MacDill Foodies Crawl

Last week I was lucky enough to “crawl” up MacDill Ave, Tampa, with the Tampa Bay Bloggers to some of the best gastropubs/eateries in town!

The Datz family has introduced both Dough, a dessert place, and Roux, a Cajun & Creole Restaurant – and all three come highly recommended — by me!

Hosting a group of bloggers is a great way to try out new menu items and get honest and varied opinions. Here’s what I thought of the great dishes we got to try:

DSC_1817We started at Roux for drinks and appys. I hadn’t been to Roux since a sneak preview before they completed their walls and bar, and I enjoyed looking around first to see the great decor. I’m a big fan of fleur de lis and NOLA, so it is always fun for me to see bits of New Orleans in the Tampa Bay area.

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We had three appetizers to try and three drinks to choose from. I loved the Abita beer-battered Crab Beignets, which had 4 different flavors of remoulades to dip them in, but they were divine plain. The had just the right fried beignets crunch on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth center. Not too seafood tasting.

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I split a Boudin Ball, which was served over creole mustard crema. They are a little larger than a golf ball, smaller than a lemon, but I knew there was a lot of food to come so I only ate half. I could have easily eaten 4-6 with a small cup of gumbo as a meal!

There were also Char-Grilled Oysters. They was so much better than the raw on-the-half-shell oyster I had eaten years ago (which was my first and, up till now, last oyster.)

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IMG_0198As far as drinks go, they have a refreshing hurricane served over mounds of crushed ice:
Kraken Dark, Siesta Key white, orange juice, passion fruit purée, pineapple, lime and bitters. There’s the traditional NOLA Sazerac made from Rittenhouse Rye, Pernod Absinthe, Peychauds, bitters and lemon peel. And last but not least is my light, girly favorite the French 75 (shown): The Botanist, lemon, champagne and lemon zest served in a champagne flute.

Then 8 bloggers piled in my mommy-van to zip up the road to Datz.

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This self proclaimed Foodie’s Theme Park is going to up their shock value this year with more “stunt food”, foods with layers upon layers of goodness that take them over the top. Read on to see the sneak peek that we got!

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IMG_0203We were greeted with some house-made, flavored popcorn and what Sandbookwich.com calls “2015’s first new food trend”, Buffalo Cauliflower. The whole head of cauliflower was roasted, then lightly battered and fried, then tossed in buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing. I’m not much for blue cheese, but the rest of this dish was amazing! We kept it on the table and I kept taking more nibbles throughout the night when there was a lull in food-stuffs.

There were two drinks specially prepared for us that night. “#HotSex” pronounced “hashtag hot sex” was a blend of dry gin and something-something with a chili pepper on top. Some tried the “Love Stinks“, which was Bombay sapphire, raspberry liquor and a dirty cherry dropped inside. I didn’t try either since at some point mentioned above I became the driver.

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IMG_0207When we were settled with drinks, our server (Chops) told us about two dishes that were not on the menu that they were featuring that night. One was the Cheesy Todd: a cheese burger with your basic pickle-tomato toppings, but instead of a bun it is served between two mac&cheese patties. Yes, fried mac and cheese with beef and cheese in between. And a side of house made chips with blue cheese drizzle. I decided to volunteer as tribute and ordered this dish for the table. I left the bottom mac&cheese patty intact to bring home to DD1, then cut the top “bun” and burger into 4 pieces to pass around. The burger was expertly prepared, and the mac and cheese patty did not fall apart into separate noodles when we bit into it, which was my concern.

inside the cheesy todd

inside the cheesy todd

IMG_0211The 2nd item not on the menu was the Hungryman 2.0: two pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy topped with bacon.

Denise, a Datz regular, introduced me to the Desi Arnaz Cuban Salad: iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, swiss cheese, ham, spanish olives, spanish vinaigrette- “It’s a gluten free cuban sandwich on top of a salad” she said. I liked it even though I don’t like olives. It was NOT skimping on the toppings for one bite. It even had two delicious pieces of pressed Cuban bread on the side. The bread was soft and full of amazing grill flavor!

Outdoorsydiva.com was on my right, and she ordered “on the lam(b)“, grilled maple soy glazed lamb chops over roasted butternut squash. Let me tell you, that squash was the tastiest thing I have eaten in 2015! Flavored by the braised lamb drippings and lord knows what other Datz magic, I could have eaten just a bowl of that for dinner. Maybe with a piece of that pressed Cuban bread to scoop it up with… mmmmm….

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IMG_0216After mixing and matching and trying each others yummies, we went next door to Dough for boozy shakes and dessert. Boozy shakes are just what they sound like – adult milk shakes. Like a chocolate peanut butter shake with kahlua and whipped cream. It actually tasted more like Butterfinger to me, but the one I tasted had only half the booze added, by request. But they add their own secret twists to these, and they taste like no creamy goodness you’ve ever had before. They also make all of their gelato in house with fresh ingredients. TIP: If you come with the kids for just gelato, come in the back door and they won’t see all the donuts, cupcakes and chocolates first.

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They said more stunt food is coming, and I’m guessing that soon the brownies will do their own tricks. Someone ordered the last bacon brownie of the day while we were there.

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My dessert was a raspberry cheesecake donut. I think it was a housemade donut, and the hole was stuffed with cheese cake flavored cream filling, and on top was a blob of raspberry pink sticky glaze stuff.

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I brought home dessert for my girls too. A raspberry macaron for DD1 in honor of her upcoming France trip:

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And a Funfetti cupcake for my rainbow girl, DD2:

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See inside Dough’s chocolate cheesecake dome here.

Ending the night with a hug from RunDMT

Ending the night with a hug from RunDMT

I’m pretty sure I rolled home on my new belly tire.

Next time you are asked for a restaurant recommendation, you have three readily available on the tip of your tongue! Datz, Dough and Roux!

Disclaimer: I was invited to dinner by these three establishments and provided with food and drinks in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Bloggers for organizing this wonderful night!

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The Phantom and Human Nature

phantomposter203879610470_nEven if you have not seen The Phantom of the Opera, you know there is a man in a mask, and a woman who sings, and that something creepy is going on.

As a tween, I listened to the original Sarah Brightman recording on cassette in the car a lot when someone gave it to my mother as a gift, trying to encourage her to go see the production with my father. Close to 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to see Phantom on Broadway with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. When we were offered the chance to see it again last week with the Tampa Bay Bloggers at the Straz Center in Tampa, we jumped.

But now I think of the story differently. What was once a spooky nightmare-ish musical, and later a steamy love triangle, is now a show I think speaks about our nature as humans.

Today, I was working with a friend on ads for our daughters’ senior yearbook. Trying to find fitting photos to sum up 18 years of life means truly thinking about a person and all her facets. Do I show a photo of dancing school here, of track running there? Hugging her sister? Swimming with Grandma on vacation? Little by little you weed out the unlucky images until you are left with 8×10 inches of what might tell you a bit about someone as she grows up.

Phantom of the opera has this same reveal. Is the phantom a genius architect? An angel of music? A misshapen member of a carnival freakshow? Can he truly know how to love? Has he been taught compassion?

These burning questions, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mesmerizing score, jaw-dropping scenery and breathtaking special effects, magically combine to let you find the answers for yourself.

In fact, Gaston Leroux wrote in the original novel of The Phantom “None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learned to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrow and one of sadness, boredom or indifference over his inward joy… In Paris, our lives are one masked ball…”

One person seeking these answers — Katie Travis. She played lead female Christine Daaé in the production we just saw of Phantom. She also runs and teaches art in Africa. She is certainly seeking answers, and you can follow along on her adorable website.

Some History:

In 1984 Lloyd Webber contacted Cameron Mackintosh, co-producer of Cats (which I had the record album of), to propose a new musical. Now, The Phantom of the Opera, has come to Tampa as part of a brand new North American Tour. Critics say this breathtaking production is “bigger and better than ever before.” This Phantom features new scenic design by Paul Brown, over 280 costumes designed by the Tony winning Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable, new choreography by Scott Ambler and a new staging by director Laurence Connor.

And Mackintosh is still involved! He’s not new to makeovers – he has also revived and updated productions of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. This new production of Phantom, directed by Laurence Connor, has been on tour for a year following a sold-out run in the UK. It’s designed to travel easier and with less expense.

The Story (only minor spoilers):

Beneath the majesty and splendor of the Paris Opera House, hides the Phantom in a shadowy existence, shamed by his physical appearance and feared by all. He loves performer Christine Daaé, and wants to help her rise to the top. They cross a lake to his secret lair beneath the opera house, where he enchants her with his own sublime voice. She trusts him because her late father, a violinist, spoke of an angel of music.

The Opera House ownership has just changed hands, and one of the new men involved knew Christine as a child. They fall in love. The Phantom is jealous and angry. Shit hits the fan… or the chandelier as the case may be. Evil lair, angry mob, lots of singing.

I was excited to see this production had the beautiful chandelier, a working papier-mâché music box opening up to reveal a monkey, a few unexpected set twists and turns, and the Phantom’s boat which crosses down the misty lake. The opening auction scene was superb!

It also boasts great use of shadow and fire, as well as Katie Travis’s beautiful voice which out of nowhere becomes an air-filling powerhouse during “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”

Fun Facts:

The Phantom’s make-up takes two hours to put on and 30 minutes to take off. The face is moisturized, closely shaved and the prosthetics are fitted, setting immediately, before two wigs, two radio mics and two contact lenses (one white and one clouded) are placed. Look for him hiding all over the stage throughout the production.

Currently, the Phantom is played by Chris Mann (on tour). A classically trained singer, he was the third runner-up in the second season of NBC’s singing competition “The Voice”.

Although The Phantom of the Opera was written in 1911, it takes place in the Victorian Period, some ten years prior.

The musical opened in the UK on October 9, 1986, with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the leading roles, and there have been dozens of productions worldwide since then. Now in its 25th record-breaking year, The Phantom of the Opera continues to captivate audiences at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End, after more than 10,000 performances.

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The girl in front of me took this photo from our Balcony 2 seats. She posted it to Instagram (only her 3rd photo ever posted), and during intermission got a comment from Storm Lineberger, the actor playing Raoul (Christine’s love interest).

At Home:

Listen to score snippets here: http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/music_player/index2.html

To celebration its 25 anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera marked the occasion with 3 sell-out performances at the Royal Albert Hall, currently available to view on Netflix.

Tampa Bay Times interview with Cameron Mackintosh: http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/stage/interview-with-cameron-mackintosh-why-phantom-needed-to-change/2209683

Phantom opened Wednesday and runs through Jan. 4 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. The New Years Eve performance is billed as “The Phantom of the Opera New Year’s Eve Masquerade Party“: Join members of the Phantom Company immediately following the performance as we convene on the Straz Center Riverwalk for hors d’oeuvres, music by Late Night Brass, desserts, coffee, a champagne toast at midnight and a special keepsake of the night. Tickets to attend the party only, are $75. Party tickets for existing The Phantom of the Opera ticket holders are $50 plus handling and must be purchased by calling the Ticket Sales Office at 813.229.7827. I can’t imagine a more spectacular Christmas gift surprise for a loved one!

Tickets are $83.50 – $153.50. Call (813) 229-7827 or visit strazcenter.org. I received 2 complimentary balcony seats, and the opinions here are my own.

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Lotion for Winter

I’m not a big lotion user. Maybe because the main thing I drink is water, so I am fairly hydrated daily. Or maybe because I live in subtropical central Florida, where the humidity is often 90%. But when December sneaks around, I usually need a good lotion for a couple of months.

My friend Lynn started selling Perfectly Posh beauty products earlier this fall. I had never heard of the company. They work with local reps and home parties, like Avon or Mary Kay. Perfectly Posh products are naturally based and never have petroleum-derived ingredients including SLS, parabens or paraffins. Plus they use no gluten ingredients, no soy fillers and no lanolin. That is why I feel good about recommending their hand creme to you – without being asked.

hottie-patottie-bfyhc_1First I tried a sample of their Big Fat Yummy Hand Créme in Hottie Patottie scent. It’s described as “loaded with vitamins A and E to easily penetrate the driest skin without feeling greasy” and it features apricot kernel oil – not petroleum. This creamy and nourishing, non greasy hand creme has a fabulous fragrance that I found sexy and wanted a perfume of! The scent is supposedly brown sugar vanilla, but it was muskier than that to me. Although I originally applied it for my cuticles, I ended up dabbing it on my neck and wrists so I could smell the scent rising up throughout the day.

This scent is also available in a solid lotion bar,which provides deep-healing moisture with shea butter, and creates a soft, protective barrier with gentle beeswax. It would be a great gift for doctor or nurse friends who wash their hands a lot, because it is recommended for skin that is over-washed, dry, cracking, or in extreme circumstances. It comes in a pretty, little, round tin.

Just today I tried Big Fat Yummy Hand Créme in Lil Snarky. That scent is described as “exotic flowers & sandalwood with a serious attitude.” I did not smell attitude, but it did seem to have citrus undertones to me. I later learned it has extracts from mandarin and bergamot orange fruits. After putting it on I realized I hadn’t washed my face yet, and I was kicking myself for “wasting” my hand lotion since I would have to reapply after my face routine. As it turned out, though, I didn’t reapply the lotion for HOURS. I had it on before 9am and reapplied around 7:40pm! My cuticles look great despite how dry they felt the last two days!

The key ingredients of the hand cremes are coconut oil, glycerin and apricot kernel oil. They will leave your hands looking and feeling pampered!

There are other Perfectly Posh products I am interested in trying! The Tea tree and neem hair mask moisturizes hair and scalp. I’ll probably need that after my winter trip to St. Louis. The Argan Oil Anti Frizz Smoothing Hair Serum would be a great protectant when flat ironing or to tame my curls.

This company is less than a year and a half old. I’m curious to see when they have a big boom. If you think your friends would be interested in learning more about Posh products from you, it is $99 to become a rep with 30 days of training – or Lynn hosts online parties with Facebook groups so people can check out products on their own time online.

Dec 16 is the last day to order in time for Christmas. If you want to learn more about their products a little at a time like I did, you can join the Facebook page and get updates about random items from Lynn. Then you can take advantage of her specials too!

And if you need a new hand creme that is naturally based and lasts for hours, try Perfectly Posh!

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Introducing jmpLite

I learned about #GivingTuesday at school this year. My daughters attend a private school that is a non-profit, and every dollar here helps support education – from the technology the students use to the continued learning for the teachers. We have over 45 athletic teams, a thriving musical theatre program, ongoing community service projects and were among the first in the area with a Makerspace so students get hands-on skills for better problem solving and better futures.

jmpliteef9c6_largeIt is rare, however, for people to donate to a cause they don’t feel an emotional pull to. And as much as I love the school we’ve been at for 14 years, I have more readers who are runners than members of my community. (Well, arguably runners make up their own community…) So I have found a cause to tell my running friends about this #GivingTuesday. It is the jmpLite.

I read about this runner’s light online and have not been contacted by them, nor am I receiving compensation for posting this information.

jmpLite is the first safety light that never uses a battery. Running safely at night usually involves a light that often dies, or requires batteries that are bad for our environment. So two running friends designed a safety light that needs no batteries – ever – and thus costs us less and causes less harm to the environment.

  • Total Weight: 1.1 oz
  • Size: 1.4 x 2.2 x 1 inches
  • Water resistant (see water dunking video on their Kickstarter page!)
  • Armband and Headband: Optional accessories. You can just clip it to your running skirt, shorts or shirt.

How does it work?
Wind turbines, hydroelectric generators, and gas powered generators all produce electricity using basically magnets and coils. Our jmpLite uses the same basic principals, but in a very compact and efficient way, fine-tuned to take advantage of the running motion.

Want to know more? Check out the jmpLite Kickstarter campaign here. For just a $15 pledge you may be among the first to own a jmpLite!

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Dressember: for Femininity and Freedom

Today is Cyber Monday – which means tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. On Giving Tuesday, people show their support for a cause they love. Here are 2 that have been a topic of conversation at my house lately. My older daughter, Alice, is participating in Dressember this month. She will be wearing a dress every day the month of December.

Alice found out about Dressember from a friend who is supporting equal rights for women by helping victims of human trafficking. Human Trafficking is the illegal holding of people against their will, and selling or renting them out for involuntary sex or labor. This is a problem worldwide, but seems to have a heart right where I live. Florida accounts for the third highest call volume to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Tampa Bay is a hotspot for traffickers. 70% of trafficking victims are female and 50% are children.

921433_10151596495550923_819795177_oOn her fundraising page, Alice explains:

“I’m participating in Dressember because I believe in everyday advocacy. I know my voice matters, and that I can help change the world that millions of abused women and girls wake up to every morning. Your voice matters, too, and our voices are louder together. Let’s yell, let’s run, let’s dress for the restoration of dignity for all women.

Help me meet my goal and create real change. Every dollar counts, and the process is fast, easy, and secure.

You can also partner with me by sharing this page on Facebook and Twitter. Or, send an e-mail to friends you think might be interested in contributing and include a link to my page!

Thank you for locking arms with me in the fight for dignity.”

I’m wearing a dress today, are you?

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