Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where to See Awesome Christmas Lights

This Winter Park family must be fans of the Osbornes, the famous family in Arkansas that added so many Christmas lights to their house that they had to buy houses around them to expand their light display. Finally, they were shut down by the city and donated their lights to Walt Disney World, which now features the Osborne Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios.

Every year around this time, my family makes the short trip to Winter Park to view not only the main house in this neighborhood that is covered with lights, but also the other houses in the neighborhood. Two houses feature garages full of mini town displays, complete with bridges, waterfalls and even mini hot air balloons. These houses have become a tourist attraction, and one offers the ability to donate to disabled veterans. 

Back to the main house that drew us to the area in the first place: something like 800,000 lights are used on the outside of the house. But we also love the garage display with life-size Santa and Mrs. Claus and the beautiful window displays with working toy trains. The front yard is covered with lit mechanical Christmas displays, such as teddy bears riding a ferris wheel. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this.

Make sure to take your family to this amazing sight this year. And let us know which other neighborhoods have great Christmas lights displays in the comments section below!

Where: Garden Grove Circle, Winter Park, Fla.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peach Valley Cafe: Yummy Breakfast/ Brunch

Apple Fritters with 3 Dipping Sauces
Peach Valley Cafe in Orlando and Lake Mary is the perfect brunch spot. It has such an extensive menu of breakfast and lunch options, that everyone in the group is bound to be happy. I will say this up front, though: while the quality of food is 4 out of 5 stars, the service has been very slow any time I have visited. I have only eaten there during slow times, so I am not sure why it takes 25 minutes to get breakfast food and a sandwich.

On to the food: we opted for some unusual menu items. Instead of the typical Eggs Benedict, I ordered the Vegetable & Egg Croissant Benedict, with grilled tomato, asparagus, red onion and hollandaise sauce. It was much more exciting and delicious than it sounds. The hollandaise sauce was creamy and flavorful, the croissant was moist yet toasty on the outside and the asparagus added a nice crunch and flavor to the dish. Plus, I loved Peach Valley's roasted potatoes: not many restaurants get those right, in my opinion. I love them crispy and flavorful, and these were both.

The Lemonberry Pancakes - which were seasonal and may no longer be there - were moist and delicious. The flavor combination works very well, surprisingly. Next time, I want to try the Pecan Cinnamon Roll Pancakes. Those sound divine. We also had the French Dip sandwich, which had a delicious au jus dipping sauce, but the sandwich itself was just okay. 

One mistake I made was not ordering the hot Apple Fritters. I have heard great things about these little bites of goodness, and will definitely pick up a bag on my next visit!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Where Veterans Can Eat for Free

I have such admiration and respect for every veteran who has served in the U.S. military,
especially my niece, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and my dad, a U.S. Army vet. It seems only fitting then, that many restaurant chains across the country are honoring our nation's vets by offering them free meals, appetizers and more.

Here are some of top restaurant chain deals for Veterans Day on November 11:

* Applebee's: Veterans and active duty military can get a free Signature Entree, including the American Standard All-in Burger, from the restaurant chain's Veteran's Day menu.

* Red Robin:a free Tavern Double Burger and Bottomless Steak Fries.

* Olive Garden: a free meal from a limited menu.

* Outback Steakhouse: Free Bloomin' Onion and soda, and 15% off for active and retired military for the rest of this year!

* Denny's: free all-you-can-eat pancakes.

* Krispy Kreme: free doughnut and small coffee.

* California Pizza Kitchen: one free pizza for active military and vets.

* Chili's: one free entree all day from its special Veteran's Day menu.

* Menchie's: free 6-ounce frozen yogurt.

Plus, Bed Bath & Beyond and World Market are offering veterans 20% off their purchase through November 11. And Home Depot and Lowe's both offer a 10% discount to veterans on November 11.

These are great deals, and I hope everyone who can takes advantage of them! You certainly deserve it, and I thank you for your service.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What I Love about Yard House

I love the bar/ restaurant atmosphere at Yard House, including large silver pipes from the ceiling to the bar, carrying some of the 120+ brews on tap at this newer restaurant on International Drive in Orlando. Even though it is a Darden Restaurants brand, Yard House only came to Orlando earlier this year. I've heard people in other areas of Florida and the U.S. rave about this restaurant.

I can see why. The staff is well-trained and friendly. And I mentioned the atmosphere. Plus, the food and drinks are really good. We had the House Honey Blond Ale, and would definitely order it again. Yard House is known for their great burgers - including its Black Truffle Cheeseburger - but there are so many different dishes and flavors from all over the world. 

We tried the Fish and Chips and the Blackened Swordfish Tacos. The Fish was crispy and flavorful. We haven't really found Fish and Chips we like around Orlando, so it was great to find one that is perfect. The Blackened Swordfish Tacos had a lot of flavor, thanks to the addition of cilantro, cumin crema and a mango papaya chutney. The side of rice was also delicious.

One other note: our server and management went above and beyond to ensure that my meal did not contain any of the ingredients that I have intolerances to. It made for a relaxing, worry-free meal!

Where: 8367 International Dr., Orlando, Fla.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Get Your pre-Halloween Freak On

Orlando Zombie Ball
Where are you going to get your fright on? While many people love Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, there are so many other smaller, not-as-flipping-crowded events where you can have a blast this month. 

Here are some of our favorites:

1. A Petrified Forest: this longtime Altamonte Springs favorite is back this year and features twice the trails. In addition to ghouls, goblins, and other scary creatures along this trail, food and entertainment is provided. There are even overnight camping options! This attraction is only available on weekends, so hurry and enjoy it.

2. Orlando Zombie Ball is THE place to be on October 22 at Firestone Live. Costumes are mandatory and the best costume wins $1,000! Phantasmagoria will be performing live, and VH1 celeb DJ Brian Dawe will be spinning.

3. Halloweenfest is back October 31 in downtown Winter Garden. The free event includes family activities, live entertainment, and several vendors.

If you have attended these events in past years or this year, leave your comments and suggestions below!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Delicious, Local Ice Cream at LuLu's

If you have never been, Lu Lu's Ice Cream Shop is a small, family-run hut next to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in Winter Park. I love supporting Central Florida businesses and, in this case, it is not hard to do. I have been eating Lu Lu's ice creams and sorbets for years, and they are truly my favorite. And fresh. For heaven's sake: the Orlando creamery they buy from uses fresh strawberries (local, when in season) for its signature Strawberry Basil Sorbet.

The other day, I had the pleasure of trying some of their new flavors. Pumpkin Pie ice cream tastes exactly like it sounds: like the most flavorful homemade pumpkin pie, frozen into a smooth cream. They also had a new sorbet I had not tried - Blueberry - and again, it tastes like you are eating fresh blueberries. For those of us who have trouble with dairy, Lu Lu's sorbets are a great alternative to ice cream, but still have that smooth, creamy texture. 

We also love just the plain old Chocolate ice cream flavor, along with Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream, Strawberry Basil Sorbet and Pineapple Sorbet. There are so many different flavors, you can always have something different. And the price is very reasonable, so bring a cooler and take some home.

Where: 1111 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, October 3, 2014

New fall flavors at Yum Yum Cupcake Truck

Oh Yum Yum Cupcake Truck. How I have missed you. I have been craving cupcakes, but you are rarely in my area of town. Finally, I found you at Food Truck Bazaar in Lake Mary on October 1, along with some other great trucks and vendors. Unlike some other food truck events, the monthly Lake Mary event features a handful of food trucks and tons of local artists, jewelry makers, and other neat vendors. The beautiful park by Lake Mary City Hall is a great, relaxing setting to enjoy the food and the art.

Now, back to the cupcakes: as usual with Yum Yum, there were some hits and misses with the new fall flavors and other cupcakes. While we couldn't get enough of the El Churro (with its crispy, cinnamony, sugar exterior and delicious frosting), the Pumpkin Gingy cupcake fell short. While it had a delicous cream cheese frosting, the cupcake batter had a hint of baking soda or something slightly off. Otherwise, it was moist. I had been craving pumpkin treats, and was looking forward to the perfect bite.

The new Hootenanny Harvest Apple cupcake is pretty good. You get a hint of sour apple with real apple filing in the middle. The Chocolate on Chocolate is good, but again the batter tastes slightly of baking soda. There were lots of other good food trucks to try - such as Baja Grill - but unfortunately, I have food allergies and didn't see items I could eat.

All in all, I had a wonderful experience at the Food Truck Bazaar, and can't wait for the next big one: October 12 at Fashion Square Mall!