-1/2 oz. andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
1-1/2 quarts lower-salt chicken broth; more as needed
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
4 medium scallions, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; more for garnish
Stuff and Cook the hens

Season the hens with salt and pepper inside and out. Remove the liver if the bird has it inside. I also used a Cajun garlic seasoning to give it a little more flavor. Preheat your grill to 375 degrees F (you can also do this in the oven). Combine the cooked rice with garlic powder, parsley and gumbo file. Stuff each bird with 1/4 cup of the rice mixture, sliced sausage and oysters if you're using them. Tie up with with cooking twine. Place your birds in an oven proof dish, breast side up.

Place the dish on the grill, brush with butter every 15 minutes cooking to an internal temp of 160 degrees F (can take 45 minutes to a little over an hour).

While your hens are cooking, start your gumbo.
Make the gumbo 
Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat (be careful not to get your oil too hot). Whisk in the flour and stir it constantly until it’s smooth and a deep brown, about 15 minutes. I did not do this long enough which caused my gumbo to be lighter than it should have been. 

Now it's time to add your veggies - add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and minced garlic, stirring constantly until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and sausage and cook until the mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Slowly stir in the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the liquid is the consistency of heavy cream. 

Stir in the thyme. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the scallions and parsley, and remove from the heat. 

Strain through a sieve and pour into a gravy boat(s).


Assemble the Gumbo
Cut the twine off of the hens, place each in a large shallow bowl (big enough to fit the hen). Cut through the top of each hen. Place in front of your guests and pour about 3/4 cup of the gumbo around it. Top with parsley.

This would make a fantastic dish to serve during the holiday's. Not only is it unique, it is very delicious and full of flavor. I paired my Death by Gumbo with a bottle of Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon which I also found at Sam's Club.
Have you ever cooked Cornish hens before? If not, this is your perfect opportunity to give it a try. If you are near a Sam's Club on 11/19, check out this link to find a Tyson® Cornish Hen + Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon Sam's Club demo near you. I was able to attend a Ravage wine tasting last weekend and you do not want to miss this opportunity!