Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 my year in review

Although I am currently cooking something to bring to a New Years Eve party this evening, I find it impossible that we will be closing out 2017 at midnight. I say it every year, but this year has flown by. Although I didn't blog nearly as often in 2017 as previous years, my life was insanely busy. With that said, it is time for my annual year in review!

January
I said hello to 2017 with The Cancelled Walt Disney World Half Marathon that lived on. For the first time ever, I faced a cancelled race due to weather. Along with a few hundred other runners and volunteers, we made up 13.1 miles around various Disney resorts on race day (we were at Pop Century and had plenty of photo opps). It was amazing to see encouragement from visitors, made up water stations and an describable energy. It was one of my best running moments.

Following the cancelled half marathon, my best friend Keri and I headed down to Miami to board the latest Carnival fleet, the Vista on our annual girls cruise. The Vista was without a doubt the nicest cruise ship I have stepped foot on and I am itching for another cruise soon!

February 

February was when my work madness kicked in. In 2016, I took a new position in a new department within my company for events. Honestly, if someone was to ask me years ago to form my dream job, this is it. It also comes with travel, which I am perfectly fine with - but my blog had to take backseat. In the month of February, I went to NYC, Houston, Seattle and Atlanta. In between my work travel, I found time to run my first Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa.

March
March kicked off with back to back work weeks in Atlanta. I spent the entire month of March in Atlanta and got promoted during one of the visits! I also ran the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon Relay with my husband during one of my weekends home. This is one of my favorite races in Florida and we have participated in it 3 times now.

April
We went to New Orleans for Easter Weekend with my husbands family. It was a busy weekend full of parades and activities and we had an amazing time.
I ended April with a press trip to Disney for a photo workshop called Capture the Bite. I spent 3 days with talented photographers where we were taught new skills. This was a great workshop where we put away our smart phones and brought out our cameras for some incredible photo opportunities - and of course great food, all while meeting new friends.

May 
May started my crazy work schedule again with trips to Atlanta, Nashville and Ponte Vedra. Somehow I was able to keep everything in line and have some free time to do fun stuff. The day I got home from Capture the Bite, I received a text from my friend and neighbor Heather who invited me to be her plus one for a Disney press trip. I couldn't believe it - two Disney press trips in a week?! As Heathers plus one, I got to experience The World of Pandora, the new Avatar land inside Disney's Animal Kingdom prior to it opening. We rode all the rides, took plenty of photos and had a relaxing time in this beautiful world before all madness set in when it opened.

June
June was chaos upon an already chaotic year with work trips to New York, Atlanta and Hollywood (FL) - and my birthday of course. In fact, I didn't blog once during the whole month of June - and recapped everything here. We had an unexpected loss in our little family. We had to suddenly and unexpectedly put down our beloved 13 year old cat Boo. He started breathing funny and after taking him into the vet, we learned he had an advanced stage of cancer. We made the hard life decision to make him comfortable and say goodbye. June, a very eventful month, was very tragic for us.

July
Not to broadcast my age - my 20th High School Reunion was in July. How in the hell did that happen?! I swear we were just at our 10th Reunion. It was great to see so many people we spent a big chunk of our lives with. It was fascinating - one thinks they know everything going on in everyone's lives because of social media - but interacting on Social Media is far different than catching up in person. We almost didn't go, and booked our tickets a few weeks prior to the reunion. It was a great memory and I encourage anyone who is on the fence about attending their reunion to book your ticket and go!
After shedding far too many tears, we decided  it was time to rescue another cat and give him/her the life that we gave Boo. Enter Baloo! We found Baloo through a local foster group and after a week of back and forth, we finally got the approval to bring him home! He is a perfect fit to our little family. This crazy kitten loves to play fetch and is the biggest snuggler I have ever encountered. We are madly in love with this little guy!

August
August is the month that I named "the calm before the storm". We took Baloo on his first road trip to St. Augustine Beach and found out he is a wonderful traveler. My Cousin got married in St. Pete Beach and we got to spend the weekend with my parents. August also kicked off the craziest 4 months of work I could ever imagine. The craziness started with a Florida based roadshow, then I headed back to Atlanta. We were also finalizing a 9 city, 2 country roadshow that began in September. Hold on tight, here we go....

September
Although I knew September was going to be VERY busy, we were not expecting Hurricane Irma to be part of it. Luckily, our house was damage free in Tampa but we did evacuate last minute to my parents in Daytona (only to lose power there). The hurricane had potential impacts on all of my September events and honestly, this was not something I had done a crisis plan for. Once Irma came and went, I found myself in Nashville for a client event, then flew directly from Nashville to Orlando to kick off our 9 city road show. This was a first for our company and between me and my counterpart, we each went to 8 of the 9 locations (I skipped London, she skipped Orlando). Following the Orlando event, my husband and I headed to Fort Lauderdale to go on a Carnival Conquest celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. I did something on this cruise I had never done before - I left my work computer at home and only checked my work email once. Baby steps!

October
Oh October........ Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Portland - or as I nicknamed it, the tour of city skylines. Although I was gone the entire month, we did have an opportunity to check out some pretty great restaurants and I crossed one off my bucket list - Girl and the Goat! I have a ton of blog posts to write about my city adventures, I just need to find the time to do so!

November
My Portland trip ended the road show and I took a red eye so I could make it to packet pickup in time for runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon. I'm not going to sugar coat it, this was one of the hardest races ever. Between being totally exhausted from being on the road for 6 weeks straight and not having much time to train, my 13.1 miles were a total disaster. I did push through and finish but it wasn't pretty.

December
December was a very nice, much needed slow month. Gabe and I went back to New Orleans. This was a trip rewarding myself for all the work craziness over the past few months. We spent 5 days in the city, eating a ton of delicious food and enjoyed all the Christmas decorations. We even saw snow in the French Quarter!!! We closed out 2017 with a trip back home for Christmas and enjoyed quality time with our families.

Overall, 2017 was a good year. It surely had it's ups and downs but looking back, I would say far more ups. I hope everyone has a wonderful New Years eve and that 2018 is the best year ever.

xoxo

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Orleans School of Cooking Review and easy Creole Gumbo Recipe

Hi friends! It's hard to believe just a week ago, we were witnessing snow in New Orleans. In my 13 trips to the Big Easy, snow was never something I thought we would experience. While we didn't get to do everything planned during this trip due to the weather, we did get to check out New Orleans School of Cooking, something I have wanted to do for years now.
My husband Gabe and I signed up for the New Orleans School of Cooking morning demo class and learned how to make Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding and Pralines. They menu varies day to day and they also offer hands on classes which we will be booking on our next visit.

The class started with tea and water on the table, lemonade and coffee were also available. Our instructor, Chef Brandon taught us how to make Gumbo, my absolute favorite thing to eat in New Orleans. I have a gumbo problem and eat it every day while in NOLA. I can tell you the best places to have it and where to stay away from, but that's a whole different blog post :)
Prior to this class, we've made Gumbo a few times but it came out looking too light. I learned why during this class, I didn't cook my roux nearly long enough! We also learned a trick to make quick roux - cook it in a cast iron skillet and get your oil or lard hot (be sure to use a oil suitable for high heat such as Canola) and gradually add your flour, stirring constantly. Bring your roux one color darker than you want to serve it, pull it off the heat and add your trinity then. The trinity will stop the cooking process.
When it came time for us to eat the gumbo, both Gabe and I went back thirds. It was that good. While we were eating, Chef Brandon showed us how to make Jambalaya. We've made jambalaya a few times and it always turns out too mushy. Come to find out, you are not supposed to use white rice and you need to use parboiled rice. Once again, we were wowed by the flavor and Gabe said it was the best Jambalaya he's ever had.
While we were eating Jambalaya, each table received a pitcher of Abita Amber. It was the perfect companion to the delicious creole food we were eating while learning how to cook it.
Next up was the Bread Pudding.  This was actually prepared and put into the oven prior to us getting there. However, we brought home the recipe and it was delicious!
Finally, Pralines. This is something I will never try to cook from home, although Chef Brandon made it look extremely simple.
Overall, this was a great experience. We learned some New Orleans history that even we haven't heard before, such as New Orleans has the second most rice fields in the US and 99% of their crawfish come from those fields! I would strongly encourage anyone visiting New Orleans, who wants to bring home skills to make creole staples at home to give this a try. I put it up in our top three experiences we have done in NOLA.

Make this for Christmas! We've been home for almost a week and have already made Gumbo..... and it was a huge success!!!! This was super easy and it was delicious. During the class, we learned  that Gumbo is commonly served during Christmas dinner. Just add some seafood for an amazing seafood gumbo a few minutes before you are ready to serve.

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo Recipe adapted from New Orleans School of Cooking

Ingredients:
1/4 lb or Lard or 1/2 Cup of Canola Oil
1/2 Cup of Flour
1 lb chicken, cut up (I used boneless skinless chicken breast)
1 lb Andouille Sausage, sliced (I used Johnsonville but found multiple smoked varieties at our local grocery store)
2 Cups Chopped Onion Diced (Trinity)
1 Cup Chopped Celery Diced (Trinity)
1 Cup Green Pepper Diced (Trinity)
1 Tbs + Garlic Chopped (do this to taste, I used wayyyyy more than 1 tbs)
6 Cups Chicken Stock (try to find Better than Bouillon, it is a jarred paste and is better than the boxed stuff)
1 Cup Green Onions Chopped (I skipped this)
Creole Seasoning to taste

Directions:
Saute the chicken in a large pot using oil, lard or bacon drippings (I used oil). Add the sausage and saute with the chicken.

Making the Roux: In a Cast Iron Skillet heat your oil over med-high heat. Once hot, gradually add your flour and stir constantly. Once you get to your desired color (ours was between dark chocolate and coffee), pull it off the heat and add your Trinity (onion, celery, pepper) which will stop the cooking process. Stir constantly until your veggies have reached desired tenderness. This will appear burnt but it likely isn't (unless you smell burning, then you need to restart).

Add your Roux to your large pot of sausage and chicken, stirring constantly. Stir in your chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for at least an hour. The longer it cooks, the better it will taste.

Season your Gumbo to taste using Creole seasoning. We used a brand from the New Orleans School of Cooking called Joe's Stuff which you can find on New Orleans School of Cooking website or on Amazon. While that isn't widely available, you can also use brands found nationwide such as Tony Chachere's (which I grew up on).

Serve over a little rice - not too much as the star here is the gumbo, not the rice. Make sure you have a loaf of french bread because you will need it to soak up the Gumbo! A few side dish suggestions are sweet potatoes or potato salad (or of course a nice salad).

This post has affiliate links. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Win a free cruise with Carnival #OpenFun


If you're in NYC today or tomorrow, head over to Greeley Square Park to take part in one of the coolest pop ups I have heard of by Carnival Cruise Line (and for a chance to win a free cruise)! If you aren't in NYC, there is also a chance for you to win, read below for more details.

Carnival Cruise Line is giving consumers a “whiff” of their next vacation in a unique and unconventional way, with a one-of-a-kind “scent-sory” experience featuring an immersive heated tropical tent, a steel drum band and a groundbreaking vending machine dispensing air canned directly from the Caribbean.

The “scent-sational” event also provides consumers with a preview of Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Horizon, while offering a chance to win a cruise on the 133,500-ton ship which makes its U.S. debut in New York in May 2018.

The cans feature scents of Carnival Horizon’s Caribbean destinations, including Wild Banana Orchid from Grand Cayman, Puerto Rican Coffee from San Juan, Fresh Guavaberry from St. Maarten, Sugarcane Rum from St. Kitts, Island Coconut from Cozumel and Ocean Breeze from the sea.

Carnival designed this activation following a recent survey, conducted by the cruise line, that found that 95% of Americans agree that scent can trigger vacation memories and 56% agree that a particular scent has motivated them to plan a vacation.

In conjunction with the New York City promotion, Carnival is hosting a national sweepstakes on their social channels (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) from Dec. 12-16, asking people to share what scent inspires them to vacation using the hashtag #OpenFun for a chance to win a cruise.

Visit www.carnival.com/awaywego for more information.

WHEN:
Tuesday Dec. 12, 2017 12pm-6pm
Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 12pm-6pm

WHERE: Greeley Square Park
Located at Broadway and Avenue of the Americas between 32nd and 33rd Street
or online from Dec. 12 - Dec. 16 Twitter | Instagram | Facebook using hashtag #OpenFun

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Holiday Happenings at Westfield Shopping Center - $100 Gift Card Giveaway #HowDoYouHoliday #WestfieldBrandon

I cannot believe Christmas is 19 days away, nor does it seem like 2017 is about to come to an end. This year has literally flown by and I find myself less than 3 weeks from Christmas with a ton of shopping left to do! Deep breath....
Westfield to the rescue. Earlier this week, I headed over to Westfield Brandon for a little shopping.  I haven't been to this mall in quite some time and was pleased to see many brands I buy available throughout the stores (Apple, Kate Spade, Quay, Ugg, to name a few). I am giving away a $100 gift card to a reader, details at the end of this post.
Within an hour, I finished shopping up for my Mom thanks to the variety of all the fun shops. Check out these Christmas decorations! I want it ALL.

I also made a quick stop into the Disney Store where the Christmas stuff was 25% off. Our Christmas tree is Disney themed and it took everything out of me not to buy that Mickey Mouse cookie jar.
Westfield Brandon has a ton of stuff going on over the next few weeks. Check it out:

Santa, I know him! If you plan on taking your little ones to see Santa in Westfield Brandon, click here to reserve a fast pass. The hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 am – 9 pm, and Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm, with scheduled breaks to feed the reindeer. Located at his Holiday Wonderland between Panera and Red Robin. Visit Westfield.com/Brandon for complete list of hours.

ALSO - if you are a Tampa Bay Lightning Fan, something pretty awesome will be happening tonight. It is Tampa Bay Lightning night with Mr. and Mrs. Claus from 6pm-8pm. They will be dressed in Tampa Bay Lightning Jerseys, plus Thunderbug will be there! I'm trying to figure out how to get my husband convinced we should take a photo with Santa dressed in a Lightning Jersey....

Gift Wrapping and Holiday Lounge: This weekend, December 8 - 10, and for the remainder of the season, December 15 - 24, Westfield Brandon will provide a Holiday Lounge for you to relax while having your holiday gifts wrapped for a minimal donation. The lounge will be located near Dillard's. All proceeds will benefit local charity.

Before you head over to the stores, be sure to download the Westfield app to access holiday shopping discounts and special events.

Westfield Brandon Extended hours shopping:
Mon - Fri 12/4-12/8: 10am-9pm
Sat 12/9: 10am -10pm
Sun 12/10: 11am-7pm
Mon-Thu 12/11-12/14: 10am-9pm
Fri-Sat 12/15-12/16: 10am-10pm
Sun 12/17: 11am-9pm
Mon-Thu 12/18-12/21: 10am-10pm
Fri-Sat 12/22-12/23: 9am-11pm
Sun 12/24: 9am-6pm

$100 Giveaway!
I've got a $100 Westfield American Express Gift Card to give away to one lucky reader. What would you do with $100? Use it for holiday shopping or gift it to yourself? I would purchase two pairs of Quay sunnies, one for a friend and keeping a pair for myself. This gift card is valid for any of the Westfield shopping centers throughout the US! Click here to enter through Instagram.

This is a sponsored post, however all opinions are my own.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Planning for a destination race and currently loving the #WaveRider21

Hi friends! I visited my hometown of Daytona Beach this weekend and realized it had been 3 months since my last visit. Where does time go exactly and how is it December already? My husband Gabe stayed in Tampa to finish our bathroom remodel. That has been quite a journey and will be sharing all the positives and negatives on doing a DIY bathroom remodel soon (let's just say it was supposed to be finished in October).
While visiting home, I took the opportunity to catch up with Keri and Tara, my two friends running the Key West Half Marathon with me. Yesterday marked the official 6 week countdown for the race and we went to brunch to chat about all the things we'd be doing while in town for our girls race weekend. Keri has been my best friend for 31 years and Tara is my former roomate but it is a very rare occurrence that the three of us are together. Needless to say we are all looking forward to spending 5 days together in Key West.

While at brunch, the girls were quick to ask me about my shoes, the new Mizuno Wave Rider 21. This is a neutral shoe with AIRmesh Upper for breathability and Intercool technology, a ventilation system that reduces heat and humidity build-up inside the shoe while running. Both are great perks for Florida runners!
I ran my first full marathon in Mizuno's in 2013 and they also pushed me through 48.6 miles during the Dopey Challenge in 2014. I am excited to take the Wave Rider 21 on a long run this weekend. The enhanced SmoothRide allows for softer heel counter than the previous models which makes me a happy girl. Along with SmoothRide, the U4icX Midsole is lighter than previous models and the Strobel Lasting Board ensures a comfortable underfoot feel.
Tara is training to beat 2 hours at the Key West Half while Keri and I are running for fun (that means more wine & champagne for us!). Aside from running 13.1 miles, we have a packed itinerary. Since the three of us hardly gets together, we are using this time to be carefree, kids at heart and I have planned a ton of activities for us. This is just a sneak peek of our destination race girls trip. Hard to believe we are less than 6 weeks away.
Wednesday: Air Adventure Helicopter Tour
Thursday: Eco Adventure Tour
Friday: Jet Ski Tour & Wine Sunset Cruise
Saturday: Parasailing
Sunday: Key West Half Marathon & Champagne Brunch!
Monday: Go home (and Tara's Birthday!)

If you've been to Key West and have any suggestions on amazing restaurants, please send them over!

Here are some outtakes from taking pictures of the Wave Rider 21....let's just say Tara's daughter is a riot and copied everything I did.


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Mizuno. The opinions and text are all mine.