Give the Gift of CLE

The holidays are sadly over and you may not be thinking about gifts right now, but I certainly am! Why? Because my birthday is just a few weeks away. And as is the curse of having a birthday around the holidays, people often don’t want to celebrate, don’t know what to get me, or even sometimes forget. Do you have a friend or family member who just got everything on their list for the holidays, but has a birthday coming up? Fear not – here’s a potential gift idea … CLE Pack!

CLE Pack is package featuring products from local Cleveland organizations. You can pick a package of 5, 7 or 9 items and they range from foodstuffs (sweet treats and savory snacks), local collateral (like tote bags or can holders or stickers) and other fun items like chapstick, keychains, etc. CLE Pack sent me a package of 7 items to try out for free (thanks, CLE Pack for the early birthday gift!) and I loved it.

Some fun facts about CLE Pack:

  • CLE Pack was just started in August 2018. Igor Oliyarnik is the founder and the idea was born over 4 years ago when he saw a similar business in Baltimore called “Baltimore in a Box”.
  • The most popular items in the package are the food. Bertman Mustard has been the #1 seller, followed by Campbell’s popcorn and Malley’s Chocolates.
  • The founder, Igor Oliyarnik, is not originally from Cleveland. He was born in Ukraine and moved to Cleveland with his parents when he was ten years old. He shared: “I’m now in my 30’s and proud to call Cleveland my home. I think the city has a very unique personality and a bright future because of the people that live here. It has been great watching the city improve in many different ways over the last two decades that I’ve been here.”

The items I chose for my package included:

  • Malley’s CLE Chocolate Bar
  • Fear’s Confections CLE Chocolate Bar
  • Ohio Pure Maple Syrup
  • Crazy Monkey Baking Dark Chocolate Chip Granola Cookie Crunch
  • Bertman Ball Park Horseradish Sauce
  • Sweet Moses Cleveland Chocolate Bar
  • Cleveland Landmarks Tote Bag

I LOVE that CLE Pack is all local Cleveland items. And while I was familiar with some of the companies they include (like Malley’s, Bertman and Campbell’s), CLE Pack also introduced me to some new local brands, like Crazy Monkey Baking.

CLE Pack would make a great gift for more than just a friend whose birthday is coming up. In fact, I was thinking that CLE Pack would also be a great unique gift for:

  • A new neighbor, especially one new to the city
  • A friend that has moved away and misses their Cleveland favorites
  • A hostess gift for that family who has everything
  • Members of a wedding party or close family coming into town for a wedding

Some questions for you:

  • What would you choose?
  • Have you had any of these items?

Disclosure: I was asked by CLE Pack to promote their products. In exchange, I recieved a free box for myself. As always, views are my own.

I Somehow Became a Smoothie Person (a.k.a. that time I went to Vitamix and brought home the new Ascent Series!!)

I never used to be a smoothie person.

Are you shocked? I don’t know why, but when I used to tell people that “I’m not a smoothie person” they seemed shocked. As if I – a person who loves cooking, healthy eating, fruits and running – couldn’t NOT be a smoothie person.

Well, I wasn’t. Until about 2 years ago. It started with smoothie bowls. Acai bowls. Dragon fruit bowls. I had some and enjoyed them. They were sweet. Refreshing. And (most of the time) healthy!

what's NOT to like about this beautiful bowl?!

what’s NOT to like about this beautiful bowl?!

And then I got pregnant. And suddenly, all I craved was fruit. Fruit and more fruit. And then SMOOOTHIES.

a common pregnancy occurrence - big belly and colorful smoothie!

a common pregnancy occurrence – big belly and colorful smoothie!

Yes, that’s right. I started craving smoothies nearly daily. And then when I stopped being pregnant – the craving didn’t stop!

walking with a new baby (look how little FW is!) and smoothies - waay too often during my leave :)

walking with a new baby (look how little FW is!) and smoothies – waay too often during my leave 🙂

But for the sake of my wallet, I’ve had to curb my habit, as the $9 smoothie a day doesn’t realllllly fit within the whole “let’s save up money and buy a house some day and oh yeah we have a kid who needs to get educated” plan.

BUT – I have big news. I am now the proud owner of the NEW VITAMIX ASCENT SERIES! I was invited to the Vitamix Store in Solon, Ohio this week to try out some Vitamix-made food and drinks, as well as take home my own new blender!

Some cool things about the event:

Michelle and Adam told us about Vitamix. First, it’s a local Cleveland-based company AND they source all their parts locally. Oh yeah, they’re also family owned and operated, which is pretty cool.

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They spoiled us with some delicious food and beverages. I honestly had no idea I could make so much in a blender. We started off with some frosĂ©. This drink was too good – I could have had 10 of them. It may become my go-to summer drink.

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They also had some great appetizers, veggies and crudite. With dips of course made by the Vitamix. And a veggie burger, strawberry “ice cream” and chocolate butterscotch mousse – also made in the blender! 20170223_191545

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I also learned some things that blew my mind. For example, did you know that you can make your own powdered sugar? It’s just sugar blended! That’s right – they blended sugar in the Vitamix and made powdered sugar! Also, you can make your own cornmeal. It’s just popping corn (not popped :)) blended.

It was so great to learn more about Vitamix, get spoiled by the delicious food and drink and get one of the Ascent series of my very own!!20170223_201434

For those of you new to Vitamix, the Ascent Series is basically the Cadillac of blenders.  Not only is it a sexy looking blender (never thought I’d utter those words), but it also has some cool features like a built-in timer, wireless technology and a variety of containers you can use.  (Oh, and they let me in on a secret – the Vitamix Store will be having a two-day sale on March 3rd and 4th!)

I can NOT wait to test it out. I’m going to make smoothies and baby food to start. Some questions for you:

  • Do you have a Vitamix?  Any suggestions on how to use it?
  • Any smoothie recipe recommendations?
  • What’s something cool you make in a blender?

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the Vitamix event and was provided with a Vitamix goodie bag, which includes my own Vitamix Ascent Series blender. All opinions are my own.

BROWNIE TIME …. Trying out the Special K Brownies

I love to bake – but you knew that, didn’t you? Whether you know me and I’ve brought you treats, or you read my blog and know that the posts are either baking or running-related, I think it’s obvious. Baking (and desserts!) are my happy place.

So when I got asked to try the new Special K Brownies I was excited but skeptical. I love a homemade treat, especially a good cookie bar. And after dinner (or before, who am I kidding) when the dessert craving hits, a soft gooey cookie holds a special place in my heart any day. How would the Special K treats compare?

Some info about Special K Brownies- they’re pre-portioned (so you don’t eat the whole pan!) 80-calorie treats that satisfy chocolate cravings ad come in two flavors: Divine Fudge and Heavenly Caramel. They’re available at grocery stores in the US right now!

The good:

  • The CHEWY-factor: Oh, it’s there. These brownies are chewy and in my opinion, the perfect texture. The caramel one has bits of caramel chunks throughout and a drizzle throughout.
  • The taste: I liked these! I thought they tasted pretty good, and a nice alternative to other ways of satisfying your chocolate craving …

The not-as-good:

  • The size: These bars are bite-sized – just a few inches square. At only 80 calories I suppose that’s what you get, but when you eat two together with peanut butter in the middle like a sandwich (I’m not saying I DIDN’T do that) they’re more filling but obviously more calories.
  • The variety: I’d love to see more variety of flavors! Perhaps a chocolate chunk flavor with a blondie-type cookie? Or a peanut butter flavor? Or mint? I know these are NEW so who knows – maybe it’s coming!

Visit www.specialk.com or Special K on Facebook for more information on the new Special K Brownies.

This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Special K.

 

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Satisfying Snack Cravings with Special K Snack Bars

Here’s something obvious if you know me – I’m a snacky person. I eat 3 meals a day, but snack all day long. Some days I plan ahead – yogurt and fruit, carrots and peanuts, celery and PB2, a sweet potato, etc. But other days I haven’t meal prepped and am forced to simply eat what is around me – my apartment, the office, or wherever I am. A handful of nuts here, a few peanut M&Ms there, rarely am I satisfied and often I’m left wishing I’d planned ahead.

I’m usually hungry at my desk at 2 or 3pm and I’ve found a snack that I’m so excited about – Special K Chewy Snack Bars. They’ve just come out this month and meet the needs of my snackattack – are delicious, nutritious and only 100 calories! Disclosure – Special K sent me the bars to try out (along with a sweet – no pun intended – care package) and asked me to review them.

Sweaty selfie – taking a bite after a workout

What I liked:

  • Wide variety of flavors: I’m a fan of all the choices – there are fruity flavors and chocolatey flavors! Flavors include berry medley, blueberry bliss, salted caramel chocolate and salted pretzel chocolate. Berry medley may be my favorite.
  • The texture: I’m not a big fan of crunchy granola bars – I believe that crunchy bars belong chopped up in my yogurt. So these are a perfect, delicious, chewy snack option! And you can actually see (and taste) the chunks of goodness (fruit, chocolate, pretzels, etc.) in them!
  • Portable: I can fit one (or three) in my purse easily – or a box in my car for road trips. I wish I had these with me on the airplane during my recent Asia trip!

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What I didn’t like:

  • They’re teeny tiny. Well, at least smaller than I was hoping. But, at only 100 calories, what can be expected?
  • The ingredients aren’t as “clean” if I were to make these bars myself – but again, that’s to be expected. These are a great on-the-go option for those times I don’t meal plan or make granola bars or other snacks.

For more info on the new Special K Chewy Snack Bars, visit http://www.specialk.com

Some questions for you:

  • Any new snack recommendations?
  • How do you like your granola bars – chewy? Textured? Smooth? Crunchy?

This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Special K.

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Gettin’ Over Hanger (trying out a new snack)

We’ve all been there. We’re suddenly so hungry that our vision is blurred. We need food – fast – otherwise not only will our stomach start to growl but we will too. That’s right, I’m talking about HANGER.

I am used to eating food pretty much every few hours of my day. A sample day in the life of my stomach includes:

  • 8 a.m. post-workout breakfast, typically egg whites and vegetables.
  • 10 a.m. snack, typically some sort of fruit and a handful of nuts. Or if I’m out of fruit and need something quick, half of a protein shake.
  • 12:30 p.m. lunch! I tend to eat some sort of protein (chicken or veggie burger), some sort of bean and veggies. So yesterday, for instance, I had a homemade pumpkin black bean veggie burger with cabbage and quinoa salad.
  • 2:30 p.m. afternoon snack – either a protein shake, some yogurt with granola and fruit or fruit with a handful of nuts.
  • 3:30 p.m. afternoon snack #2 (don’t judge!) – usually some cut up veggies like broccoli or carrots or celery.
  • 7 p.m. dinner!  And maybe something sweet afterwards.

Hmm, writing this out makes me realize how much I snack … a coworker once told me that she thought I was “always eating” and now I see why!  But if I don’t – and especially if I’ve worked out in the morning (which is 9/10 days) – I get HANGRY. Yes, you know the drill – I’m mean, not fun to be around and certainly not fit for a client-facing job.

That’s why, when Hillshire contacted me about the new product line, Hillshire Snacking, I was super pumped to try out them out. Hillshire has created a new snacking option perfect for busy adults, young professionals, etc. Take a look at all the cool varieties of somewhat healthy (I like my snacks to be 100-200 calories, if possible – especially when I eat so many a day!), high protein options! The perfect opportunity to beat hanger.

I had a chance to try the Grilled Chicken Bites with Sweet Chili Sauce and I was surprised at how good it was. I’m a fan of snacking on high-protein options, like chicken, so this was a perfect snack. At 140 calories, this gluten free snack pack was fun – it reminded me of being a kid and having snacktime at school!

hillshire snacking grilled chicken bites with sweet chili sauce

Some unique ways I enjoyed my  snack included:

At a networking event. Ok, I don’t make it a habit of bringing my own food but I happened to have one in my bag and I was so glad! The event was supposed to have food but they ran out.  Yes, I took a selfie of me and my bling (not the necklace – the chicken :)).

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On my floor, after a workout. Sometimes you can’t wait to shower and make lunch or breakfast – so this was a perfect quick option! And with 15 grams of protein I felt good about refueling with this.

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At my desk before an 8 a.m. meeting. I had meant to bring it for a lunchtime snack but sometimes you get a craving for chicken at 7:30 a.m. – don’t you?

Here’s what it looks like:

Yup, eating on the floor!

Yup, eating on the floor!

The sweet chili sauce is just that – sweet. Since I prefer my snacks with a little kick, I tried adding some hot sauce one day. Amazing!

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Some questions for you:

  • Have you tried the Hillshire Snacking line? If not, leave a comment – I have a coupon for a free one that I’d be happy to send to you! Just let me know which one of the cool varieties you’d like to try and answer the other 2 questions I have below!
  • What’s your go-to snack?
  • How many snacks do you have a day? 1? 2? 3? I can’t be the only one who has more than 1 snack … right?
#spon: I’m required to disclose a relationship with Hillshire. This means that Hillshire provided compensation, including product, for me to try out! But all thoughts and opinions are my own.

One of my favorite times of year – Cleveland International Film Festival 2013

I’m always surprised by how many people complain that there’s nothing to do in Cleveland, yet don’t go out and DO anything or check out any of the cool things that are actually happening! A prime example of one of those amazing things to do that happens every year around this time is the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF)!

(from @CLEfilmfest instagram)

What is CIFF? From their website:

The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.

In other words, we present the newest and best films from around the world, and we do everything in our power to make sure that our audience learns something along the way – about other cultures, about the topic at hand, about the experience from the filmmakers themselves.

Why do I like CIFF?

Because I can walk about a hundred feet and be at the movie theater and swept away to foreign countries, introduced to new themes, and of course, there’s always the popcorn and other movie theater treats.  I really do love sitting in a theater, and learning so much about a new culture, a new topic, or even just a new person.  Here’s my review from last year’s festival.

Why should you check out CIFF?

There really is a movie in there for everyone. I know, sometimes people hear “independent film festival” and think “you mean I have to watch a sad movie that makes me think about my life?” or think “you mean I have to read subtitles?” THIS IS NOT TRUE. There are movies about gangs. Movies in English about all the cool things happening in cities around the U.S.  Short films so even if you don’t have the attention span required to sit through a 1-2 hour movie you can watch a series of shorts!

SO, what have I seen so far? And what do I think?

Live Action Shorts

I am typically a fan of shorts because of the varying lengths, topics, genres, etc. This grouping was pretty good – not all of them were my favorite, but that’s the point of seeing a series of shorts. Some you like, some you don’t! The ones I didn’t really like will remain nameless … but I DID really like Sandbox. Very cute!

My rating? 3.5 / 5

Were The World Mine

Don’t tell the director of the movie I said this, but imagine this as an early look at what Glee The Movie could be. Plus some magic. And that’s this. I saw don’t tell the director, because he actually spoke to the audience after the movie and talked about how they had pitched the movie as a TV show before making the movie and was rejected, so they made it clear that the movie was B.G. (before Glee).

My rating? 4.5 / 5

Up There

I really really liked this! I had no idea what to expect and found the movie interesting and funny at times. AND I could (for the most part) actually understand what they were saying, despite my usual issue with comprehending British accents.

My rating? 4.5 / 5

(sorry you’ll have to watch the preview for this actually on YouTube)

Red, White and Blueprints

The overall message in the film was good. It was an optimistic look at the movement happening in Rust Belt Cities (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo) and showcased a few of the people in these cities and what they were doing to help make change happen. They even featured the Cleveland Colectivo, an organization I’ve been trying to learn more about. I saw the movie with one of my City Advocate friends (Naturally!), Laura, and after the movie we sat in on a film forum where the director and a few local civically engaged people were interviewed.  Laura and I grabbed drinks after the movie and talked about its strengths (the overall message) and weaknesses (the film’s editing and lack of actual call to action – the director even admitted at the talk afterwards that it was just a piece of propaganda). Thanks, Laura for the movie tickets 🙂

My rating? 4 / 5 (I’m all for a feel good “yay cleveland” movie anytime!)

Tonight, B and I are going to see another movie, and then hopefully some more this weekend. My goal was to beat my 5 movie streak last year, and I’m well on my way! AND you should be too – I highly recommend you GET YOURSELF TO TOWER CITY and check out some films before the festival is over!

Some thoughts to ponder:

  • For Clevelanders – what’s your favorite CIFF film thus far this year?
  • Have you been to CIFF or another film festival before? What’s your favorite thing about film festivals?
  • Do you like foreign films? Why / why not? Do you have a favorite?
  • What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

A SOUP-er Roundup!

The weather has definitely been getting colder in Cleveland, which means that I’ve not only been baking up a storm, but B and I have also been in the kitchen more to cook. Baked ziti? Homemade sauce? Spaghetti squash? Homemade pasta with home baked bread? You name it – if I can turn the oven on, I’m happy.

Still, what about those days when all you want is a hearty helping of soup and crusty bread? Lately I’ve been just frequenting the Souper Market – but I plan to attempt to make at least one soup on my own as the days get cooler. Here are some of the soups I’m dying to cook:

Slow Cooker Taco Stew (from Mommy Hates Cooking)

Fall Harvest Stew (from The Daily Balance – another Clevelander!)

Tuscan Chicken Sausage, Kale and Vegetable Soup (from me!)

Spicy Pumpkin Soup (from My Recipes)

Buffalo Chicken Soup (from Bake Your Day)

Chicken Tortilla Soup (from The Pioneer Woman)

AND for those days that I don’t feel like turning on the crockpot or waiting for some soup to cook?

I “indulge” in the best light soup: I recently got to try some of Progresso’s new light creamy soups! I was sent the Chicken Pot Pie and Creamy Potato with Bacon & Cheese. The best part about the soups? They’re 100 calories per serving.

So if you’re me – you have two 100 calorie lunches to play around with (I usually also bring a side salad or a sandwich on an English muffin to round out the meal) – or if you’re B, you have one 200 calorie (yes, he eats the whole can) soup on your hand. The other cool thing? I was sent this really cute gift set – it included two cans of soups, a gift bag, a water bottle and a soup mug (yes, I ate mine out of my mug)!

I definitely recommend you check these soups out if you’re looking for something creamy, but light, to enjoy this winter or fall. Do they taste exactly like the originals and non-light soups? No … but I still really enjoyed them!

Creamy Potato with Bacon and Cheese Soup in real life

Disclosure:  The coupons, information, and gift packs have been provided by Progresso® through MyBlogSpark