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.

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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…

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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

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I did not drive home.

I think Dan had fun too.

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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!).

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

Somebody Take This Biscoff Spread Away from Me… and Other Weekend Tales

This weekend was full of fun, a little sadness, a birthday dinner, and studying. I also managed to fit in working out and sleeping. Wow, it sounds like a lot when I write out like that!

Friday night started with dinner at Outback (yay for giftcards!). We tried to live it up and order expensive meals (mine included the lobster tail!) and we still ended up an entire giftcard to use. And we somehow manage to get coupons for money off of our next meal and a free appetizer coupon.

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After dinner, we headed out to the House of Blues. For those not in Orlando, HOB is located in Downtown Disney, which is about 40 minutes from where we live.  It’s also super packed with tourists who for the most part, have no idea where they are going or how to drive (this is in general – I know there are many of you who visit Disney and are the exception). So that was fun. It only took 20 minutes to find parking.

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Dan was stressing a little about our timing, but we ended up getting to the show by 9:15. When we got there, their 2nd opening act (Atlas Genuis) was still playing – so obviously we made it in plenty of time. We found a place in the back left that guaranteed that I wouldn’t get smushed by drunk people. Or annoyed by them. Atlas Genius was good – and the crowd seemed VERY excited about them – but I admit  I hadn’t heard a single song beforehand. I imagine this is how Dan felt the whole night. So I took pictures.

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Being silly before the show.

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Around 10, Imagine Dragons (apparently there name is an anagram — anyone?) came on and pretty much played their entire album. I knew the majority of the songs, but it was evident that I was not a die hard fan — as there were people there who knew EVERY SINGLE WORD. I was impressed. I was also sober, so maybe I would have pretended I knew every word if I were drinking?

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This is the band’s first headlining tour and I have a feeling they will be playing in bigger venues very soon. They sounded great and definitely had a lot of fun engaging the crowd. At one point there was crowd surfing (OK, at many points). I was very happy to be in the back.

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I obviously failed to bring my real camera.

As for HOB, it was a really nice venue and managed to fit a decent sized crowd (the show was sold out) without it being too insane. I did find it weird that there a lot of people just standing by the back bar talking. LOUDLY.  I guess I didn’t get why you would pay $20-30 for tickets and then not watch the show? Maybe that’s just me though.

Saturday morning came waaaaaay too early (we got home around 12:30) — but I managed to get up and going. After L’s dance class and the gym, I picked up food and then ran around like a crazy person. Ok, maybe I WAS a crazy person. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the memorial of a colleague. It was really touching and nicely done. When Dan got home, we headed across town.

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My brother and sister-in-law were visiting from Tampa, and we got to spend dinner celebrating his 33rd birthday at The Cheesecake Factory (along with my my and her boyfriend!).

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It was a fun night, but I have to admit I was exhausted! I’m pretty sure we were all asleep by 10:30!

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Today was more low key. We spent the morning lounging and then went to our Sunday spin class. I was extraordinarily cranky when I got out of bed this morning (I blame this on it being PERFECT running weather — and not being able to run), and I needed that spin class.

The rest of this afternoon I spent online — getting my Weight Loss Specialist Certificate!

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I completed the the course modules last week and decided I was ready to take the exam today. I will have an in-depth review of the course later this week – but I will say it was a really interesting and I learned a lot more than I expected!

I finished up the day doing a little food shopping and making the best.salad.ever. (it had salmon in it)…and now I’m sitting in front of the TV with this in hand:

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Everything in moderation, right?

How was your weekend? Have you tried Biscoff Spread? Someone might need to come over and take it away from me.

Weird, Whirlwind Week + Favorites

This has been a weird week. The first few days just creeped by and I was seriously just in the biggest funk. Hormones are weird. Then the rest of the week just flew by. On Wednesday, I worked part of the day from home and then flew up to DC for two nights.

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Am I good at capturing the sights or what?

Can we just talk about how much I love DC? It helps that it’s only a two-hour flight away and whenever I go there I a) have a great time and eat great food and b) get to meet up with someone I know. This time it was Melissa!

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We ate dinner at The Commissary, which was perfect. Not too loud, good food, and a menu for anyone (it had burgers, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, dinner, and is also vegan friendly). I went totally out of my comfort zone and had the Butternut Squash, Purple Kale, Pears, Cambozola Cheese, Spiced Walnuts Pizza. Yes, all of that on a pizza.

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The food was great and the company was even better. I asked Paula why Melissa couldn’t move to Orlando?

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Then we could things like this more often — together.

Thursday I was in a meeting all day, followed by a work happy hour (i.e., I sat around drinking water wishing I could drink about 15 glasses of wine), and then we attempted to eat dinner at this Greek/Turkish restaurant Zaytinya, but it was packed and we were too hungry to wait for an hour. So we wandered down the road and found Oya instead.

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It was… interesting.

The decor was gorgeous – but the marble walls made the place LOUD.

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Can you spot me?

The food is Asian-French fusion and everyone but me RAVED about their meal. I SHOULD have gotten the Restaurant Week menu, but instead got Shrimp and it was “eh.” I would go back though – if anything to try their sushi!

Yesterday we had a morning full of meeting and then headed to the airport for our flight home. I also had my first strip search experience because I did not want to go through the body scanner. Good times. Thankfully the woman was really nice and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Waiting... Can't wait to get home!

But I have to say – I love being home — no more of this!

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Because my week has been so hectic, I haven’t really had time to read anything laugh, cry, sweat, or inspiration worthy — so instead I give you some of my favorite blog posts of the week.

What are some of your favorite posts of the week? What’s your favorite city to visit?

Happy Weekend!

My Liver Needs a Vacation

I feel like I’ve done nothing but party lately — and Saturday night  was pretty much the icing on the cake.

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It’s actually ON right now.

A few months ago, my friends and I decided we wanted to do a “girls night out” but we hated driving home (and for some of us – getting up early the next day to deal with the kids). So we concocted a plan:  stay at a hotel downtown, go to a nice dinner, and then party. And that’s exactly what we did!

We started out at the hotel –  Embassy Suites in downtown Orlando. It was seriously the perfect hotel for a GNO. They have suites, they have a happy hour (free drinks from 5:30-7:30), and it was within walking distance to almost everything (they also had a free shuttle that we took to dinner).

Group at Embassy Suites

While we got ready  we did all kinds of girly things like have a pillow fight in our underwear and try on each other’s clothes (<–that part is true). Also, Paula did my hair — because it’s FINALLY long enough to curl with a flat iron!

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It looked awesome (thanks P!)

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Drinks in Hand

I have no idea what time we left for dinner (I’m guessing sometime between 8-8:30)  – but the shuttle took us over to Church Street. so we could go to The Rusty Spoon for dinner.

Paula looking fabulous

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Sex in the City?

I had heard good things about The Rusty Spoon (mainly from this girl) and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.

The Rusty Spoon Menu

I started with a pomegranate wheat beer and a deviled egg.

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And then for the main course I went with the 55 burger and onion soup.

The 55

FYI – that entire meal went into my belly. I wasn’t joking around. Others got the Fish and Chips, the Dirty South, and the Lasagna — and they all gave it good reviews. The best part of this restaurant is that the majority of the food is locally sourced. Hope this place sticks around!

We decided to skip dessert (but they all sounded really good – we must go back!) and get the party started.

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First we stopped walked down a creepy alley and stopped by Rok Room for some 2-for-1 drinks (and a shot).

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Shots shots shots shots

(I’m hoping Paula’s picture is posted on her blog – it’s hilarious)

We then moved on to Ember — a place I always seem to end up when I go out. My friend, Jackie, discovered that if you texted “Ladies” to a number and show it at the door Ember gives you 2 free drink tickets. Sweet! And to top it off, they were handing out free Crown Royal Black drinks. Crown is not my thing, but when it’s free?

At Ember a few of us did some serious dancing. I’m pretty sure we looked ridiculous (OK, I KNOW I looked ridiculous), but I just didn’t care. It was fun!

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Laughing

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After Ember, we headed to FinnHenry’s to finish out the night. The place was PACKED. There was more drinks and more dancing – and a lot of very drunk people.

After, a few of the ladies were hungry and wanted hot dogs/sausages – while others grabbed some Mediterranean food. I ate a few fries, but I was seriously still full from dinner.

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Whatever you are thinking… That’s what she said.

On the trek back to the hotel, I gave up on my shoes (which in retrospect is kinda gross, but at the time — I did NOT care). My feet were KILLING me. That’s what I get for dancing my ass off in new shoes.

We got back to the hotel around 2:30 and a few of us proceeded to participate in some late-night shenanigans that kept us up until at least 4am. I’m not actually quite sure how I am functioning right now.

Shenanigans

After breakfast (also included!) and recapping the night – we drove home and recovered. I then actually made myself go to gym to take spin class and run a few miles on the treadmill. It definitely made me feel 100% better (nothing like sweating out all of those toxins!) — but my liver (and probably my arteries) officially needs a major detox. You know, after July 4th.

So here’s to a new month, great friends, and a clean liver. Cheers!

Opa!

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

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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.

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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 :)