Taste of the Nation is Huge Success

TasteNation.jpgAugust 9, 2013, The Orlando World Center Marriott welcomed Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation®. Featuring the area’s finest appetizers, entrees, desserts and spirits, Taste of the Nation 2014 set a new fundraising record of $301,317 to support the feeding programs of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, Second Harvest Food Bank of CIMGP5819smentral Florida and an organization dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty in Florida statewide: Florida Impact.

Retro rad celebrity chef Emily Ellyn and I arrived at the event in race-red style, as part of a cross-blog  Southeast Ford promotion where I got to test drive a brand new Ford Fiesta for a week for Central Florida Top 5. The plan was to take ‘er for a spin to those events that are Top 5 on our family’s list: Travel, education, charity, culture, food. Happily for me, most of our stops involved a combination of two or more of those each time. Taste of the Nation Orlando, was no exception.

In addition to sampling some of the most delicious bites from chefs around Central Florida, guests enjoyed participating in raffles and drawings of epic proportion (like a trip to Oktoberfest in Germany and over a hundred bottles of wine!). The highlight of the night: two chefs (Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Alexia Gawlak of Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen) went head-to-head in a live cook-off. Emceed by Food Network celebrity chef Melissa d’Arabian, the contest allowed 20 minutes for each chef to create a dish using Creekstone Farms sirloin flap steak and pantry staples donated by Whole Foods Market. Though I would have enjoyed tasting both dishes, I didn’t envy judges Scott Joseph from Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide, WFTV’s Bob Opsahl, and Honorary Chair Helen Donegan. While both dishes were prepared expertly (and smelled heavenly!), Chef Gawlak was declared the winner.

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Area restaurant bloggers and pro foodies flank coral-colored Food Network divas Melissa d’Arabian and Emily Ellyn.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Orlando event brings together the area’s top chefs who donate their time, talent and passion to end childhood hunger in Central Florida. Along with culinary delights, guests have the opportunity to sample select wines, cocktails and premium beers and enjoy silent and live auctions and entertainment. Every dollar raised fights hunger and homelessness in the Central Florida. Local beneficiaries include Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

 

 

 

 

Magical Dining Starts Tonight

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining starts tonight, August 25!

Untitled-2Starting tonight and continuing all September long, Orlando foodies can celebrate the area’s amazing culinary scene during Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining month. Over 75 FFFCLogoFinalrestaurants are participating in the prix fixe dinner offerings that include appetizer, entrée and dessert for $33 (read the full lineup here). From sumptuous seafood, to savory steaks (and everything in between), Magical Dining is the ultimate way to try all the restaurant’s finest offerings for a fraction of their usual price. To top it off, diners are supporting not only our incredible food community, but donating to charity at the same time. One dollar from each meal will be donated to the Foundation for Foster Children.

If that wasn’t enough, many hotels are offering a “Stay and Dine” packages where you and a guest can enjoy the Magical Dining Menu plus a night’s stay. Just a small sampling includes:

  • Hyatt Regency Orlando — $169 per night plus tax. One night in a standard room and Magical Dining dinner for two at Napa Steakhouse.
  • World Center Marriott — one night in a King or Double Room and Magical Dining dinner for two at Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen from $219 per night.
  • Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress — starting at $179.00 per night plus tax, enjoy one night at the hotel and Magical Dining dinner for two at Hemingway’s Restaurant
  • Rosen Shingle Creek — $185 per night in Deluxe Accommodations and dinner for two at A Land Remembered, Magical Dining menu
  • Bohemian Hotel, Celebration — $199.00 per night plus tax, for a night in a Town View Guest Room, and dinner for two off the Magical Dining menu at the Bohemian Bar & Grill

With all these choices, I know I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Last year I tried A Land Remembered and Fogo de Chao. At the blogger preview this year I sampled Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen and tonight at the special behind-the-scenes Yelp Kick Off I’m excited to taste menus from Hemingway’s,  Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse, Napa, K Restaurant, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Siro Urban Italian Kitchen, and Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar.

Follow #MagicalDining on social media to “virtually” enjoy every bite. Make your reservations to enjoy in person. Mangia, mangia!

What are your favorites? Any menus that blow you away?

 

O-Town MacDown is Cheesy Family FUN

macdown logo smO-Town MacDown, the “cheesiest” food festival in town, will be held Saturday, August 23 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Benefiting Give Kids The World Village, “Where Happiness Inspires Hope”, O-Town MacDown presented by SeaWorld will pit professional chefs, restaurant chefs, and home cooks in a competition to see who has the best mac-n-cheese in Central Florida.

Not only will guests enjoy all the macaroni and cheese they could possibly want, but there will be a kids zone, crafts (macaroni arts and crafts, of course), live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and a live cooking competition.

The Orlando Science Center got a jump start on all the cheesy fun when they invited science campers to make “extreme macaroni-and-cheese.” What’s the recipe? Take a group of fun-loving kids and add blocks of delicious cheese. Center a large vat of noodles in a field, then introduce the Science Center’s catapults! Kids took turns launching the cheese up into the air with the goal of landing *splat* into the noodles. Their high-flying fun helped spread the word about O-Town MacDown!

 

O-Town MacDown is a family-fun event that will also include cooking demonstrations, live entertainment including appearances by the SeaWorld “Groove Chefs.” Magician/Comedian Tony Brent from the WonderWorks Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show will be performing, as well as local acoustic guitarist Islay Rodriguez.

Fans of cooking demos will love watching Retro Rad Chef Emily Ellyn, Jillycakes owner and Cupcake Wars winner Chef Jillian Hopke, Chef Maira Isabel cookbook author and Executive Chef at Disney World Golf Courses, and fourth-generation world-class chef Jody McLeod.

Kids will have fun at three bounce houses, face-painting station, the Mad Scientist Show with Professor Al Chemy, plus character meet and greets and performances by Elevate LIVE!, The Bumbles and The Honey Bees Too®, The Literacy Alliance: Scrambled Fairy Tales, The Orlando Improv All-Stars, and The Magic and Mayhem Comedy Magic Show

Advance purchase tickets are just $10 for adults and $5 for children and are available at http://www.otownmacdown.org/.

It’s gonna be Gouda!

 

Back-To-School with Goodwill

For back-to-school shopping (like at any time of the year), I am constantly on the lookout for deals. Whether it’s a great coupon, free shipping offer, online community purchasing deal, or some other way to keep more of our hard-earned money, I’m IN. That mindset also steers me to garage sales and thrift stores where kids’ clothes, especially, are a great find!

2014-07-30 15.08.59bGoodwill of Central Florida invited me to do some shopping for my 2nd grader with $25 in gift cards (find out how you can win yours below). As a third-generation recycler and “upcycler” (new term for old habit of re-purposing something others have lost use for), I was only happy to stop by to hunt for clothes for my fast-growing boy.

First up: Gather items WE no longer need. On the way in, 2014-07-30 13.53.17my granny (90-years-old!) pushed the cart that carried our 3 bags full of stuff that no longer fit, or were not what we wanted anymore (including a wok she bought and used one time…. It just wasn’t “right” for her, so she donated it.) There are lots of new items at thrift stores!

Next, go in with a mission: For us, we needed to find clothes for field trips, soccer class, everyday, and “formal.” (My son likes to “dress” for dinner sometimes, and can often be seen in a suit and tie “just because.”) As homeschoolers, our back-to-school list is decidedly less extensive than traditional needs, but we do have to get all the usual items, as he’s growing out of his clothes quicker than I can buy them. That is, coincidentally, one of the reasons I buy second-hand—kids grow out of clothes so fast that oftentimes you can get something practically brand new for cents on the dollar.

Goodwill shopping tripSo what did we find? For $25 we bought:

  • 2 long-sleeve dress shirts
  • 2 tee shirts
  • 2 collared everyday shirts
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 books
  • art supplies

Prices ranged from 74 cents for a collared shirt (it was the “color of the week” so it was half-off the original $1.49!) to $3.49 for shorts. The dress shirts (worn once if they were worn at all) were 2.99 apiece.

Insider tip: Look for the color of the week tags first. Then, if you don’t find what
you’re after, go back and look through the other items.

Rafflecopter logo linkAre you a budget-conscious parent looking for a great way to buy back-to-school clothes? Enter this giveaway by clicking on the Rafflecopter photo at left. Maybe you’ll win $25 in gift cards to shop for your kiddos! Good luck!

Leave a comment below for one entry, or add more by Tweeting and if YOU have a cool find, post it on Instagram (details at the Rafflecopter link). Goodwill and other thrift stores have amazing deals on furniture, housewares and adult clothing too. And YES, they even have wedding gowns. I bought my vintage 1940s gown online and consider it my very best second-hand deal! can’t wait to see what cool stuff you find or have found in the past.

National Heatstroke Prevention Day

CFPL00034_Safety_Heatstroke_TT_SP_C07Today, July 31, is National Heatstroke Prevention Day. Sadly the news is all-too-often dotted with stories of children left in vehicles as temperatures skyrocket. To help address this issue, the Ford Motor Company is supporting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s efforts to tackle the alarming safety threat that heatstroke poses for young children left in hot cars. As a parent who is keenly aware of this 100%-preventable tragedy, I’m proud to help share this message of awareness and prevention.

Did you know?

  • Last year alone, 44 children in the United States lost their lives after being left in unattended motor vehicles
  • More than half (52%) of kids who died from vehicular heatstroke were “forgotten” by their caregiver
  • A child’s temp can heat up to 5 times faster than an adult’s on a hot day
  • Studies show that when the temperature outside is 90 degrees the temperature inside a parked car can rise to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, 119 degrees in 20 minutes and 124 degrees in 30 minutes

As summer temperatures rise, here are a few simple tips for parents and childcare providers to keep kids safe inside of vehicles:

  1. Never leave infants or children alone in a parked car, even if the windows are partially open
  2. Make sure the safety seat and safety belt buckles aren’t too hot before securing a child in a restraint system
  3. Don’t ever leave sleeping infants in the car
  4. Be sure to check the front and back seats of a vehicle before locking it and walking away
  5. Lock your car when you’re not in it, so kids can’t get in on their own (In more than 29% of cases of fatal heatstroke, a child got into the vehicle on their own)

To these excellent tips provided by Ford Motor Company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I also suggest:

  1. Leave your purse or briefcase in the back seat with the child so it HAS to be retrieved when you arrive at work
  2. When your family faces a change in schedule (of who is dropping off children), set a phone alarm or other reminder to double check who is doing what
  3. Make your own reminder “flag” (something bright colored or bulky) that’s attached to the car seat when it’s occupied, and to the driver when the child is secured

When people hear of these tragedies, their responses are often ones of condemnation and cries of how it would “never” happen to them. I’m sure in those 52% of children forgotten children, the parents would have said the same thing prior to the accident. It would never have occurred to them that they would be so distracted by work, health issues, changes in day-to-day scheduling, financial crises, etc. that they would forget for a moment their most precious cargo.

If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If the child is in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly (not an ice bath but by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose).

Visit www.safercar.gov/heatstroke for more information. #heatstrokekills #checkforbaby

CFPL00034_Safety_Heatstroke_TT_SP_C07

Those Summer Nights at SeaWorld Orlando

I can’t even think of the words “Summer Nights” without hearing certain “Grease-ers” in my mind, dragging out the second half of that phrase in iconic ’50s warble. I’m singing a NEW tune, now as SeaWorld’s Summer Nights has me Makin’ Waves and wanting to Light up the Night!

The atmosphere at Shamu Stadium is like a night club, but for families. Everyone is moving and grooving to the all-new music, played and pumped up by a live DJ. A pre-show decades dance off, gets you on your feet (and your kids entertained) as the stadium fills (and note: you will need to get there early, as shows fill fast).

Our group took advantage of the show-before- the-show and proceeded to dance unabandoned! Wild giggles and shouts for joy were heard from our row, and that was just the warm up! You’ll also get to read some ocean/animal facts while you wait for the show to start. The kids with me wanted me to read every one out loud.

SeaWorld’s outstanding trainers and the ever-magnificent Killer Whales are the Main Event, though. You’ll be hard-pressed not to join in on the oohs and aahs from the audience as the whales leap from the water, or SPLASH the crowd. (And when they say the splash zone goes up to the second level… they’re NOT kidding. Take your cameras and cell phones at your own risk.)

We usually leave before the night shows since my son wakes up at 6:30 every morning (EVERY morning) and it’s normally a wise decision to match that early rise time with an early “to bed” time. I can’t think of a better time to break that rule, though, than on a summer night with friends and family. We all enjoyed the show so much and will be back a few more times at least before summer’s end (which, sadly, seems RIGHT around the corner!).

 

Food and Wine Conference

Food and Wine ConferenceThis weekend, July 18–20, Family Foodie, Sunday Supper and Rosen Hotels present a Food and Wine Conference at Single Creek Golf Resort. Food and wine bloggers from all over the country will gather to eat, greet, and tweet about all things culinary.

Keynote speakers include Whitney Miller and my Rad friend Emily Ellyn.

Great platinum sponsors include Gallo Family Vinyards, Dixie Crystals, Idaho Potatoes, OXO and Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The Cabot Cheese is a supporter. So is Parkesdale Market (a FAVORITE) of mine! But what’s the link with Busch Gardens? Why sponsor? What’s the connection?

Travis Claytor, PR Manager, Busch Gardens Tampa, says “Busch Gardens’ culinary scene is constantly expanding and evolving to meet and exceed guest expectations. We are excited to be a part of the Food and Wine Conference and continue to connect with BuschGardensLogofood bloggers across the country. With an increasing knowledge of food and dining, we know the importance of providing exciting culinary options for all our guests. Additionally, although we can’t talk about it quite yet, we are excited for additional culinary elements at Busch Gardens as we move in to 2015.”

Today is the last day to sign up for the Food and Wine Conference. http://foodandwineconference.com/register/
Happy eating and drinking, blogging and Tweeting!

Follow #FWCon for all the latest!

$50 Gift Card Giveaway for Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores

VF Outlet Back to School 2014Although we homeschool, it just seems “wrong” to pass up on back-to-school shopping, especially during the Florida sales tax holiday August 1-3. Kids grow out of clothes (and SHOES!) faster than imagined and whether your kids go to a brick and mortar building or to co-op, kids need “stuff”. Thankfully there are lots of deals to be had in Orlando, and some of our favorite stores are all together at the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores. (And for those who buy school uniforms… you really want to check this out!)

I like shopping at  Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores because there is a nice variety of stores (and it’s plus for me to park right in front of the stores). As a deal-seeker, I really enjoy the savings up to 75% off (and sometimes more). (On my last visit I bought an $80 dress for $12. Bam!)

So, do YOU like deals? Here’s your chance to win a $50 gift certificate to the mall, where you can select merchandise at over 50 spacious outlet shops and get great deals at the area’s only Old Navy outlet store, newcomer U.S. Polo Assn., newly renovated Nike, OshKosh B’Gosh and Tommy Hilfiger Stores, plus other well-known outlets including G by GUESS, Justice, Carter’s, Crocs, Calvin Klein, Levi’s®, Aeropostale, Converse, Famous Footwear Outlet, Fossil, Gap, Izod, Rack Room Shoes, and many more. Don’t forget to stop by and treat yourself at Lindt Chocolate, too!

Rafflecopter logo linkTo enter: Click on the Rafflecopter image, and post a comment. To gain more entries, Tweet about it, too (see link for more information).

Even if you don’t win, you can get in on the savings by downloading a coupon from the Center’s website, then bringing it to Travelpro at the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores to receive a coupon booklet valued up to $400 in savings. Many stores offer additional savings from 20-40% off to “Friends & Family.”  Savvy discount shoppers can learn about these discounts, as well as specific stores and their hours by following the center on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as well as visiting www.lbvfs.com. Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores is located just one mile from Walt Disney World at 15657 S. Apopka Vineland Road (State Road 535), Orlando, FL 32821-6316, and two miles south of I-4, Exit 68. Stores are open Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm, and 10am-7pm on Sunday.

Good luck, and happy shopping!

On The Road Family Fun

Road Trip Games artwork smLots of families, like mine, hit the road in the summer. Whether it’s a two-hour hop to the beach or a 20-hour trek across a couple of states, “Are we there yet?!” is bound to be heard from the back seat. If you’ve heard that query before (a hundred times or more!) and don’t want to plug your kids into technology for the duration, consider playing some fun road trip games together instead. Here are a few we’ve come up with or adapted from games we played when my husband and I were kids.

Pick a Point
Everyone in the vehicle gets to pick two things that are “point worthy.” (If you have a large family, you may want to do one apiece.) Some choices we’ve made include: lawn maintenance trucks, signs for fast food, theme park buses (we see a lot of those here in Central Florida), Smart cars, boats on trailers, double trucks, emergency vehicles, a tire piece on the side of the road, etc. Once the “pointable” things are chosen, select a game range time such as “Starting when we get on the major interstate, and ending when we get to exit 150.”

If a person sees something on the list, they point at it and say “Vaccuum truck (or whatever) point!” Someone else (besides the one who sees it) has to confirm each point, and points are deducted when you mis-identify something (like an RV for a Big Rig). Play continues simultaneously among all players, with other car-mates probably having to step in once in a while to referee who correctly pointed and named the point first.

Decide ahead of time what point value goes to a vehicle sales lot! (It’s downright impossible to count ALL motorcycles, RVs, etc., so pre-determine if there’s a bonus for a sales lot, or decide sales lots won’t count at all.)

We usually keep a running total mentally, but a tally sheet works, too.

The Guessing Game
One person thinks of something the other members take turns trying to figure out what “it” is. Questions usually are asked in order of general to specific. (Our first question is usually: Is it man-made, or nature-made?) Guessers take turns asking 3 “yes or no” questions, asked in either a clockwise pattern, or according to age (though in the car, just going round robin is way easier!).

Some helpful questions include:

(For man made)  Is it related to transportation? Can you eat it? Is it found in our neighborhood? Is it larger than this vehicle? (Tip: Don’t ask “Is it large?” Large is a relative term. Is it larger than a ______ or heavier than a _______ works much better.)

(For nature made) Does it live in water? Is it covered in fur? Is it a mammal? Is it weather-related? Can you eat it? (Note: This question works for both nature and man-made since a processed strawberry candy can be eaten as well as a nature-made strawberry.)

How Many Homonyms?
I like to sneak in education games without anyone “catching on.” Thus the “How Many Homonyms” game was born to keep riders from being bored (not board, LOL). Players take turn naming homonyms and using each in a sentence. There are usually no points given, but the person who gets one right is cheered, while a stumped player gets a loud “aww man!”

road trip single carDie Cast Match
Every trip we take (with a duration of 2 hours +) includes the “Box of Cars.” You know the die cast cars I’m talking about! Whether Matchbox or Hot Wheels (or off brands, or WHATEVER), you have a box, too, I’m guessing.

The kid or kids in the back must correctly retrieve the die cast vehicle that corresponds to the real life version seen on the road. Front seat passengers might have a tiny bit of trouble reaching back, so this one is for rear passengers only. The first one to get their hands on it, get a point.

Alphabet License Plate
Take turns finding each alphabet letter, in order, on license plates. Youngest goes first. Others in the car must confirm a find. Each person gets 1-5 minutes to find one, or their turn is forfeited. (You determine how long you’re willing to wait between letters, LOL.) If you pass, you get a demerit, and the next person must repeat the un-found letter. Like in golf, in this game you want the lowest score.

Someone needs to watch a timer, and someone needs to tally demerits. Set a specific game time duration, or go through the alphabet “X” numbers of times.

What games do you play in the car to while away the hours? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Great American Milk Drive

milk drive feeding americaA favorite childhood memory is the treat of having a PBJ and a tall glass of milk. When I visited my grandparents that delicious combo was often accompanied by a couple cream-filled chocolate cookies and an orange (we’re Florida natives, so we had oranges with just about everything!). As grocers, my grandparents never lacked in fresh healthy foods when I visited, or eventually came to live with them. That wasn’t the case when I lived in Orlando with my mom.

old grocery store register

1950s, opening day at my grandparents’ grocery store in Florida.

After my father died, my mother had a hard time getting back on her feet. My half brother and I spent many a day riding our bikes on the roads around Colonial Avenue while my mom tried to work things out. We climbed the tree on the empty lot down the street with the neighborhood children, and the “big kids” often ran ahead on the bumpy brick-paved roads while the scrawny toothpick-legged ones like me did our best to catch up! We knew we went hungry sometimes, but like most kids in that situation we weren’t convinced we were poor. It was “just the way it was”, though if a friend offered a snack or a meal while visiting their house… well, you didn’t have to ask us twice!

Today there is a new generation of children in Orlando and throughout Florida who don’t have the “luxury” of fixing up a quick sandwich whenever they please. Perhaps they’re like we were who often settled for a “jam sandwich” (where you take two pieces of bread and “jam them” together) and no milk most days, but water. We were not alone. Today, 1 in 5 Central Floridians are struggling with hunger each day.

Second Harvest Food Bank is one of the stop-gaps for families like mine. Through their distribution of food in to more than 500 nonprofit partner agencies in six Central Florida counties, people who want just a little help to get by are given the food they need for themselves and their children.

This year, FlBlogCon has partnered with the Florida Dairy Farmers to spread word about the Great American Milk Drive, to help raise awareness and funds for the single most requested food staple: milk.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Click on the picture to hear how Jesse Tyler Ferguson is helping spread the word about the Great American Milk Drive and how donations are shared in your community.

Our family has already made a donation so other families and individuals who request milk can receive it. Here’s my challenge: If you have no problem purchasing a gallon of milk or more each week, I hope you’ll consider “virtually” picking up a couple extra for your neighbors. It “does a body good” to drink it, and it does a heart good, too, to share a tall glass with others, if only online. No way to give? No problem. Blog, share, or post to Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest (or wherever!) using the hashtags #FLblogging4good and #floridamilk to spread the word with your friends and family. Who knows… some FaceBook friend might not be posting on their wall that they could use help from Second Harvest and the Great American Milk Drive.

milk drive