04/10/17

5 years

If you asked me about how life would be on the afternoon of April 11, 2012, you would hear words like “hopeless”, “unsure”, “sorrowful” and “anxious” fall lifelessly out of my mouth. I had just said goodbye to my mom after a year long battle with breast cancer, and it truly felt as though my world, and my future, were collapsing around me. 

5 years ago it was difficult to look into the future and envision a normal life. I was 31 going on 32, and could not believe that my time with my mom was over; just like that. 

For weeks and months my nights would be filled with thoughts of sadness. How she would never get to see all the milestones my brother and I still needed to reach, and how my future children would go without knowing their maternal grandmother. My mind was littered with worry and until I learned to cope with it all, it would turn out to be one of the hardest times of my life. 

If you asked me that same question today, 5 years later, you would hear me describe life as “strong”, “brave”, “joyful”, and “resilient.”

The past 5 years have been anything but easy; but that doesn’t mean they’ve been bad. Because of this loss, I have been challenged in ways I could never imagine. Because of this loss, I have been able to discover and cultivate qualities within myself I never dreamed I could possess 5 years ago. I no longer look at my mom’s death as a devastating experience. Instead, I see it as an invigorating one. 

My mom’s death has revitalized my own life. Of course, like everyone who has lost a loved one, I’d want nothing more than to have her here again. But I know that death is inevitable and no matter how much I wish I could go back in time and alter her fate, or spend one more moment together, I can’t. None of us can. And when we hold onto those regretful thoughts, yearning for something we cannot change or have, we drain and damage our own spirits.

So instead of wasting my energy and efforts lost in those damaging circular thoughts, or clouding my mind with guilt and “what if’s”, I have learned to transform and transfer those thoughts into ways I can better my life and the life of those around me. 

I rest in the peaceful notion that one day we will be together again, helping me move past those thoughts of yearning for “just one more day.” 

I improve the lives of others by helping them move through their own grief journeys through this blog and social media. 

I give back to those in need by offering my time in ways that will improve their situations. 

I live my own life, unapologetically, and authentically, knowing that I am not cheating myself of taking-in every single moment I am given, as joyfully as possible. 

To this day I have people asking me questions about my grief journey. And as I approached the 5th anniversary of my mom’s death, I contemplated what I would write here on the blog. 

A few days ago I was looking at search terms that lead people here and saw that someone had searched “feeling guilty about being happy after the loss of a parent.”

While I don’t know who this person is, I can only hope that they followed or favorited my blog and that they are now reading this post. Friend, there is happiness after loss and death if we choose to see it and embrace it.

On the night of my mother’s funeral service, I wrote this post. I vividly remember sobbing over my laptop keyboard as I wrote the words “life would never be the same.” But reading that post again today I realize that I was right. Life isn’t the same, and I’m thankful for that.

5 years ago I would have screamed at someone if they had told me that I’d one day be thankful for having gone through this experience. I would have probably called them heartless (and other words I won’t write here) too. But little did I know just how positively this loss would affect my life, and how thankful I’d be to have been chosen to experience it. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I wouldn’t want to be. 

Today my life is richer, stronger, slower and more beautiful than I could have ever envisioned 5 years ago. My mom’s death helped me understand how much of a gift time here on earth is. I miss my mom every single day, but my mind is calm and life is full. I can only guess that my mom would have wanted us to live this way once the emotions of her passing settled. She lived life with a level of excitement and passion that some will never feel. I strive to find and own that excitement and love of life every single day. And I encourage you to do so as well.

I hope after reading this, I have given you hope and helped you to uncover faith that there is a better tomorrow when you decide to find the courage to embrace it.

Missing you today and always, Mom. I know you’re floating among the sea stars. 

04/1/17

Strawberry & Pecan quinoa oats

I’ve never been a fan of oatmeal.

Unlike my brother, who, growing up consumed (and enjoyed) bowl after bowl of oatmeal and cream of wheat hot cereal. 

When I was around the age of 13 or 14, I discovered this:

My mom had purchased a variety box of these Fruit & Cream pouches while we were staying for a week at a beach house we had rented for the week at Indian Rocks. And although I was hesitant, I decided to try it one morning when my mom said we were “on our own” for breakfast. 

It was love at first taste. The creamy oats, the little artificial squares of dried “fruit.” It was all so delicious!

Of course now as an adult I don’t buy this stuff anymore. And while I loved oatmeal back then, I once again lost the desire to whip up batches for breakfast. Truth be told I have more of a savory tooth in the morning and usually run from sweet things for breakfast (which is why I don’t do the whole smoothie/shake for breakfast thing anymore. I tried, really I did!).

A few weeks ago while traveling for work in Virginia, my co-worker and I stopped for breakfast before our training session began. It was cold- bitterly cold (temps in the teens!)-and I just could not get warm. I was craving hot coffee, hot eggs and bacon, hot ANYTHING. I ordered a breakfast sandwich, but then something on the menu caught my eye- quinoa oatmeal. 

I was intrigued. I love quinoa and I *used* to love oatmeal, so would I like this? I decided to give it a try. If I didn’t like it, at least it was hot and hearty! 

Well it was pretty damn delicious. Steel cut oats, creamy quinoa, sliced almonds, cinnamon and honey. Good stuff!

Today, as I was thinking about that trip, an oatmeal craving hit me for the first time in probably 20 years. 

And lucky for me, I had all of the necessary ingredients AND some delicious toppings- hello Florida strawberries!

Chances are you may have the ingredients on hand too! If so, here’s how you can whip up this bowl of strawberry & pecan quinoa oats! If you don’t like strawberries, you can make this with blueberries, apples, bananas or even peaches! (Just like the box) 😉

Strawberry & Pecan quinoa oats
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Ingredients
  1. 1/4 cup steel cut oats
  2. 1/2 cup quinoa
  3. 1/2 cup half and half cream
  4. 2 tbsp. coconut sugar or honey
  5. 1 tsp. cinnamon powder
  6. 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  7. 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  8. 3-4 sliced strawberries (hulled)
  9. 2 tbsp. chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Follow the directions to prepare the oats and the quinoa on the corresponding packages.
  2. Combine 1/2 cup hot cooked oats with a 1/2 cup hot cooked quinoa in a bowl.
  3. Stir in half and half cream, coconut sugar (or honey), cinnamon, ginger and sea salt. (add extra cream if you like your oatmeal a bit creamier).
  4. Top with chopped pecans, strawberry slices and a drizzle of honey.
http://orangespoken.com/

03/26/17

12th Annual Taste of South Tampa is THIS WEEKEND!

A scrumptious event is about to hit Tampa this weekend! On Sunday, April 2, the 12th annual Taste of South Tampa is coming to the beautiful Tampa Garden Club on Bayshore Blvd! The Taste of South Tampa is the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s signature annual event, presented by Older, Lundy & Alvarez Law.  This has become one of my favorite local events of the year and I’m SO happy it is happening in early April this year as the weather has been SO beautiful!

This food-filled event will run from 1-4pm. Local restaurants will be offering samples of their best dishes for guests to taste! Beer, wine, spirits and sodas will be offered as well to wash it all down.  The tickets are all inclusive and include: Unlimited food and beverage samples, live entertainment presented by Breezin’ Entertainment, give-aways from exhibitors, opportunities to win prizes by participating in the canned food drive and voting for the “Best of South Tampa” awards. This is going to be such a fun event that you won’t want to miss out! General admission tickets are currently $50 online, and will go up to $60 on the day of the event (Tickets for Military= $35 and kids 10 & under are FREE!). Want to become a VIP? Purchase VIP Tickets for $75 and get: access special indoor & air conditioned space, a swag bag, additional food options, upgraded beverage selection, and entertainment! Click here to purchase your tickets!

WANT TO WIN A PAIR OF GENERAL ADMISSION TICKETS? Follow me on Instagram (@orangespoken) for details! 
The best news? A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Metropolitan Ministries, an organization that I had experience working with a few times over the years, and know how amazing they truly are. Interested in helping even more? Pack a few non-perishable items to bring with you to the Taste of South Tampa to help stock their pantry, and be eligible to prizes from the featured restaurants!

MMhopelivesLOGO
Here is a list of some of the restaurants guests will be able to sample at Taste of South Tampa! 
Assorted beer varieties provided by 81Bay Brewing Company!
Acropolis Greek Taverna
​Bayshore Biscuit Company
Blue Chair Bay Rum
Boca Kitchen Bar & Market
Brookdale Bayshore
Cakes by Nikki Mobile Sweets Cart
Carabba’s Italian Grill
Cask Social Kitchen
Centre Club
Chef Inspired Popcorn Company
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants
Crispers
Florida Cane Distillery
Food Hustlers
Hooters
Inside the Box Cafe
Kahwa Coffee
Kona Grill
MacDintons Irish Pub & Restaurant
Nothing Bundt Cakes
Remedies Coffee Bar
Roy’s Tampa
Square 1
Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club
The Blind Goat Food & Drink
Yard of AleAdditional Restaurants Available in VIP!
VIP – Bonefish Grill
VIP – Cheese Please
VIP – Chocolate Pi
VIP – Cru Cellars
VIP – Del Frisco’s Grille
VIP – Elite Events Catering
VIP – On Swann
VIP – Seasons 52
VIP – Silly Monkey Cookie Company
VIP – Toffee To Go
 
For more information and updates, visit:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SouthTampaTaste 

Hope to see you there! 

Disclosure: I have partnered with the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce to promote and participate in Taste of South Tampa. I was provided with tickets. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own.
03/25/17

So much to say!

Hey Friends! 

Boy have I missed blogging on the regular. Life has been jam-packed with awesomeness and once the glitter settles at the end of April, I will reconnect by sharing stories, recipes and more! 

And, of course the 4-1-1 on all things WEDDING! 

As you know, last summer my main guy popped “THE” question and since then we have been in planning mode! We have had so much fun wedding planning and cannot wait to celebrate with our closest family and friends. We are keeping things very small and intimate, but the celebration will be fun and beautiful nonetheless! I will definitely be sharing pictures and stories from the big day with all of you here so stay tuned! (Including details about my dress, which I am head over heels about! Spoiler alert- it’s NOT white!) 🙂

One thing I can divulge are the details of my bridal shower last week! 

My godmother Nina, my future mother-in-law, and my nearest and dearest chicas came together to shower me with wedding LOVE! The theme was orange (naturally) and all things chicken (double naturally!). I mean, do they know me or what? There were also TONS of gifts and surprises! I feel so lucky and thankful to have all of these ladies in my life! 

I’m usually on the giving side of a party, so it was a little awkward for me to let loose of the reigns and focus on being the guest of honor. But I truly had a WONDERFUL time enjoying delicious food and spending time with those whom I care about the most- all here to celebrate the love between two people. I could not have asked for a better day! (PS- see those candles on the table? At one point during the shower there was a small incident involving tissue paper from one of those gifts towards the back of the above picture and the flames. After some deft maneuvers towards the door, and some vigorous stomping, the flaming crisis was adverted! Luckily the place didn’t burn down and no one got seriously hurt, but it was an adventure non-the-less! **No pictures, sorry. We really thought 911 was about to be called! LOL)

I also had my hair and makeup trial courtesy of the very talented Ciah from Salon Ciah in Ybor City! I’m SO happy with how it all turned out and cannot wait to see everything put together! 

Next up, THE BIG DAY! Check back soon for more! <3

02/27/17

Self-compassion

How often do you practice self-compassion? 

Self-compassion defined: An attitude that involves treating oneself with warmth and understanding in difficult times and recognizing that making mistakes is a part of being human. 

In my 37 years of life, I have come across a LOT of people who do some serious self-bashing. I know people who are incredibly hard on themselves by engaging in negative self-talk, shaming, and criticism. At the same time, those same people are some of the kindest, most giving and sincere people I know. The truly would give the shirts off their back to someone in need. 

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it easy to show others kindness and compassion but not ourselves?

Sometimes people believe that being kind to ourselves means being selfish or self-centered. Some people believe that they are, in fact, living a better life by being self-critical as it’s a way to guilt or shame themselves into achieving a goal or improving an aspect of their life. But it’s actually the opposite! When we are hard on ourselves, studies have show that those actions can lead to failure, depression or even anxiety! When we are self-critical, we lose faith in ourselves and our abilities. When we talk down to ourselves or hold onto a negative self-image, we begin to actually believe and live those thoughts instead of changing them.

Showing yourself compassion and kindness through practicing positive self-talk, demonstrating habits of self-kindness and granting yourself grace in times of struggle or difficulty allows us to experience life with an open heart and a tolerance that helps us to be open to enjoying successes and the progress towards those successes. It also leads better management of mistakes or setbacks when they arise. When we look at and appreciate life as a developmental experience, (to evolve or unfold gradually), instead of a battle we need to “survive”, we are able to show ourselves self-compassion and sympathy, which ultimately strengthens our coping skills and resilience (the ability to bounce-back under adversity).  When we notice things about ourselves that we want to change, we do so, not because we think we’re inadequate, or sub-par, but because we love and honor ourselves. 

According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin, self-compassion has three main parts (from her website on self-compassion):

  • Self-kindness: Being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you’re suffering, instead of ignoring or criticizing the reasons why we are suffering. 
  • Common humanity: Realizing that you’re not alone in your struggles. When we’re struggling, we tend to feel especially isolated. We think we’re the only ones to experience loss, make mistakes, feel rejected or fail. But it’s these very struggles that are part of our shared experience as humans.
  • Mindfulness: Observing life as it is, without being judgmental or suppressing your thoughts and feelings.

So how DO we show ourselves compassion? Here are 26 ways to start. 

02/19/17

Nashville Hot Chicken

A few weeks ago I was in Nashville for work. We are currently supporting 13 rural districts in Western Tennessee as they develop a beginning teacher mentoring program in conjunction with the University of Tennessee Martin. 

Martin, TN is about 2.5 hours from Nashville, so my co-worker and I typically fly into Nashville, rent a car and drive to Martin the day before our first day of presenting to the mentors. We will stay in Martin for two days, then drive back to Nashville after the 2nd day of professional development. Because we end around 4pm, by the time we make the drive back to Nashville, it’s usually too late to catch a flight back home so we’ll stay the night and fly early the next morning.

The best thing about staying that extra evening in Nashville? The food, of course! Nashville has become so much more than music city these days. Nashville is a foodie’s dream! From places like Pinewood Social (get the meatloaf, trust me!) and Husk (sit at the bar and order a drink!), to The Pharmacy (best burger of my LIFE) and The Family Wash (breakfast? Order the Montre-ya’ll and a custom coffee from their coffee bar!) 

The Montre-ya’ll from The Family Wash!

The Meatloaf from Pinewood Social!

And then, there’s what Nashville is probably BEST known for: Nashville Hot Chicken! 

There’s a LOT of debate as to just WHO has the best hot chicken in Nashville. Some will say Prince’s, while others prefer Hattie B’s. Well being in Nashville I just HAD to have my first taste of hot chicken, and because I’m the self-proclaimed chicken lady, I just had to visit the ever-so-cutely decorated Hattie B’s

OMG ya’ll. <3 <3 <3 

Of course I loved the decor, but the chicken was just, well, TO DIE FOR. Hot, spicy, and SO flavorful. My first hot chicken experience did NOT disappoint! 

While I’m sure I could find some variation of Nashville Hot chicken here in Tampa, I decided to whip up my own version of this after an intense craving hit me this weekend. I just HAD to have it! After doing a little research, I was able to lock down a variation that did the trick.

My version has a light and crispy coating made with a combination of coconut flour, almond flour and brown rice flour (making this a great gluten free option!). And instead of using traditional brown sugar in the hot sauce, I’ve used a little bit of coconut sugar! Here is the recipe! 

Nashville Fried Chicken
Serves 6
A healthier spin on Nashville Hot Chicken!
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Ingredients
  1. For the chicken
  2. 1 cup brown rice flour
  3. 1/4 cup coconut flour
  4. 1/4 cup almond flour
  5. 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  6. 1 tsp. garlic powder
  7. 1 tsp. paprika
  8. 1 tsp. sea salt
  9. 1 tsp. black pepper
  10. 2 cups buttermilk
  11. 2 eggs, whisked
  12. 2lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  13. oil for shallow frying (coconut, palm, canola, avocado- I used 1/4 coconut 3/4 canola)
  14. Salt for seasoning after frying
For the hot sauce
  1. 3/4 cup oil (avocado works well)
  2. 3 tbsp. smoked paprika
  3. 1-2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it!)
  4. 1 tbsp. coconut sugar
  5. 1 tsp. garlic powder
  6. 1 tsp. sea salt
  7. 1 tsp. black pepper
Instructions
  1. Soak the chicken in buttermilk for 1-2 hours.
  2. In a bowl, combine the rice flour, coconut flour, almond flour, parsley, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.
  3. Heat the oil to 325 degrees in a deep skillet (medium high heat).
  4. Set up a dredging station: 1 dish with whisked eggs, 1 dish with the flour mixture.
  5. Dredge chicken in this order: flour, egg, flour.
  6. Fry until gold brown, 4-5 minutes on each side. Set onto a rack or paper towel and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  7. While the chicken is frying, prepare the sauce: in a small sauce pan whisk oil, paprika, cayenne pepper, coconut sugar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Heat until it just begins to simmer, whisking a few times as it simmers. Remove from heat and set aside.
  8. Before serving, spoon hot sauce onto the pieces of chicken. You can also dip the entire piece of chicken in the sauce! Serve with slices of dill pickles! Enjoy!
http://orangespoken.com/

02/14/17

What matters most

Have you ever felt invisible?

Like people were looking right through you- eyes piercing past you to the other side as if though something better, more interesting, more important was there beyond you.

And I’m not just referencing people we pass by on the sidewalk, or those we sit by on the bus or see at the grocery store as we’re stocking our carts. I’m also talking about people you come in contact with every single day. Your co-workers, acquaintances, friends, and yes, even family members.

Do you ever feel as though you don’t exist? 

While the fact that the person in the grocery store who stared past you as they headed to the produce aisle may not have a long lasting affect on you, that co-worker, whom you see everyday, who enters the office and walks past you without muttering a “good morning” to you might sting a bit- or might go unnoticed because the behavior has been accepted as the norm.  

Do they know your name?
Do they care to?
Do you matter to them?
Would they notice if you were absent that day?

What I really want to ask you though, is, how often are you on the giving end of this scenario? How often do you walk by your co-worker without muttering a “good morning” as you walk by their desk?

Do you know your co-workers name?
Do you care to?
Do they matter to you?
Would you notice if they were absent that day?

How often do you go through the routines of the morning ignoring the human spirit and instead go straight to life’s hamster wheel? Are the first words that you speak to your child each morning “Get up! And hurry up we’re going to be late!” or the first phrase you say to your spouse as you wake up next to them in bed is “Don’t forget to pay that bill today!” 

Do they feel invisible? Do they matter? Do they know they matter? 

I have early memories of invisibility. I was a shy child, at times hardly able to carry conversations with family members or at school. At four years old I attended a prekindergarten at a small neighborhood day care. I was in a class of around 15 other children my age, yet I didn’t have a single friend. My grandmother would make me a lunch every single day and pack it into my prized metal Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox filled with treats she thought would make me happy. Every single day I’d eat alone, in total silence, on a small bench away from the rest of the group, facing a wall in the lunch area of the school. 

I’m not sure if anyone knew my name. I felt completely invisible during what should have been a time to laugh and play and trade lunchbox treasures. My daycare teachers accepted my shyness and never tried to engage me or try any strategies to include in me the group. I was just shy Stephanie, and that was it. 

Even at the young age of 4 I felt invisible. I felt as though I didn’t matter. And if I were absent, I’m not sure anyone in my class would notice. And the memory of that experience has stuck with me all this time. 

How many people (kids AND adults) feel like this on a daily basis? How many people feel this way because of you? 

We all want to feel as though we are important to someone. That we matter. That someone can SEE us. That we are valued. That we are important. That we would be missed if we were absent. 

I encourage you to think deeply about your daily interactions with people. Whether it’s at the market and the mall, or at school or at home. What can you do to spread encouragement and hope to another person? What can you do to help someone feel as though they are visible? What can you do you to inspire others to do the same?

If we each made a conscious effort to reignite that human connection, to ensure that those that we come in contact on a daily basis feel important and valued, we can make a positive shift in our culture and strengthen our relationships with others around us. You never know when something you notice (and point out!) will change a person’s day for the better. 

Extend a handshake, share a greeting, ask someone how their day was, reach out, offer help, pass along a genuine compliment. 

It’s not about being the perfect parent or spouse, co-worker or teacher, family member or friend.
It’s about being present and noticing the souls around us.  

Here is a great place to start.

And if you are interested in diving deeper into this work, I encourage you to explore Angela Maiers’s website even further!

 

01/30/17

Treat your tastebuds to #Brunch at Vuelo Mexican Grill!

Disclosure: Brian and I were invited to try Vuelo Mexican Grill as a part of a partnership with Vuelo and the Tampa Bay Bloggers. All spicy, scrumptious, and saucey opinions are our own. 

When you think of brunching in #Tampa, I’m sure about 20 different locations pop into your mind.

Well, make room for another spot, because Vuelo Mexican Grill is a place you MUST add to your Sunday brunch list!

Believe me. I was totally a skeptic. Chips and salsa and fajitas for Sunday brunch? I don’t think so. But trust me when I say I was so, so very wrong. Mexican IS for brunching, and Vuelo is where it’s AT! vuelo

From Vuelo:
At Vuelo Mexican Grill, we serve hand-crafted Mexican cuisine from our scratch kitchen with a fresh attitude and spirit for modern times. Our family-owned restaurant is Classic Mexican with Latin/South American flavors and twists, bringing an entirely new experience to Tampa and the food lovers that live here! Vuelo’s lively atmosphere and delicious food create a truly memorable experience. As consulting chef, James Beard-nominated Chef Mark Estee brings his approach to fresh ingredients, authentic flavors and attention to detail to every dish at Vuelo.

Vuelo is located in New Tampa, at 17641 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, right next to Flatwoods Park and is open 7 days a week, serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am-3pm.

Upon arrival, you’ll notice a spacious outdoor seating area, gorgeous decor and a welcoming atmosphere that is perfect for families, first dates, happy hour (they have 17 screens featuring exclusive pay per view events) parties (they have space for groups!) celebrations, AND yes, even BRUNCH! space

roof

Aside from the gorgeous decor, what caught my eye first was their extensive (and free!) salsa bar! salsa
I LOVE salsa, and the choices of house made salsas Vuelo offered did not disappoint! The salsa bar is stocked every day with salsas ranging from mild to hot, including Fruit Salsa, Mild Luis, Hot Tomás and Mojo Cubano (my favorite!). As we sat, we were able to try each and every salsa on their hot and fresh homemade chips. chips
 
allsalsaThe brunch menu was surprisingly diverse and included traditional dishes like Huevos Rancheros, creative plates like Vuelo French Toast (with rum sauce and mangos!), and offered bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys and Bloody Marias every Saturday and Sunday! We were invited to try anything on the menu so I opted for a mimosa and the Mexican scramble with carnitas. Brian decided to try something off the lunch menu and ordered three tacos with refried black beans and cilantro rice. brunch
menu
 
mimosa
 
skilletWhen I tell you that the Mexican scramble was, hands down, one of THE most delicious things I have ever tried, I’m not lying. It was absolutely delicious! Crispy potatoes, perfectly cooked eggs, juicy carnitas, queso fresco- this dish WILL bring me back to Vuelo without a doubt! And although Brian enjoyed his meal (he LOVED the rice!) he definitely had some dish envy going on (I gave him a taste, no worries) 😉
 
In addition to the filling and satisfying meals, we appreciated the wonderful (and prompt service), and the warm welcome from every employee who crossed our path. We will definitely be returning to Vuelo and most likely bringing our friends along too!
 
More info
  • Happy Hour daily 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    5 Mini Tacos for $5
    5 Apps for $5 each: Taquitos, Fried Florida Bites, Nachos Vuelos, half order of Guac & Chips and Queso Fundido (Add pork carnitas, achiote chicken or barbacoa beef for $4)
    $4 Mixed Drinks $3 House Wine $2 Domestic Draft Beer and 2 for 1 Casa ‘Rita 
  • Specialty house cocktails and an extensive wine list
  • Tequila list includes specialty tequilas, blancos (clear and unaged), reposados (rested and aged), anejo (aged more than a year), and vertical and horizontal flights.
  • Taco Tuesday Tuesdays 5 pm- closing; 2 Tacos for $6 plus…one FREE Casa ‘Rita or domestic draft beer plus LATIN MUSIC WITH TAMPA’S DJ DOMI!
  • About Chef Mark Estee: Highly acclaimed restaurateur Chef Mark Estee brings his approach to fresh ingredients, authentic flavors and attention to detail to every dish at Vuelo. With an incredible list of awards and accolades to his name, Chef Estee continues to shape the evolving food culture through innovative dishes and authentic relationships. As Vuelo’s food and restaurant consultant, Chef Estee’s menu will delight your senses and leave you wanting more!

Have you tried Vuelo? What are you waiting for? Add it to your #Tampadining list ASAP and let me know your thoughts!

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01/10/17

Healthy cooking for beginners

Out of all the searches that drive readers to my blog, the top search phrase has always been “healthy cooking for beginners”. I get a LOT of questions about how to meal plan, how to shop and how to cook. I’ve had people tell me that their eating habits are horrible because they “can’t cook”, and resort to pre-packaged foods, fast food and dining out. I’ve heard this on the blog, social media and even in person. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that healthy cooking is EASY. No seriously, I promise! Here are my tips for getting started in a healthy meal prep routine… and making a habit of it! 

PicMonkey Collagecooking

First things first
What does it mean to “eat healthy”? For me, it’s eating whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, beans, dairy products, nuts, honey, butter, etc. Yes, I eat full fat items. Typically foods labeled “fat free” come with a price: high sugar content, calories, preservatives, etc. Keep it clean, fresh and natural. Think about how your grandparents and great grandparents ate… yes, this includes “real” fats like butter, olive oil and coconut oil. If you want to learn more about the health benefits of eating fats like our grandparents did, read this

Before we begin, let me say this: I don’t cook everyday. It may seem like that on social media (if you stalk me), however, I don’t. I cook at least 4-5 days a week, but we go out on the weekends for dinner, and breakfast out on Sundays. And honestly, some of those weekdays involve eating leftovers.  I do all of my shopping and meal prep on Sundays, but if Sundays don’t work for you, find a day that does. You don’t need to shop AND prep on the same day, so divide the time into two separate days if necessary. 

But before you dive into the world of shopping and prepping, consider the following:

  • What is in your fridge and pantry right NOW? If your goal is to eat and cook healthier meals, start with a purge of your current food supply. Typically packaged foods that have more than 5 ingredients in a label are purge worthy. Anything that contains MSG, high fructose corn syrup and/or giant words that Siri wouldn’t even be able to pronounce shouldn’t be going into your nor your family’s bodies. Take a look at your spice cabinet as well and look for the same kinds of words on those labels. If you’re feeling guilty about throwing those items away, consider donating them to a food pantry or soup kitchen. 
  • What are some of your (and your family’s) favorite foods? If you live alone, think about what you enjoy eating. Make a list and cross off the items that are prepackaged, processed crap. Focus on what’s left behind and keep your list handy when planning meals. Have children or a spouse? Consider giving them the same survey and collecting info about what their favorites are. Are “chocolate chip cookies” making an appearance on your list? So what. You can totally make those from scratch with whole ingredients easily. It’s not about restricting what you’re eating, it’s about rethinking what you’re eating. 
  • What tools do you have in your kitchen? Keep it simple. All you really need for healthy prep and cooking is a sharp cutting knife, cutting board, vegetable peeler, can opener, saute pan, baking sheet/jelly roll pan, food processor OR blender, a simple slow cooker (think $20 at Target), a somewhat deep pot, your oven (of course), a spatula and a wooden spoon.
  • What’s your weekly grocery budget? This is a big one, as healthy eating always comes with a higher price tag. Consider shopping at a local farmer’s market or joining a co-op to save money on your fresh produce. Look for BOGO deals and other sales on meat at local supermarkets and stock up (if you have the space) when you find a good deal. Join a rewards club (like Winn Dixie’s gas points) or a bulk store membership (like Sam’s). Plan meals that are heavier on vegetables and beans (like chili) that will stretch your dollar further. 

Meal planning
Whether you’re completely new to cooking or cook regularly, plan to prepare 2-3 healthy meals each week to start. You can easily double most recipes, giving you leftovers that you can freeze, take to lunch or serve for another dinner option that week. Most recipes can be used in other ways as well (think slow cooker pork loin and black beans becomes pork tacos another meal). 

Before you start your weekly meal plan, think about what you currently KNOW how to do. 

  • Can you grill? Think grilled chicken, steaks, burgers, veggies (wrapped in foil with salt, pepper and a bit of oil)
  • Can you roast? Think roasted veggies and roast chicken or turkey cutlets. 
  • Can you saute? Think sauteed chunks of chicken and veggies for stir fry, mushrooms and onions for burger, steak and chicken toppings, fish filets with a little butter, lemon and fresh herbs, ground meats like chicken and beef for tacos, lettuce wraps and meat sauces over veggie noodles (like thinly sliced ribbons of zucchini). 
  • Can you bake? Think baked whole chickens stuffed with lemon wedges, fresh herbs and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, homemade meatballs lined up in a dish and baked until golden brown, and homemade fritattas with eggs and veggies like spinach, onions and fresh herbs, for breakfast options. 
  • Can you turn ON a slow cooker? Think slow roasted pork loin, brisket, chili, soups, shredded bbq chicken, chowder. 
  • Can you boil? Think boiled sweet potatoes topped with ground beef, veggies and shredded cheese, thinly sliced ribbons of squash or zucchini (as a pasta replacement), hard boiled eggs to add in salads, and cauliflower, rutabaga or parsnips boiled then mashed with milk and cream cheese. 

Think about what you CAN do and build on those strengths. Sure, there will be times when you might try a recipe that’s a no-go (I’ve done it PLENTY of times), but it certainly doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Cooking is a science. It’s all about exploring and testing different flavor combinations that work and please you and your family. Don’t be scared to play around. And, try being a little adventurous during each trip to the market! I like to try and purchase 1 new item at the market each time I visit. Maybe it’s a new vegetable, or a fish I’ve never tried. This keeps things interesting in the kitchen, and teaches me to learn to like new things (and not be scared to cook them!). 

Once you’ve established what you know how to do as far as technique goes, grab a pen and pad and get to work on a list. I try to never complete a big grocery trip without a list. If you’re thinking about going grain free and low sugar (like me), feel free to use and print the list I’ve made with compliant foods that you can find in your local market. You can find the list here. If you just can’t seem to give up grains, consider trying quinoa as a rice or pasta replacement. You can click on this link to learn all about purchasing and preparing this ancient seed. You can also try using cauliflower as a rice replacement! It’s delicious! Here is a recipe for cauliflower “rice”. Squash, zucchini, and spaghetti squash also make a great pasta replacement. Check out Rachael Ray’s recipe for zucchini noodles, this recipe for spaghetti squash and sausage bake (think baked ziti!) and my recipe for unpasta lasagna with squash and eggplant instead of noodles! 

Before you create a shopping list, start with your meals. Here are some “norms” that show up in our house each week:

  • Breakfast: Try blending fruit and milk with your favorite protein shake. Not into morning shakes? How about mini fritattas and crust-less quiches? I make them ahead of time, freeze or refrigerate them, then warm them up throughout the week for breakfast. You can add your family’s favorite veggies, cheeses and meats. They’re easy, portable, healthy and delicious! I also like to chop up fresh fruit and place them in baggies, plain yogurt with honey and walnuts (buy a big container and use small Tupperwares to divide). Greek yogurt pancakes are also an easy make ahead breakfast item that you can refrigerate or freeze, then warm up when ready. Want to make them grain free? Try almond flour instead of regular flour and use plain yogurt (sweeten with honey or pure maple syrup). 
  • Lunch: I pack my lunch most days, and usually they consist of dinner leftovers. We try to grill out on Sunday evenings, giving me an opportunity to grill up extra chicken (breasts or boneless/skinless thighs) and burgers then pack those for lunch (think grilled chicken salads and burger salads.) To go along with lunch I prep bags of carrot and celery sticks, grape tomatoes, and cucumber slices to dip into guacamole or homemade avocado ranch
  • Snacks/Dessert: I love munching on apple slices with peanut or almond butter (ingredients should just be nuts+salt),energy balls, cheese cubes, dried fruits (like figs and apple chips), unsweetened apple sauce, hummus, fresh salsa (in the produce section or make it yourself!), raw nuts (like walnuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds), 85% or higher dark chocolate and fresh whipped heavy cream with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger with fresh berries. I also like to boil a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week for hard-boiled egg snacks, or to toss into salads. 
  • Dinner: I plan on grilling once a week (grilled chicken, burgers, steaks, fish wrapped in foil with veggies). Once a week I make a roast in my slow cooker (pork loin, brisket). Sometimes I’ll bake a whole chicken  (great for chicken salad with the leftovers!). I’ll use leftover grilled chicken or homemade meatballs paired with one of the pasta alternatives mentioned above. Big pots of chili or soup are also great go-to dinners that make for delicious leftover lunches. Some of my favorite sides are mashed cauliflower or rutabaga, butternut squash, roasted veggies, and sweet potatoes.
  • Beverages: Water with lemon or lime and fresh mint, coffee with half and half and cinnamon powder. I love to flavor water with berries, citrus, and fresh herbs like basil and mint. My latest craze is sparkling water (Think LaCroix!). It’s such a satisfying treat! 

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This is just a sample of what my week looks like as far as meal planning goes. Remember, build on your strengths in the kitchen, and food likes to help create your own family favorites that are healthy, and you can feel good about cooking each week! 

When you head to the market, stick to your list. Try to shop the perimeter of the store (produce, meat/poultry/fish and dairy. Head to the center aisles only for things like nuts, healthy oils (coconut, olive oil), dried fruits and seasonings. And never shop on a hungry stomach. Let your list guide you, not your brain! 

Prepping and cooking
Plan to dedicate time to prep everything when you get home from the market. Two hours on a Sunday afternoon will save you TONS of time during the week. Wash and chop all of your veggies ahead of time (keep in mind things like apples and pears will brown if pre-cut). Utilize gallon and sandwich/snack sized bags for cut veggies for roasting and snacks. Pre-wash greens and fresh herbs, then keep them dry and long lasting by wrapping them in paper towels before placing them into Ziploc bags. Do not freeze fresh greens, however, a great idea for herbs is to chop them, then freeze them in ice cube trays filled with chicken or vegetable broth. They are an easy way to add flavor to soups, slow cooker recipes and so much more. Pre-season roasts and meats, then place them into gallon sized bags to marinate (they can be easily frozen in the marinade), then defrosted the night before you plan to cook them. Post a list of everything you plan on preparing that week for dinner as a reminder of things like what to take out of the freezer ahead of time (and of course, to keep you motivated and organized!) 😉

Want to save even more time? If you find that you have extra time on those weekend prep days, consider roasting veggies, baking sweet potatoes and steaming cauliflower for sides! Store them in containers, refrigerate or freeze then warm up when needed throughout the week, that way you’ll only need to focus on cooking your protein on busy weekday evenings. Stews, chilis, cooked beans and soups also freeze well ahead of time, so when you have the time, whip up these dishes in advance and store them in your freezer for when you’re in a pinch and are dangerously close to hitting the drive thru. Get into the habit of labeling containers and Ziploc baggies before you store them away in the freezer. When times get really crazy, you’ll be glad you did! 

I’d love to feature some of YOUR tips for healthy meal planning, prepping and cooking! Comment with your great idea below and I’ll add it into the post, with a link to your blog (if you blog!). 🙂

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01/9/17

#LiveLifeFresh with OrganicGirl! #Giveaway

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post through a partnership with organicgirl to help spread the word about the #LiveLifeFresh campaign. I received compensation in the form of free products for this post. All opinions are my own.

Happy New Year!
I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating the holidays and ringing in 2017!

We spent most of December eating, drinking and definitely being merry with family and friends here in Tampa. 

Now that the new year is here, I’ve got my sights set on the fact that we will be tying the knot in 100 days!

100 days until the big day!? I feel like he just popped the question yesterday! 😉picmonkey-collage

I also said “YES” to the dress a few months ago…dress

I just LOVE my dress. It’s perfect for the outdoor evening wedding we are planning and is so beautifully flowy and flattering. And although it fits, I really want to look and feel my best on our big day! 

Luckily I just recently learned about Organicgirl’s Live Life Fresh campaign!live-life-fresh-home-page-v13

Who is organicgirl? You may have seen these products out and about at your local markets like Publix, Greenwise markets and Whole Foods. Organicgirl is a small group of women and men in California’s fertile Salinas Valley who want to offer the best organic produce ever offered. Their products are organic packaged in 100% recycled plastic containers, and shipped to stores as fast as possible to ensure freshness. 

My two biggest goals for the next 100 days (and beyond) is to eat as healthy as I can (clean ingredients, lean meats, lots of fresh produce, limiting refined sugars and grains) and moving my body in some way every day for the next 100 days (walking, Orangetheory, swimming, yoga/stretching).

Organicgirl offers the BEST options for adding healthy, fresh and delicious ingredients into everyday meals and snacks. Although they’re known for their good clean greens and salad love dressings, they also offer delicious cold-pressed green juices! My favorite greens are the sweet pea. SO fresh and delicious! productfeature-sweetpea

All of their products have supported me in my health and fitness goals in the past, so I am VERY excited to hear about organicgirl’s latest campaign to help people be their healthiest self this year! fit

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To help us #livelifefresh, organicgirl is hosting a sign up to win giveaway of salad, dressings and juices FOR A YEAR + a $500 gift card to the trendy online fitness boutique evolve fitwear + $100 to your favorite grocery store! 

Beyond the grand prize, organicgirl will be giving other prizes along the way, too! How CUTE are the clothing options from evolve fitwear? (and many pieces go up to size XXL & XXXL!). 

To enter, click here and let me how your 2017 is going so far!  How do you intend to #LiveLifeFresh this year? 

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