Taffy Plus Size Activewear Review/Giveaway

Disclaimer: This review/giveaway is sponsored by Taffy, in conjunction with Fit Approach/Sweat Pink. All opinions are my own.

Since I’ve gained some of my weight back, I’m gonna admit that I’m back in plus sizes. A 1X is my usual size, and while some of my XL clothes still fit, most of my closet isn’t being worn right now. It’s sort of depressing.

I know it’s just a tag, but eh…it’s still a tough pill to swallow. A while back, a good blogging friend sent me a link about reviewing this brand of plus size activewear: Taffy. Since some of my workout clothes are a bit snug right now, I went for it.

I was sent the Taffy Essential Jacket (in white) for review through Sweat Pink. Since it tends to still switch between cold and warm lately, this jacket is still getting some use! I mean, last week we had weather in the 30s and just Saturday when my husband and I were doing yard work, I couldn’t stop sweating…it was HOT. Anyway, for chilly afternoons/evenings, I like to wear a light jacket to say, go for a run, walk the dog or heck, just wear on the way to the gym!

Taffy review

 

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Cruisin’ with Carnival

Carnival Cruise - 12/2013

Back in December, my husband and I took a cruise out of New Orleans in the Western Caribbean (Montego Bay, Jamaica…Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands…Cozumel, Mexico) through Carnival Cruise Lines. While we took this same cruise last year, we were excited to go on the Carnival Sunshine, since the ship was recently renovated. We were much more excited, especially, after spending a few hours aboard the Sunshine for the naming ceremony.

We went the week before Christmas, and while many people think that’s a tad bit crazy, I absolutely loved it! It was awesome to come home a couple of days before Christmas absolutely refreshed and stress free, especially since we were hosting my husband’s family for Christmas. There’s nothing to worry about when you don’t have a house to clean or any food to prep! :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We booked an aft balcony room, which is quickly becoming a favorite room type of ours. Aft balcony rooms are in the back of the boat, and it’s usually super quiet/serene, since it’s far from the parties/restaurants on the boat. We loved sitting out on our balcony every afternoon (or almost every afternoon, since I nap like a champ) and just snapping pictures. Sunsets are SO fun to photograph. :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, the night sky. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, the moon looks especially amazing. This was as we were leaving Jamaica. The water absolutely sparkled under the moonlight…it was so serene and lovely. I stink at photographing it, though…none of my photos did this view any justice.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, when I cruise, I eat. I’m sorry, but I threw calorie counting out the window. Warm chocolate melting cake was a must…a MUST. I also loved the dinner-time entertainment, as silly as it was. I’m a sucker for that stuff. :-)

As far as workouts go, I will admit that I did still train for my half on the cruise ship. Thankfully, the gym wasn’t crowded at all for my long run, so I had no worries about being asked to leave the treadmill for the 30 minute limit that is set for peak times. I ran 5.5 miles, which for me, on a treadmill, was a feat in itself. Sadly, no other runs happened on the cruise, but I was happy that I got the long run in!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We also regularly enjoyed the Punchliner Comedy shows every evening after dinner. We loved the adult comedy shows, and some of the comedians on the ship had me laughing so hard that it felt like I had an ab workout that night. Hilarious!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

And, after everything was over, it was always nice to come back to our room at night to see our towel animal of the evening. Our room stewards absolutely rocked, and they had such a funny sense of humor…I mean, how cute is a towel monkey hanging from the ceiling?

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, this guy. He looks like he’s saying, “How YOU doin’?”

I could go on and on about things on the ship, but I definitely want to talk about what we did while the ship was in port. In Jamaica, we didn’t book an excursion, because we just wanted to shop (hi, cheap rum!) and have a relaxing day in the port. We had a busy day ahead of us in Cayman anyway….or so we thought.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We were super excited about our day in Cayman, because we booked an excursion with the stingrays. We packed our day bag (which we got at the naming ceremony…thanks Carnival!), and went out to the tender boat. We booked something called “Faster to the Fun” through Carnival, which was especially awesome for tender days. Not only do you get VIP check-in, you also automatically get on the next tender boat, no matter when you go downstairs. We felt pretty fancy getting escorted to the tender boat, and not having to wait at all. :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Here was the view of the Sunshine as the tender boat was pulling in to the island. Isn’t the water just gorgeous?

Now, here’s where the bummer came in. That day when we got off the ship, we were told that all stingray excursions were cancelled, due to high winds on that side of the island. Huge bummer. We were really looking forward to the excursion, but we understood that safety was a priority, and even if we did go, we were told that the stingrays don’t go in shallow water when the tides are like that. So, it would have been a waste of money. Ah well…

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

So, when life throws you coconuts, drink coconut water? Ok, maybe that saying goes a little differently, but this cart kind of made my day. How much more island-y can you get? :-)

Even though our excursion was cancelled, we didn’t want to waste our day on the island, so we ended up taking a driving tour of the island, and learned some interesting facts about Grand Cayman. Did you know that they don’t elect their governor? Great Britain just sends one every 4 years. They also only pay property taxes ONCE. We joked about moving here once we win the lottery. :-P Hey, they have a Popeye’s…I could survive.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

The next day, we were in Cozumel. Our excursion in Cozumel was a Mexican Cooking Class at a resort. OMG…this beach…

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

My husband and I walked away from the beach for a while to take the cooking class, and it involved making an appetizer, an entree and dessert. What I enjoyed about this class is that these were dishes that I’ve never made before, like caramelized plantains with chocolate tequila sauce (OMG) and seared grouper with vegetables and tamarind sauce. It was insanely good, and the coconut rum/pineapple drinks that the bartender would bring made the class even sweeter. :-P My only issue is that the room was a tad stuffy with 20 burners going on, but they finally let us open the windows to let the breeze through the room. Whew!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

While we didn’t get to do everything we wanted, I have to say that we had a great time, and we’ll definitely cruise again. We’re already looking into another Carnival cruise, but this time, I definitely want to check out different locations in the Caribbean. :-)

Disclosure: We paid for our cruise, “Faster to the Fun” and our excursions, but Carnival did provide me with some complimentary WiFi time on the ship in exchange for a blog post. All opinions are 100% my own.

The Time You Save & A Calphalon Giveaway

With the holiday season just around the corner, time with family and friends is so important. The holidays can be very hectic, between the shopping and party planning, but if you can save some time on the day to day tasks (like cooking for your family/cleaning up afterwards), you can definitely etch out some time with your loved ones.

Calphalon recently relaunched their popular Contemporary Nonstick line, and is all about helping families save time with “The Time You Save” campaign. One of the key new perks about the cookware is that it’s now dishwasher safe! So, you can make your quick, weeknight meals, rinse the pot/pan out & place it straight in the dishwasher with your plates & utensils. Calphalon realizes that The Time You Save is valuable, so taking away the task of doing the dishes after a meal is great! You can now take some time away from the kitchen, and instead, enjoy that time with your family decorating the house, wrapping gifts or building a gingerbread house for the holidays! :-)

Also, along with Calphalon’s “The Time You Save” campaign, I wanted to share a couple of recipes with y’all, featuring their new cookware that requires very little hands-on time in the kitchen. :-)

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Calphalon sent me their new panini pan, as well as their 8 quart multi-pot with steamer to use for some time-saving recipes. I used their panini pan to make a chicken panini, using leftover roasted chicken, and I used the multi-pot to make a chicken tortilla soup.

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Holiday Spritz Cookies & A Giveaway!

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I am in hog heaven lately. It’s no surprise to you guys that Christmas is a holiday that I just adore, and with the holidays, there is always baking. Lots and lots of baking. I know I mentioned last week that I had to special order 28 blocks of cream cheese…well, when the butter goes on sale, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need 15 boxes. I’m not even kidding. I just love holiday baking, and truly enjoy sharing those treats with the ones that I care about.

America’s Test Kitchen recently came out with their newest book: The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, and sent me a complimentary copy to review. I just adore America’s Test Kitchen. I subscribe to both Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, as well as frequently cook from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. So when they asked me if I’d like to review this book, I didn’t even have to think about it. I actually had this book on my holiday wish list when I first read about the book in this post (which is what encouraged me to bake those scrumptious sticky buns in the first place). :-) When I received it in the mail, I had my post-its in hand ready to mark the recipes that I wanted to make right away.

The book contains 15 different chapters, with 450 recipes total. The book also has a comprehensive section called baking basics, explaining pretty much anything you ever needed to know about basic baking ingredients and tools, as well as tips to become a better baker in the kitchen.

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It’s also beautifully illustrated. I’m usually a sucker for color photos when it comes to food photography, but the black and white photography just draws you in. Also, in true Cook’s Illustrated fashion, there are step-by-step illustrations for some of the more complicated recipes. I appreciate this, because while you don’t necessarily always need step-by-step photos, there are some recipes where you just need an illustration or two to guide you along the way. There’s also notes in the beginning of every recipe, explaining what the recipe is and how certain ingredients in the recipe work to make this recipe just perfect.

As I was skimming through the book, these holiday spritz cookies caught my eye. Really, it was the word “holiday”. ;-) I’ve attempted to make spritz cookies before, and sadly, the dough ended up being too thick to use in the cookie press. I haven’t attempted spritz cookies since, and that was a few years ago. While I own a cookie press, I wanted to try it with another method that they recommended: a star tip and a piping bag. Genius….

I was so excited when these cookies actually piped out, and they baked up perfectly. These cookies put those holiday tin cookies to shame. They’re perfectly buttery, not too sweet, and are so simple to make! I ended up adding some sprinkles to some before baking as well, and that gave them some extra holiday flair. Of course, they’re delicious on their own, but sprinkles make everything more fun, right?

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Peanut Butter Mississippi Mud Brownies

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It’s finally that time of the year. The weather finally got a clue and cooled down. I was super giddy about it all, until I remembered that my allergies usually hate weather changes. Let’s just say that I raided the grocery store today, and amongst the things in my cart were Mucinex, zinc drops, vitamin C, Benadryl & Reese’s cups. Priorities, people!

One of the great things about the weather cooling down is that I just want to bake up a storm. I naturally purchase more butter, flour, sugar and eggs. I already have a stockpile of chocolate chips & random candies to mix into baked goodies, so I don’t have to go to the store when the urge to bake strikes.  :-) I also really crave comfort foods, like pot roast, gumbo and chili.

Recently, I was asked if I wanted to review a copy of Southern Living’s new book “No Taste Like Home”, which was released yesterday.

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As a fan of Southern Living, I couldn’t say no, and with Southern Living being known for the typical Southern, comforting recipes, it was perfect timing with the weather cooling down. This book basically highlights recipes from different regions of the South, including:

  • The Heart of Dixie
  • Cajun Country
  • Big, Bold Texas
  • The Piedmont & the Mountains
  • The Bluegrass, Bourbon & Barbecue Trail
  • The Coastal South

Basically, if you’re from the South, there’s a good chance that you’ll see some familiar hometown recipes. If you’re not from the South, you’ll probably want to start cooking from this book immediately to introduce yourself to some amazing Southern fare.  :-)

When I got the book in my hands, I immediately had to skim through it with my sticky note pad handy to bookmark recipes that caught my eye. Let’s just say that the copy I have is full of sticky notes. So many wonderful recipes, and the photos are just lovely. I typically would have first made a recipe from the “Cajun Country” (Louisiana) chapter, but this recipe, from “The Heart of Dixie” (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) chapter was just pulling me in. Rich chocolate brownies with peanut butter batter swirled in, topped with melted, gooey marshmallows, peanuts and a decadent chocolate frosting. I mean…c’mon. How could I not?

Do I even have to say that they were beyond delicious? Oh my gosh…insanely good! You will definitely want a glass of milk (or heck, a scoop of ice cream) handy for these, though. They’re definitely indulgent, and while there’s a few steps involved, they are just completely worth it. I promise!

Now, of course I wouldn’t gush about this book without sharing some of the love! The wonderful folks at Southern Living/YC Media are offering a lucky Nifty Foodie reader a copy of this book. To enter the giveaway, just check out the Rafflecopter widget below! [Read more...]

Sucré New Orleans Review/Giveaway

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Being from the New Orleans area, I’m so lucky to be surrounded by amazing restaurants and businesses. Back when I worked in the uptown area, I was exposed to a whole new area of small businesses that I fell in love with. Sucré was one of them. I was ecstatic when they expanded and opened a location at the mall in the area. It’s such an inviting place, and I love to drop in almost every time I’m in town.

If you’ve never been, they sell a little bit of everything to satisfy the sweet tooth, like gelato, chocolates, macaroons, cupcakes and other specialty desserts. I honestly could spend some major money every time I go in there, but I try to restrict myself to one treat (except this one time when I went). :-)

A few weeks ago, the generous folks at Sucré reached out to me to offer a giveaway to you guys. Their 8 pc. indulge chocolate collection, to be exact. I was sent a box to review as well (ok, twist my arm), and I just wanted to share just how gorgeous this box truly is.

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Mrs. Smith’s Signature Deep Dish Pies & A Giveaway

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Mrs. Smith’s for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

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I feel like I’ve been baking pie like crazy lately. Between the office potlucks and family get-togethers, it just seems like the butter will run out. Seriously y’all….I purchased 12 boxes of butter last month and I’m down to 5! Crazy, no?

As much as I love to bake, sometimes there’s a party where I just don’t have the time to make something for us to bring. There may be some people who will judge me for this, but hey, I’ve been known to purchase a frozen pie or two, and bake them up. I usually tend to grab for Mrs. Smith’s, because I’ve never had a bad pie from them. In fact, my husband insists that his all-time favorite pie is Mrs. Smith’s Cinnabon Apple Crumb Pie, so when Mrs. Smith’s (via SocialSpark) offered me the opportunity to try their new line of Mrs. Smith’s Signature Deep Dish pies, I just couldn’t say no.

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In case you’re a stranger to Mrs. Smith’s products, here’s a little background on the company (from the company’s website):

When Amanda Smith baked her first pies in the kitchen of her Pottstown, Pennsylvania home, she used the finest ingredients and amazing attention to detail to create the finest pies available. Amanda Smith started by baking pies for family, friends and charity events, but when her son, Robert Smith, convinced her to sell her pies, a business was born. Today, the makers of MRS. SMITH’S® desserts continue the tradition started by Amanda Smith, delivering pies and cobblers with made-from-scratch goodness you can see and taste. MRS. SMITH’S® pies and cobblers … a timeless tradition. Their new Signature Deep Dish pies come in four flavors:

  • Signature Deep Dish Dutch Apple Pie with Caramel Sauce
  • Signature Deep Dish Cherry Pie with Butter Fudge Sauce
  • Signature Deep Dish Peach Pie with Cream Cheese Icing
  • Signature Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie with Cream Cheese Icing

The great thing about these pies is that it comes with a fun topping packet to help you create a unique, customized pie, and of course, with any Mrs. Smith’s pie, it couldn’t be simpler to bake. Simply take it out of the freezer, place it on a baking sheet (in case it leaks) and let it bake in the oven. Then, once the pie has cooled, add the topping.

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I got to try the pumpkin pie, and it was VERY good! It was spiced well (some pumpkin pies don’t have enough spice, in my opinion), and the custard was super smooth! The pie dough was very flaky and not at all soggy, too. I especially loved being able to decorate our pie with the included icing packet, which gave it a fun, festive touch. If you’re under a time crunch this holiday season, this pumpkin pie would definitely do the trick! To find where these pies are sold, here’s a link to the retailers near you. Mrs. Smith’s is generously offering one reader of The Nifty Foodie a coupon for a free Signature Deep Dish pie, as well as a $50 gift card to Williams-Sonoma!!
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White Chocolate Brownies & A Giveaway

White Chocolate Brownies

I love living in the South. Sure, the heat index is enough to make you want to just sit in an ice bath all day, but the food?! Oh, the food MORE than makes up for it.

Around here….

…your cooking is judged based on how good your gumbo is
…we embrace stale bread for bread pudding
…we have a love (the drink)/hate (the storm) relationship with hurricanes
…we don’t mind getting our hands dirty to dig out tiny pieces of seafood over newspaper
…a biggie–you know the difference between creole and cajun food

I know a lot of people frown upon Louisiana since there are some stigmas about living here, but I really am blessed to say that this is my home. I just love the little things that make Louisiana home, and even if I don’t live here the rest of my life, I know that Louisiana will always be a part of me. Cheesy, but seriously true.

When I was contacted about reviewing a cookbook called “The Southern Foodie“, I just couldn’t resist. The book, written by food/drink/travel writer Chris Chamberlain, features recipes from favorite restaurants in the South and it’s organized by state. Of course, when I got the cookbook, I frantically flipped through the pages and bookmarked numerous recipes.

I was very happy to see Louisiana well-represented in the book, too. There are some great staples in there, like red beans and rice, pralines and bread pudding, to name a few. Besides the classics, I found that there are some fun, out of the box recipes, like barbequed oysters and sweet potato-andouille soup. This book is great for someone trying to get a feel for Southern food, and even for Southerners, it’s impressive how many different recipes the author has in here that I’ve never heard of.

One of the hardest things for me when I find a good cookbook is to choose a first recipe. I actually have quite a few that I want to try, but I was really in the mood to bake, so I decided to make these white chocolate brownies. I love that brownies bake up so quickly and you don’t have to fork out the mixer to make them. It’s sort of dangerous how easy brownies are to throw together and these were no exception. :-) This brownie is a white chocolate brownie base with white and bittersweet chocolate mixed in. Often times, I find white chocolate desserts to be a little too sweet, but I really think the bittersweet chocolate helped to balance things out a good bit. I ended up halving the recipe, since the original recipe makes two 13×9 inch pans worth of brownies (the halved recipe is below). I sent these to work with my husband, and found out that some people enjoyed 2-3 brownies on their own, so this recipe is definitely a winner. Based on this recipe, I can’t wait to give some others a try!

Now, you know I wouldn’t just dangle this cookbook in front of y’all without having a giveaway. :-) The publisher sent me extra books to giveaway to two lucky readers!

Cookbook Giveaway

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BlogHer Review: Michelob ULTRA Light Cider

As the summer is starting to rear it’s ugly head around here, I can’t help but think of all of the ways that we cool off around here. The pool, ice cold watermelon, NOLA style snowballs, air conditioning….those are a few that come to mind. I also think about fun, light (adult) beverages to enjoy when it heats up around here. Beer is the usual thing that comes to mind for a lot of people, but y’all….beer really isn’t my thing. Wine isn’t my thing either actually. Don’t freak out….I’m learning. My friends are trying to teach me. Haha! I can drink a riesling or moscato, but I’m no expert at all. For example, I found myself texting my best friend when a pot roast recipe called for a red wine. Uh yeah, when a whole WALL is nothing but red wines, it can be overwhelming.

I’m so glad I’m getting this off of my chest, y’all.

While I’m not a fan of the ever-so-popular beer, I am a fan of another bottled beverage: hard cider. Back in college, I remember going to a pizza joint with friends where they were known for having 3908490396 things on draft, give or take a few. :-P It was then that one of the gals I went with ordered a hard cider. I had to find out about this drink, since this gal swore up and down that this particular drink tasted nothing like beer. It tasted like carbonated apple awesomeness. Uhm, WHAT??! So yeah, I had to order one for myself. Yeah…I was pretty much hooked, y’all!

So, when I heard that Michelob was coming out with their own lightened version of a hard cider, I was very excited. Since I’m currently calorie counting, I find that often times I have to say “no” to adult beverages since alcohol tends to hog the calories. A bottle of this is only 120 calories, which is about 1/3 less calories than the average hard ciders out there.

Here’s a little bit of information about Michelob ULTRA Light Cider:

Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob ULTRA announced the newest addition to its portfolio, Michelob ULTRA Light Cider, a naturally sweetened and gluten-free cider made from crisp apples. Featuring one-third fewer calories (120) and a more mellowed sweetness than traditional ciders, Michelob ULTRA Light Cider is ideal for year-round enjoyment and provides a light, refreshing alternative to white wine, champagne and heavier ciders.

“As more people continue to discover cider, we’ve found that many view traditional ciders as either too heavy, too sweet or both,”” said Ryan Moore, vice president of premium lights, Anheuser-Busch. “”This perception has often times limited ciders to a seasonal beverage during fall and winter, but we saw an untapped potential to expand the category as a year-round option. Michelob ULTRA Light Cider fills this void with a lower calorie cider with a milder, but distinct, sweetness that can be enjoyed straight or over ice.””

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Now, it’s been a while since I’ve had a drink like this, but after trying it, I have to say this one is my new favorite. I’m used to drinking a pretty sweet hard cider, which in the Summer, just isn’t that appealing. It was refreshing to drink Michelob ULTRA’s Light Cider since it had a much more mellow sweetness (due to it being naturally sweetened) and just had a great, crisp apple flavor (since it’s made from hand picked apples). With the weather warming up like crazy around here, I really like that I can enjoy this with a ton of ice to keep it cold outside or of course, just drink it straight out of the bottle. Another plus? This drink is gluten-free!

Michelob Ultra Light Cider

Since the summer is here, I really would love to know which favorite summer meal or activity do you think would go best with Michelob ULTRA Cider?

Personally, I think this would be the perfect drink to enjoy after taking care of the garden and just relaxing on the patio with a super cold bottle of this in hand.

Check out the sponsor’s site or the Michelob ULTRA Light Cider page on BlogHer.com for more information. They’re available NOW nationwide (excluding CO, UT, WY and OK) in six-packs of 12 oz. clear glass bottles.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a six pack of Michelob ULTRA Light Cider, as well as compensation, in exchange for an honest review.