Eating For A Cause {Taste Of The Nation Orlando 2014}

As you may or may not remember, last year I was Paula’s date to Taste of the Nation Orlando.

Well, this year – I signed on to be a Media Ambassador for Taste — and I brought a date of my own.

Ready to Taste the Nation!! #OrlTaste

I have to say, I have yet to be disappointed by this event. So much food. So many drinks. So little time. This year was no different.

image

image

Dan and I arrived at the World Marriott around 5:30 to check in early and take a media tour of the event. I have to say, I’m glad we did this because we were able to scope out the booths that we KNEW we wanted food from and ones we wanted to pass on. We also had the chance to meet Melissa d’Arabian (she was judging a taste off and repping for Food Network!). Unfortunately, she was running late and well – food called. I did get a picture from afar…

image

She seemed nice.

Speaking of food… I agree with Paula’s assessment – the food was just plain BETTER this year. The restaurants in attendance (many were repeats from last year) really brought their “A” game. I was truly SAD when I got full (and I mean FULL). The best part of this ENTIRE event?? The $$$ spent on the tickets go charity. All of the food and drinks are donated by the restaurants. So while the $150 is a little steep — it’s NOT being pocketed for profit. In fact, a record breaking $301,317 was raised that night. Yay!

Another perk of the night? I got to hangout with Paula, Cheyanne, and Katy.

Love these ladies! #orltaste #sofull

image

image

I did not drive home.

I think Dan had fun too.

image

He loves being adored.

As far as favorites go — I have to say Darden really BROUGHT IT (which surprises me slightly). Capital Grille was by far the best food and Bahama Breeze had the best drinks (fruit infused mojitos — Dan had a jalapeño pineapple mojito that was AMAZING) – although Tito’s was a pretty good second. Other favorites included K Wine Bar, Marlow’s Tavern, Calla Bella, and Disney’s Yacht Club (the last two were neck-to-neck with their scallops!).

image

image

image

This is what happens when you too busy making out with your food to take pictures.

image

There were also pirates.

I was a little (like teeny tiny) disappointed in the wine selection – except for the wine at the Longhorn booth (again – Darden spared no expense!). Most of the pours were tiny in comparison. Maybe it was me though? Maybe I looked like I didn’t NEED anymore wine? (it’s becoming abundantly clear that was probably the case as I look through my pictures ;)).

As for dessert… one word: DONUTS. Marriott whipped up some fresh and melt in your mouth cinnamon-sugar donut holes with dipping sauces. I’m not one for sweets, but I could definitely go for a few of those right about now!

image

I tried some of these too, but nothing compared to the donuts.

So in summary – I ate A LOT and I had so much fun being a Social Ambassador for Taste of the Nation OrlandoI’m beyond thrilled it was yet another great event that just keeps getting bigger and better every year. The best part (besides the amazing food – which by the way – was perfect after running a 15-miler!),was meeting some really great people doing amazing things for Orlando.

image

Especially Second Harvest! We’re looking forward to Family Night next week.

I’m looking forward to being involved with these organizations for a long time. Thanks to Share Our Strength and TOTN Orlando for the wonderful opportunity!

All The Partying

As I’ve stated numerous times, I’m a big fan of working hard and playing hard. So after 9+ months of working hard… I have spent the last two weeks reaping the benefits.

IMG_6131

I didn’t say I was klassy.

I also like to call this – the time when I hung out and partied with Paula and Jackie two weeks in a row.

IMG_6110

IMG_6126

Untitled

Up first was girls’ night out. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about leaving Evan for a night of fun and partying with my girls – but Dan insisted that I do it and while it was REALLY hard to leave him (and dude, the pumping SUCKED), I’m really glad I spent a night out.

girls

IMG_6130

IMG_6106

IMG_6103

IMG_6124

It was much needed. I somehow managed to get less sleep than when staying at home with my infant, so needless to say I was freaking exhausted the next day. It was worth it though and I’m really glad we are making this a yearly tradition.

As if that weren’t enough, Paula invited me to be her date to Taste of the Nation Orlando last Saturday.

Untitled

We ate, and ate, and ate… and drank… and did I mention the eating?

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Stop looking at my boobs.

We also hung out with Jackie and Katy (who I haven’t seen since my baby sprinkle in APRIL!) and just had fun.

Untitled

The bad news is that I got full too soon (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??) and I didn’t get to experience everything. Next year (and there will be a next year!) that WILL NOT HAPPEN.

At the beginning of the night I paid $25 for a key to a door. If that key unlocked the door I would have won 150 bottles of wine. (the best part is that this $25 was for the kids, man)

Untitled

And now you’re looking at my ass.

Unfortunately, I didn’t win. BUT the guy behind me did. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? Ugh. So close. Kinda.

And that’s how I ended my night. And my partying.

I have to admit – partying is pretty lame when you get tired at 10pm and have the tolerance of 16 year old (umm, not that I drank when I was 16 – for real), but I’m glad my friends put up with me because I had a lot of fun and got to be “myself” again for just a short while.

Untitled

And obviously, I needed it.

Going Back to Tally

We left Saturday morning for Tallahassee. After a late night at Disney on Ice with Jackie Jovi – I wasn’t sure what time we’ve get on the road, but since my kids seem to be morning people (I have no idea where they got this trait) we were on the road by 9.

I’m not going to lie to you. It was a long drive.

Back in the day, a trip to Tally would take anywhere between 3-3.5 hours depending how much we were breaking the law. I feel very lucky that this trip only took 4 hours. The weather went from beautiful to rainy and the kids where not happy campers. I have never been so happy to see this sign (clouds and all):

photo

Our first stop was a Tallahassee favorite — Po’ Boys. Thankfully, Po’ Boys expanded to North Tallahassee since we left town, and we didn’t have to fight the college kids for a table. There we met up with our friends (and Dan’s college roommate) – Brian and Trisha and their two girls.

Po’ Boys serves a variety of Cajun food – but by far the BEST item on their menu (and probably the #1 thing I miss about Tallahassee) is the fried pickles.

Po' Boy Fried Pickles oh how I've missed you...

I have not eaten better fried pickles anywhere else. Even in New Orleans.

B said today they were his favorite thing ever. I think my mission in life has pretty much been accomplished.

After lunch, we checked in our hotel (the newly opened Four Points Sheraton on Tennessee St, which I highly recommend.), made a quick stop to Bill’s Bookstore for some FSU gear, and then got ready for the game.

photo

photo

One of the best parts about our hotel was that they offered a free shuttle over to the game. Score! We made it there just in time to see the Marching Chiefs march by…

photo

We walked around the University Center for a bit before heading into to Doak find out seats.

photo

I actually had no idea where we were sitting (Brian bought the tickets), so I was pleseantly surprised!

photo

photo

photo

photo

I think this is the closest to the field I’ve ever sat. Of course, the last time I went to a game I was a student (let’s not talk about how long again that was).

The band kicked off promptly at 6

Followed by the national anthem  — where this happened (how funny is this picture?)

photo

And the massacre began!

photo

End of the 1st Quarter!

Now, we were playing a team who, last week, lost 84-0 — so expectations for a win were very, very high. We were not disappointed. We were there for almost 3 quarters and I’m pretty sure I have NEVER sung the FSU Fight Song so many times. The male cheerleaders run around the end zone with flags every time we score — and I was just exhausted for them.

photo

The only thing disappointing about the game was the rain and the lightening (thankfully, we came prepared for the rain).

photo

photo

The game was suspended for a 2nd time (yes, we waited around during the first suspension) during the end of the 3rd quarter and we decided to head out. We ended up at Chili’s (where there was no shortage of beer, margaritas, and chips) before we realized that the game  had been officially been ended for good (giving us the win — 55-0). Glad we didn’t stick around!

Of course, today we woke up to beautiful skies and perfect weather (73 degrees and zero humidity!!).

photo

Tallahassee, sometimes I do miss you. It was just so gorgeous!

After a quick breakfast, we decided to give the kids a tour of campus. We started with a drive by of the new (to us) Medical School and Psychology Building (I majored in Psych during undergrad and had to trek allllll the way across campus to get to class. No fair.) and then made a quick stop at the dorm where Dan and I both lived our Freshman Year  — Smith Hall.

photo

This is where it all began for us!

We actually met a few Smith Hall residents on our walk back to the car last night and they confirmed that it had not changed at all since we lived there. No renovations for Smith! We then all cried when we realized they were 2-years old when we lived there. Damn it goes by fast.

After the quick stop, we parked at the Oglesby Student Union and we became extremely jealous of all of the food options that were not available to us when we were there. What the hell is up with them having Einstein Brothers, and a Chili’s? Crossroads, Rallys, and that bagel place (that I can’t remember the name of) isn’t good enough for them? Screw that.

IMG_5367

We then walked across campus to the Wescott Fountain and took many photo stops on the way….

IMG_5333

IMG_5341

IMG_5336

IMG_5342

IMG_5346

Landis Green (and Landis Hall)

IMG_5347

Strozier Library

IMG_5349

IMG_5351

IMG_5355

IMG_5357

IMG_5359

photo

I apologize for being a complete cheeseball for a minute, but walking across campus just made me realize how much I really did love going to FSU. There’s just something about the architecture, the hills, the live oaks, and the people that made me fall in love with this school. And that feeling just never goes away. I can only hope to pass on this tradition to my kids!

After the brainwashing, we made one more stop before heading home — our first home.

IMG_5368

Awww… It looks exactly the same. And damn, check out how big our yard was.

Thankfully, the ride back to Orlando was less eventful than the ride up and we spent the rest of today recovering. I’m not quite sure I’m ready for a busy week — but I guess I have no choice, huh?

I’m so happy we made it up to Tally this weekend — I’ve decided that 8 years is WAAAAY too long. Good thing we’ll be back up there again (adults only!) in October!!

When’s the last time you visited your college campus? 

Opa!

On Saturday night I left my house with one purpose: to celebrate my best-est running buddy in all the land.

IMG_4955

Our initial plans involved hamburgers and drag queens – but we couldn’t get a reservation (who knew they were so high in demand?) and our venue changed to Opa! Taverna instead.

Now, when I got this email I went into “whiny Michelle mode.” I had a little pity party and emailed back that I didn’t know if I was going to make it. It’s about a 40 minute drive for me – and it had been raining for 3 days straight without any sign that it was going to let up.  I then slapped myself a few times and got over it (and bonus! the rain cleared!). Birthdays are meant to be celebrated – as loud and obnoxious as possible.

And when I mean loud and obnoxious I mean: “WHAAAAAT??? DID YOU SAY YOU BOUGHT A MONKEY SMOKING A BIKINI??

*Not actually talking

Holy wow that was one loud restaurant. The DJ had the music pumping and we were sitting right by the speakers. We didn’t want to hear anyway. The way the restaurant works is that you can stand up and dance on your tables at any point during the meal. When you dance, people go around throwing napkins at you. Opa! 

Most of the music was American or Greek Dance/Electronica — but you know they had to play the Zorba. The Greek in me really wanted to get up and dance, but then I realized that a) I hadn’t had enough to drink and b) it was super crowded. I don’t do well in crowds. So, I just clapped along and imagined myself dancing. And it looked glorious.

For dinner I started with Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and wine.

IMG_4960

And then ordered a Souvlaki Platter. Or what I thought was a platter.


*Note that this was after I ripped it apart

Instead, I ended up with the words most expensive Gyro. I was not happy and might have made that known to the waitress (who then, ugh, had the manager stop by – not that I could understand a SINGLE WORD he was saying). Apparently they now wrap their platters. Which…is not what the menu said and makes no sense. They offered to switch it out – but I had already started eating. The food wasn’t bad (the meat was VERY flavorful, in fact), but the point of a platter is that IT’S A PLATTER. And if it’s NOT a platter anymore – TELL THE PEOPLE WHEN THEY ORDER.

/vent

All things aside, I would rate the food a 6/10. Of course, I am VERY picky about my Greek food – and when you’ve had the a lot of good Greek food at less than half the cost – it’s hard to compare. So I won’t.

The best part of the night BY FAR was when this happened:

And then somehow I got dragged into it as well (thanks for the pictures Paula!).

You guys, I need a thumbervention.

(In case you were wondering 2 small glasses of red wine was all it took)

FYI – This is what the restaurant looks like from on top of a table.

After the dancing and deafness, we headed to another bar so we could cool off and actually talk to each other. And then because I have been doing a LITTLE too much partying lately, I called it a night – with the promise to party like a rock star later in the month. After all, June IS a good month to celebrate a birthday :)

San Francisco/Sonoma Vacation Recap – Days 3, 4 & 5

I pretty much already recapped Vacation Day 3, but felt the need to remind you of how pretty the views were in Sonoma. *sigh*

IMG_4866

But in case you didn’t read the recap (and don’t feel like clicking the link) we basically woke up, ate breakfast with my mom, aunt/uncle, and a few cousins, and then went and hung out with my (other) cousins. It was relaxing and full of wine. What else can you ask for?

On Day 4 (aka our last full day in Cali) we woke up and said goodbye to said cousins. *sniff* Once we finally got our act together we packed up and headed to the breakfast restaurant of my choice. I actually almost forgot that it was also Mother’s Day! We headed to Sunflower Cafe in downtown Sonoma.

IMG_4894

It was perfect! There was no wait, I had a GIANT mimosa, and ate an asparagus/goat cheese omelet with potatoes. Perfect!

photo

photo

photo

(Did I mention it was in the high 50s? Brr)

Actually, everyone enjoyed their food.

photo

After breakfast we hit the road.

IMG_4895

And headed back to San Francisco. See you later Sonoma! You exceeded my expectations.

photo

After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge we found the California Academy of Sciences.

photo

photo

I didn’t do much research on San Francisco – but I KNEW I wanted to go here. It’s a planetarium, an aquarium, and a biosphere in one. Plus is has a living roof!

IMG_4900

I knew the kids would dig it – and they did.

photo

photo

We spent 4-5 hours enthralled by science, animals, plants, and insects.

photo

photo

(this reminded me of Lost. Anyone else?)

photo

photo

Oh look, alligators and cypress trees. Wonder where they have those?

photo

photo

photo

photo

(I took this picture for you Jackie)

photo

While the aquarium and planetarium were cool, my favorite part was definitely the 4-story rainforest. You walk (up a ramp) from the forest floor, through the understory and canopy layers up to the emergent layer.There are different birds and at least 100 butterflies (and different types) fluttering all over the place (several of them landed on me).

photo

photo

photo

photo

photo

They also (surprisingly) had a really great cafeteria (I had some pork dish with vermicelli rice noodles with some kind of Asian flare) that wasn’t super expensive. So rare to find that here in tourist world!

photo

The last thing we did before we left was check out the roof. It was brief (kids were getting a little nutty), but really interesting (they do a lot of different types of research on the roof – so it’s like an outdoor science lab) and there were some pretty views.

IMG_4897

We then headed back to the hotel (same one we originally stayed at – Landing Bay!), checked in, and lounged. For dinner we decided on something VERY classy…

photo

In-n-Out Burger

photo

(why didn’t anyone warm me about the mayo sauce on the burger??)

Honestly, I didn’t get the hype, although the prices were really good!

photo

The kids were sweet and spent the last night of the trip like this…

photo

instead of fighting (umm, for the most part). Happy Mother’s Day to me!!

Sadly, on Day 5 our trip ended. Boo!! After another hotel breakfast, we headed to the San Francisco Airport and I braved myself for another 8 hours of flying. Our trip ended up being about 12 hours in total (from leaving the hotel –  to arriving home) and while we were all exhausted, it was completely uneventful. Thank goodness for technology!! It makes traveling with kids SO EASY.

All in all — a great GREAT trip! I am so glad (and truly thankful) that I FINALLY got to visit the great state of California — and I seriously cannot wait to go back!!