Thursday, January 12, 2017

#ThankYouMiami for New Food Finds: OLLA

Miami is a great home away from home for international imports like me because it welcomes and fosters our cultures. As a Mexican living in Miami, I regularly speak Spanish, can easily travel back to México, and can find real Mexican food (the good stuff, not Tex-Mex) when I crave the flavors of my home country. The birth place, the customs and the family I left behind are a big part of who I am so finding traces of them in my new home makes living away from them substantially easier.

I have lived in South Florida most of my life—17 years to be exact—and recently became a U.S. citizen. And, as much as I love and am grateful for my new country, I can't deny that a piece of me still considers herself Mexican. When I meet other Mexicans, I am overly excited to bond about Mexican things, letting slip mi acento de chilanga. When I butcher the pronunciation of a word, my favorite excuse is "I am not from this country". And, I comfortably slip into the role of the token Mexican friend when it comes to Cinco de Mayo celebrations (a 100% American holiday, by the way), tequila shots, Taco Tuesdays, etc. I show off my Mexican identity like a badge of honor.

After my family, the thing I miss most about México is hands down the food. Yes, we have a handful of authentic taquerias and a super clutch Mexican market in Homestead, but Mexican food is so much more than that. Mexican food, like American and other classes of cuisine, spans a wide range of flavors, regional influences, and price ranges that can't be and aren't all represented within our city. That said, every once in a while, a new restaurant comes along that expands the selection of foods that remind me of my Mexican childhood and, in doing so, makes me a very happy niña. The most recent arrival to fit the bill is Chef Scott Linquist's (of COYO Taco fame) OLLA, the November 2015 opening party of which was detailed by our contributor Belen.

There's a lot of deliciousness happening at OLLA's Lincoln Road outpost. For starters, the drink options are on point. They have a full bar, wine, beer, beer mixed with lime juice and sauces (cheladas) and other Mexican cocktails. Then there's the dinner menu, which to my surprise includes perfectly cooked fideos seco and esquites (my favorite dishes from childhood and favorite dishes on the menu) and to the dismay of my most recent OLLA companions does not include tacos. If you're in the mood for tacos, you have two options: 1) stop by during lunch when the menu includes tacos and bolillos; or, 2) order the rajas or huitlacoche ollas with a side of homemade tortillas and make your own. Other worthwhile options include the jar of remolachas, the jar of ahumado, the chicharrones, and the costilla enchiladas.

I am a huge fan of Chef Linquist for bringing real Mexican food to Miami and am grateful that he's chosen to introduce our community to less explored traditional dishes—not only so I can connect with what I miss from home, but also so you can see why I am so adamant to let go of it completely. I would love to hear what you think when you stop by. (P.S. They are running a giveaway to celebrate their recently launched lunch so, if you want complimentary guac, chips, salsa, and margarita pitchers delivered to your office on Friday, February 3, tweet or share on Instagram to @OllaMiami why you deserve a fiesta break using #GimmieGuac and #OfficeFiesta. The winner will be announced Friday, January 27. ¡Buena suerte!)


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

#ThankYouMiami 2017 Resolutions: Explore More

My final 2017 resolution is to explore more—that is, go to different places, find adventures, make new friends. Yes, it definitely means traveling to new countries. (I love to travel so it always has been and always will be #goals.) But, more importantly, it means leaving the Beach more frequently so I can get to know other areas of Miami as intimately as I do my neighborhood.

The first adventure of the year took me (and other Miami bloggers) to the Redlands for the first-ever Patch of Heaven Gardens x Cao Chocolates tasting. The road to the Redlands was long and riddled with rain from the incoming cold front but I turned on the Gilmore Guys podcast and trekked onward, laughing uncontrollably at Demi and Kevin's antics. After I pulled off the Turnpike, farms, pine rock-land, and tropical hammock quickly replaced strip malls until all I could see was fields of green on either side. I don't know the area so I was a slave to Google Maps until I reached what appeared to be a driveway, only the friendly face of Yessy, POHG's Event Coordinator, peeking out from behind thick vegetation confirmed I was in the right place.

The weather made for a unique night. The earlier downpour brought out the smell of the subtropics—the scent of humidity that permeates when wooden houses, soil, limestone and hardwood hammock get wet—and accentuated the property's Old Florida charm. The heavy wind knocked down a tree, cutting off electricity. The lack of power emphasized the property's isolation from the fast-paced urban core and allowed the serenity of its location to take center stage. It also slightly altered the evening, encouraging the group to cut a tour of the property short to take advantage of daylight for the tasting. That said, we still had to light the second half of our meal with hurricane lamps which made it feel like we were "glamping" and bonded the group instantly over jokes about Freddie Kruger, the X-Files, and who would go first in a survival scenario. (The bonding could have also been the result of six wine pairings, but I digress...)

I only saw a limited portion of what I hear is a stunning, 20-acre property so, for this visit, the meal was the pièce de resistance. You could not tell at any point that the Cao Chocolates team had to adjust last minute to the lack of power. Seriously, every bite was exquisite and perfectly cooked. I was also impressed with their ability to use cacao in every dish (especially the dark chocolate in the panini which is literally everything). After sitting through a guided tasting with Chief Chocolate Officer Ricardo and eating his wife's food, it is evident they know chocolate better than anyone I know. In fact, Ricardo has made it his life's work to study chocolate from bean to bar and chose Miami for his #MiamiBeanToBar movement and is working on a special project with POHG to bring 100% Miami chocolate.

We can't wait to come back to POHG at the end of the month for their January 28 POHG Tasting event to get the full tour of the property and get seconds of Cao Chocolates' menu. (Seriously, guys, it was SO good!) They will be hosting a tasting every month with a new menu. Also, keep an eye out sometime mid-2017 when, at a limited-seating tasting, the team will unveil their 100% Miami chocolate made with cacao grown at POHG. Cacao doesn't usually grow in Miami and, in the few places it does, is not used to make chocolate so this will be Miami history in the making. Keeping in mind my 2017 resolution, you know I'll be there.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

#ThankYouMiami 2017 Resolutions: Get Back to the Basics

My 2016 was riddled with high levels of stress and low levels of happiness at a macro scale. At a micro scale my life couldn't have been more perfect. I have a sneaky suspicion the incongruity between the two had a lot to do with my mental state—an intangible, very valuable facet of my life that was precariously hanging on to sanity solely by the amount of miles I forced myself to run, burning with it most insecurities, anxiety et al. On days when I did not run, I was brimming with that negative, excess energy that keeps you awake at night reliving past regrets and worrying tirelessly about the parts of your future you can't control. (In talking to other Miami-ans, I was surprised to find a lot of us have been feeling like this recently, albeit for different reasons.)

This year, in addition to being physically healthy, I am resolved to be mentally healthy. For me that means getting back to the basics. It means saying "yes" more, but only to what makes me truly happy. Ironically it also means saying "no" more in those moments when I know I am stretching myself too thin. It means taking the time to listen and learn from those around me and asking them for help when I need it. It means improving my mental acuity by reading more substance, than garbage. (A girl still needs her 50 Shades of Grey and tabloid fodder every once in a while...) Last but not least, it means taking the time to breathe, reflect and find peace amidst the fast-paced and overstimulated lifestyle we lead in the 305.

A friend recently sent me a post on Quora about what you can do within a month to become more charismatic. I had previously received the advice the article dishes out, but had never bothered to take it. For some reason, when I revisited it last week, each tip really hit home—not as a pathway to charisma, but as a means to recalibrating my headspace. Each week the writer incites a new challenge (to wear only what sparks joy, to hold eye contact longer, to improve your presence and power, and to develop your boundaries) that aligns with what I perceive as my path to getting my mind right for 2017. I share it with you in hopes that you find it helpful. Every Miami-an can benefit from these tips, if not to be more mentally stable then, at a minimum, to be more charismatic. (Really, bro, we're too quick to honk our horns, to go on the defensive, to be rude—¡ya basta!)

I'm a huge fan of leading by example so, for the first week's challenge to only wear what sparks joy, I am committing to cleaning out my closet of all those clothes that make me feel frumpy, sluggish, or that have been gathering dust for longer than one year. I am also committing to wearing only those outfits that bring me true happiness, starting with my favorite outfit from 2016. I share it below so that it may inspire you to wear your power outfit this coming week. What does it look like? How does it make you feel?

Dress - Alexandra in Red Star by Réalisation Par
Jacket - Leather Jacket by BCBG (Similar here, on sale!)
Shoes - Trooper Bootie in Black and White by Aska Collection (Similar here, on sale!)
Photographs by Carla Kruyff

Thursday, January 5, 2017

#ThankYouMiami 2017 Resolutions: Be Healthier

Since I started running again, I can see a direct correlation between what I eat and how I feel. Yesterday, for example, I ate a Green Goddess salad with chicken from Carrot Express for lunch and felt miserable during a "race pace" training run. I was dying for vegetables after a holiday hiatus so I ignored the need for grains before my run. It made me feel miserable during my workout—as in this drama queen nearly cried midway—and slowed me down by nearly 10 seconds per mile.

In preparation for the Key West Half, the other races I have this year,, I have decided to put an emphasis this year on being healthier by fueling my body correctly. I'm forgoing past year goals to look skinnier or lose weight because 29 years of experience have shown me those don't stick around past January. Instead, I am going to focus on making sure I feel healthy every day (and that my "food coma" moments are few and far between) by prioritizing fresh, nutrient dense foods. I know my body will thank me for it.

Before the holidays, I stopped by Manna Life Food—a superfood café in Downtown Miami that we heard raves about on social media—in hopes that their juices, shots, and superfood dishes could balance all of the junk I was eating. As a Mexican niña used to drinking hibiscus agua fresca during childhood, I couldn't resist starting with a refreshing, fiber and Omega 3-rich Hibiscus Chia Fresca juice. For lunch I had the soup of the day (minty pea soup during my visit), the avocado superfood arepa, and a cup of their seasonal chocolate chip mint cheesecake, all of which were excellent. I want to come back to try their chia pudding, "noritos" (tofu, veggie or falafel burritos in a nori wrap) and the life bowls. Also, if you run through downtown, Manna Life Food is a great place to stop and refuel post-run with a smoothie.

Choosing to be healthier is easy when you have access to delicious, healthy food like at Manna Life Food. (I mean just look at how good their food looks in the photos below.) And, until I can hone my kitchen skills—my Matthew Kinney holiday cooking class taught me I don't have a natural talent for preparing raw or vegan dishes—I am thankful Miami has a quickly growing community of healthy restaurants to keep me on track. What are your 2017 resolutions?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

#ThankYouMiami for 2016

Wow! This year went by at lightning speeds and thank the lord because I am of the camp that 2016 was a terrible year overall. That said, I am extremely thankful for all of the blessings I received this year, including a flurry of new friendships, a renewed interest in running, new and better career opportunities, tons of trips around the U.S., and great times spent with friends and family. Before I leave the past behind, where it belongs, I want to take a quick moment to reminisce on my top 8 bests for 2016. Then, I invite you to look back at the new round of monthly photos from our year-long Instagram photography project. (ICYMI, like we did in 2015, the first day of every month we posted a photo of the same stretch of beach South of Fifth under the hashtag #OdeToMiami2016 to document how it changed from month-to-month.)
  • Best Bite: This one's a toss up between the sunchokes at Proof Miami and from black and white tonnarelli pasta with lobster from the Peacock Garden Café. I have not stopped fantasizing about both dishes since my first bite of each.
  • Best New Miami Band: The Magic City Hippies popped up everywhere this year and took Miami by storm with their indie funk sound. And while we jumped on the bandwagon the first time we saw them at Yelp's Big Bite in Little Haiti, it was the night we saw them cover "Somebody To Love Me" at Bougie's that we knew we would never get enough of them.
  • Best New Miami Hangout: You've heard me rave about the Wynwood Yard a lot this year for good reason: it's my new favorite hangout. I've been trying to make it off the Beach more often and the Yard's outdoor hangs, live music, and delicious and varied food options have put it at the top of my list when I want to go out.
  • Best Workout: This year I became a more confident person thanks to Vixen Workout. I did not by any means discover the Miami-based dance workout this year but I have felt the effects of showing up and slaying every weekend most this year. A huge thank you to Janet Jones and the rest of my instructors for making me a strong, independent woman (and a better dancer)!
  • Best Tool: Another tie between my Withings Activité Pop which was my lifeline during my office's summer step challenge and which, later replaced by a high-tech Garmin, helped me tally the total miles I logged during this year. It has been the key to keeping me moving and maintaining my bikini body all year.
  • Best Outfit: Our power outfit for the year was a combination of two Christmas gifts from 2015: the Alexandra in Red Star from Réalisation Par and the Aska Collection Trooper in Black and White Snake (which is no longer available for purchase but you can peep in this past travel fashion post). It was the one outfit that, as soon as we put it on, made us feel like a million bucks so we put it to good use all year.
  • Best Achievement: By far, my proudest accomplishment of the year was getting published. A huge thanks again to the team at Gatehouse Publishing for choosing me to author The HUNT Miami. That said, I have to honorable mention my fitness accomplishment of running one mile per day of the year because I have been trying for 5 years to achieve it and this is the first year I did.
  • Best Moment: For my birthday, I opted to have a smaller gathering than in past years because I've learned the value of quality over quantity. Being surrounded by friends who accept me for who I am and laughing with them uncontrollably throughout the dinner (primarily at Jamison's expense as he recounts in his Red, The Steakhouse story) was by far my favorite moment of 2016.
And now, behold our #OdeToMiami2016:
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