12 Days of Giving Back Day 4

While I will admit I fell behind due to life getting in the way, here is Day 4 of my Giving Back series.

6631677761_c14b851bb4

Pura Vida which means Pure life in spanish, is more than a slogan. The Bracelets which are made by local Costa Rican Artisans do more than just employee the local population but also give back to over 190 charities.

The company which was founded 5 years ago by California transplants, takes the simple idea of the friendship bracelet we all knew from camp and after school programs and gives it new meaning.

0c7e4c783b53f9ff3ac8d92ed3434c30

The bracelets which can be bought in stacks or as single bracelets and turned into custom stacks provide limitless options, but also give the wearer the ability to give back to a charity of their choosing.

Pura Vida have also worked with known names and companies to provide custom stacks that reflect the designer. I had first heard of the company from the Yoga Girl instagram who is a well known yoga instructor from Aruba.

From 1% for the planet to even a bracelet for the recent Paris attacks, there are plenty to choose from. Since starting the company there are now options for charms and even more beaded styles, along with the original styles created. The bracelets are also water proof and have a metal charm which are coated to not rust as well.

So far the company has made $666,721 in lifetime donations, and much like other one for one companies they provide opportunities to become reps and even internships for people looking to get more involved.

Pura Vida can be followed across Social Media and bracelets can be shopped here.

12 Days of Giving Back Day 3

This is the third installment in the 12 days of giving back series, and probably one of the best known one for one companies is Toms.

toms-logo-with-mission

I got my first pair of Toms in 2009 and have since bought two more pairs which I wore to work at one point because of the company. The California based company had started with shoes, has since expanded to include boots, sneakers, glasses, clothing, accessories and coffee.

Toms started with just donating shoes to children in developing countries, but has added to providing vision exams to kids who need it and with a purchase of their coffee they provide clean water to those who need it.

The great thing about Toms is just that, if you don’t know someone’s shoe size, you can get them glasses or even just a pack of coffee which is available at Whole Foods.

Though Toms now also offers marketplace, which features other companies who also give back. The marketplace has everything from bags to blankets, so there are plenty of gifts to give that give back.

IMG_0795

Climbing a mountain in Spain with my Gray Classics in 2011

But alas, Toms does shoes and they are some of he most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. They are also great for those of us who refuse to wear sneakers or socks for that matter.

To shop Toms and their variety of items along with their marketplace go here .

12 Days of Giving Back Day 2

Today I am excited to share a new company, but one that works with yesterday’s company The Elephant Pants. Hmong Hill which sells tribal bags and jewelry is a new company, which donates $4 of every purchase to schools.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 12.09.16 AM

Currently Hmong Hill is donating to 3 schools in Africa, and has partnered with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Through the partnership AWF helps to build or rebuild schools throughout Africa in order to establish conservation education.

Like The Elephant Pants, the bags are made in Thailand and the fabric is woven by their namesake the Hmong Hill tribe who create the unique woven fabric.

Currently Hmong Hill is running a special and for every bag you buy, they’ll include a pair of The Elephant Pants standard pants. Both companies are trying to change the outlook of our world through education and conversation. But their slogan says it all “Bright Bags. Brighter Minds.”

Check out Hmong Hill here and follow them across social media for updates about their bags.

12 Days of Giving Back Day 1

It’s only fitting I start my gift giving post on Giving Tuesday, I wanted to share 12 companies who not only produce stylish and unique gifts but also companies who give back.

While I was in no way endorsed to share this, I do feel passionate about these brands and what they do for not only the U.S. based community but around the world.

This Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever you may or may not celebrate I urge you to either shop small, DIY or support a company who gives back.

Day 1 is dedicated to one of my absolute favorite brands and one that I actually am an ambassador for The Elephant Pants.

elephant_pants_0

This awesome Brooklyn, NY based company not only sells amazing harem pants, but also jewelry, tapestries, bags, rompers and shorts. $1 to $5 of all purchases go to the African Wildlife Foundation to prevent the poaching of elephants in Africa.

As of today (Dec 1) The Elephant Pants have given $190,000 in order to protect elephants in Africa and provide rangers resources to protect them.

I was introduced to the brand my by boyfriend’s sister and just fell in love with the cause and the look of the pants. While I only own 3 pairs, a scarf and a bracelet I feel passionate about the message and love the way the pants feel and look.

IMG_3117

My first pair Tyke and my favorite book

Each pair tells the story of the elephant it is named after and provides better insight into what can occur to these creatures both in the circus world and in captivity.

The pants are created in Thailand where the company provides work for seamstresses and pays them not only above the standard wage but also provides healthcare and a safe work environment. The mission is to not only give back to the elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation but also to provide safe work environments for those who make the clothing.

The pants come both in standard and large, but the ultra stretch waistband provides plenty of room for anyone and the company even sells kid sizes. The standard are up to size 12 and the large fit up to size 16 with more room along the inner inseam.

The Elephant Pants, also provides sales throughout the year through their ambassadors and also provides small gifts and mystery boxes to their shoppers. The boxes which usually contain new pant designs as well unreleased gifts, sell out fast and have an extra surprise in them as a thank you.

To me it means a lot when a company goes out of their way to give back, but still provides a product people will wear and love. Each of the pants are unique and still look good no matter what you wear with them. It’s important to remember that we should not only be buying for ourselves but also to help others around us.

For more information about The Elephant Pants or to buy a pair and give back to AWF follow my personalized link  here  or just head to http://www.theelephantpants.com

 

 

 

Disney Announces New Merchandise

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland you probably have seen the tourists from Tokyo or Hong Kong wearing merchandise you’ve never seen.

From adorable purses with Duffy the Disney Bear’s face to super cool t-shirts printed with princesses and other characters. In recent years much of the merchandise released over seas is slowly making it’s way across from Asia to our stores here.

Shellie May is probably the most coveted souvenir from Tokyo Disneyland and fetches a hefty price tag via eBay and other sites.

Last year in August Disney announced that Japan’s beloved Shellie May was coming to Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii. Many fans of Duffy Bear have become acquainted with Shellie May and her adorable merchandise that shows up in Japan. Shellie who is Duffy’s friend also created by Minnie Mouse, keeps Minnie company while Duffy and Mickey are off on their own adventures.

On Monday Disney Parks Blog announced that that Shellie May would be making her final leap onto the mainland, the adorable girly bear will be arriving at Epcot this fall. While it wasn’t announced if Shellie would get her own meet and greet like Duffy had, it was announced she would be available for purchase along with her own story book and set of costumes.

Along with the arrival of Shellie May, Disney continues to bring over merchandise which had been created for Tokyo. If you have been living under a rock for the past 2 years, then you have probably heard about the Tsum Tsum craze that hit the U.S., the adorable stuffed toys which stack have been welcomed with a grand frenzy.

A full set of Alice in Wonderland Tsum Tsum.

Along with the Tsum Tsum, Disney has also released merchandise to match their cute appearance. From socks to shirts, as well as dinnerware. This past week the Disney Store released their D/Style page, which includes a lot of these items along with a few other items such as handbags and a few other goodies.

Winnie the Pooh stuffed Tsum Tsum pencil case.

Winnie the Pooh stuffed Tsum Tsum pencil case.

D/Style comes straight to us from Japan, all items found on the Disney Store website, they were designed by Japan’s creative team. According to the Disney Style Blog the items found in the collection are exclusive and bring a more “Kawaii” look to characters we already love, along with more Tsum Tsum.

The collection which was announced earlier this year at D23, has been long awaited by many fans since it caters to the 18-30 demographic of women. Though one could argue the items cater to all ages since it’s cute and colorful, but also very stylish.

Let me know which items you love the most on the new D/Style section and what you think of Shellie May coming to visit finally.

Food and Wine 2015, 20 years of delicious Part 2

After life took over for about a week, I am back with second half of my Food and Wine 2015 experience. I went the second weekend October 2 and as I mentioned last time I went in with a plan.

I was traveling with my boyfriend and mom, and we had agreed was as a group that France was the tastiest. In this post I’ll finish up my food experiences and most of all my love of Mmmhops and craft beer.

From France we jumped over to Brazil, Brazil has to arguably be the most popular stand in the whole park. Every year I have gone the line is usually the longest at the event, probably only second to the Dominican Republic. Though the long line is with reason, I had skipped over it last year due to lack of money but this year I went in with 2 picks. The only thing I didn’t try was the frozen caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil and probably the most popular item sold there.

IMG_6577

Pão de queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread & Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomatoes.

The Pão de queijo or Cheese Bread has to the most popular food item, I always see people knocking these back and with reason. It’s warm and crispy on the outside, but inside you’ll find gooey cheese and the cheese is deliciously salty. I couldn’t begin to assume what kind of cheese it was but it was so good, and it is one of the few items I was able to split with my boyfriend since it brought two pieces.

As for the Crispy Pork Belly, it was melt in your mouth but still had that nice charred edge so it lived up to its name. The other thing that should be noted about the pork belly is that normally these are fatty pieces, which is from the pig’s belly (if you couldn’t guess) and is the same region we get bacon from. The fat on this was so soft and broke down so nicely it was wonderful, I could have eaten the whole chunk by myself. Though I will say the best part of this dish was the beans with the chunks of tomatoes, they were almost close to a puree and so well seasoned, I would have eaten just a plate with beans.

After such a wonderful dish, and my wanting a plate of beans it was time to for dessert. By the time I finished the pork belly, I was pretty stuffed and ready for some sweets I was also planning to leave room for beer which I was pining for.

Unlike last year where I drank a bit more as opposed to eating, this year I set out for food and food only. So we left my mom on a bench between France and Morocco and headed back to the UK to Ireland.

Warm chocolate pudding with Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur Custard

Warm chocolate pudding with Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur Custard

I actually had tasted this last year, my friend got it and I was hooked. Now it’s listed as a pudding, but it’s actually closer to a brownie because the inside is gooey like a warm fresh brownie, but it also may remind others of like a molten chocolate cake with a firmer center.

The highlight of this dish for me, the Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur Custard, first off I LOVE Kerrygold butter it’s creamier than traditional U.S. butter. Second it just works with this heavy little piece of chocolate because it balances out the chocolate, if you’ve had an Irish Cream shake with chocolate syrup this is the non-alcoholic cousin who is a solid. I can’t describe the liqueur custard without calling it a warm hug from your grandma? Or perhaps like a nice warm blanket on a cool night? Either way it is amazing, it’s the perfect compliment to the “pudding”

My boyfriend’s choice of dessert was the Apple Strudel from Germany, I will preface by saying this if you’ve eaten in Germany’s buffet restaurant you can skip this one.

Apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

Apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

I am not big on this dessert whether it is served part of Food and Wine or in the restaurant. I have kind of an issue with the pastry shells, since they usually get goopy after sitting around for too long. Though the apple filling and warm vanilla custard are amazing, the pastry shell ruins it for me. I ate at Germany the night after this, and I was just not impressed in there either. Again I think this is one of those desserts that truly needs to be served fresh and not be left sitting there.

We continued through the world showcase after this trying to walk off the food and walking in through the themed gift shops.

Light up cherry blossoms available in Japan for purchase.

Light up cherry blossoms available in Japan for purchase.

We stopped in the American Adventure for 2 reasons, my mom wanted a Lobster roll and I wanted Hanson Brothers Mmmhops Pale Ale. I for some odd reason did not take a photo of the lobster roll, but I will say it was very good and the bits of lobster were crunchy but well seasoned, it was also not drowning in sauce which is an issue I have encountered before.

So let me say I tried Mmmhops last year, I still love it as much as I did then. I also jammed out to Hanson when I was a child in the 90s, they were the lead up to my obsession with NSync.

Hanson is also scheduled to perform at Eat to Beat at this year’s Food and Wine on the November 10 & 12, it is also one of the last performances of the festival.

Back to Mmmhops though, I love beer especially good craft beer. I came back this year with the intent to try the beer flight at the craft beer center in the Odyssey as mentioned previously.

Hanson Brothers Mmmhops Pale Ale

Hanson Brothers Mmmhops Pale Ale

Despite the darkness in the photo, it does pour out in an Amber tone. The beer is medium bodied so if you aren’t into dark beers try this one, it also has some nice fruity undertones to it which give a balance to the hops. Like I said this is one of my favorite beers in the world and I normally prefer strong dark beers. It is available at Total Wine if you can’t make it out for Food and Wine, and you have to try it.

Craft Beer Flight 2 with snack mix cones in the back.

Craft Beer Flight 2 with snack mix cones in the back.

We ended up running into the Craft Beer area, after it began down pouring and we got soaked. This was our last stop either way, because I had come here with one mission only. Funky Buddha was doing a Vanilla Espresso Porter for the event, Funky Buddha is my local brewery in Broward County, FL.

When I first tried Funky Buddha, I hated it. I continued to try and stomach the Floridian and Hop Gun, both of which Yelp raves about but I never could drink it. Even my editor at the paper I work at kept telling me to try others because I was being unfair, so I did. Long story short I am converted and I love the stuff.

Their Vanilla Espresso Porter is a strikingly dark beer with heavy coffee notes and a smooth vanilla finish, it has to be one of my favorites they have done.

All the beers at Craft Beer are also Florida brews, and flight 2 is all the darker beers with the exception of the one Amber which is the 3 Daughters from St. Petersburg. This beer is also exceptionally good in the sense that it had a nice fruity and floral scent to it and just reminded me of a summer day in Florida. The Shipyard Barrel Ale in this flight is nice and oaky and should be sipped, if you’ve ever had the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale this is it’s cousin. Finally in this flight Florida Beer Company Passport 20 Belgium-Style Triple Ale, another semi light one like the 3 Daughters.

Germany Booth

Germany Booth

While I didn’t try EVERY booth, I think the ones I did try were great and absolutely delicious. I plan to return next year, since I am not able to get anymore Vacation Club rooms till 2016. But I do suggest getting a gift card in order to not have to fumble with your credit card at every stand, and as I mentioned come into this with a plan.

I mentioned in the first post that one of the plates was Disney Dining Plan snack eligible, all of the items are considered a snack on the Dining Plan. So get out there and eat your way around the world, I also want to thank my boyfriend who was awesome and held ALL the plates for me while I photographed them.

You can see more of my Disney photos on my Deviant Art, the link is in my about page and you can also follow me on Instagram @DancinginMadrid.

Food and Wine 2015, 20 years of delicious Part 1

It is that time of year again, Pumpkin Spice lattes are flowing, leaves are changing and everyone is wearing sweaters. For me Fall means Food and Wine!

Food and Wine passport, this proves to be handy during your trip around the world

Food and Wine passport, this proves to be handy during your trip around the world

The Epcot Food and Wine festival takes place from September to November and brings together dishes from across the world. The event which is now in its 20th year, brought some new items and experiences to the park. While they had the usual booths and cooking experiences, this year’s festival invited ABC’s The Chew cast to shoot some shows on property and even brought The Chew lab to the park with speciality dishes.

Frozen sugar cane cocktail featuring Ron Barceló Blanco Rum from the Dominican Republic

Frozen sugar cane cocktail featuring Ron Barceló Blanco Rum from the Dominican Republic

Back this year was 2007’s most popular booth, Dominican Republic, which brought along DR rum and delicious pork. Aside from the return of DR they also added a cheese studio and a wine studio. The event is spread from Future World to across The World Showcase, with the festival headquarters at what was The Wonders of Life pavilion located in Future World East from there the food and drinks stretch across the park.

I find that having a plan for attacking the booths is best, knowing what you want and starting in an organized fashion is key. Either starting in the middle or starting at Mexico and working your way across is probably your best bet. I had a few places planned I needed to try, though with my mom and boyfriend and in tow things got a bit hectic and we ended up just kind of going with what looked good.

We started in Australia since my mom wanted to try the shrimp, originally we were gonna start with a beer flight but the Co2 was being changed out on the flight we wanted so we headed into the park and got eating.

Grilled sweet and spicy bush berry shrimp with pineapple, peppers, onions, and snap peas from Australia.

Grilled sweet and spicy bush berry shrimp with pineapple, peppers, onions, and snap peas from Australia.

We started in Australia, mom got the Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp. This dish is Gluten Free and also available on the Disney Dining Plan as a snack, though it isn’t snack sized. The portion brings 3 large shrimps covered in pineapple and veggies, while its hearty it also has a bit of kick. Mom said during her entire time eating the shrimp that she wished she had gotten a beer to go with it, but she enjoyed it. The shrimp had a nice crunch and the veggies were seared perfectly, soft yet with a good amount of crunch.

From Australia we skipped over to DR, which was the booth I had wanted to try the most. While I have been visiting the parks since I was 18 months, last year was the first year I had tried any of the food in the booths and this year was the first I went in with the intent of trying everything I could.

Last year this booth space was occupied by Puerto Rico which had delicious conch salad and tostones which are fried green plantains. This year DR had pork and plantains, Yuca soufflé, Pescado con Coco and Caramel Flan.

I’ll preface by saying I am Latina, born and bred in Miami with Cuban food being served to me and I have a special place in my heart for Fufu de Plantano (Mangu if you’re from the Dr or Mofongo if you’re Puerto Rican). Fufu or Mangu as they had it listed on the menu is mashed plantains filled with onions and topped with pickled red onions, each country does it differently. Fufu and Mofongo contain fried pork rinds in it, where Mangu is usually more processed.

Lechón asado: Roasted pork with mangú, pickled red onion and avocado.

Lechón asado: Roasted pork with mangú, pickled red onion and avocado.

I will be honest Lechon Asado is a staple in most Caribbean countries and I am bias when I say this was amazing. The pork was perfectly tender, the mangu was flavorful and the avocado was perfect. This dish is pretty typical in most Caribbean homes, at least my own and a few others but if you’re looking for authentic without having to head out of the country this is a great dish. I will be honest I could have gone for seconds and eaten this as a meal, it was just that good.

My mom also tried the sugar cane drink, which was very good and was blended perfectly since you couldn’t even taste the rum in it. It was a nice companion to the pork dish and I am sure it paired well with a few other selections on the menu.

From the DR we roamed past Greece and Canada, I opted to skip both because of my dislike of moussaka and Canada didn’t bring back the fish from last year, though they had their cheese soup and wild mushroom beef  filet mignon from the flagship restaurant at the park.

Skipping past Ireland which was my choice of dessert this year, we arrived in France. France in my honest opinion out of all the pavilions in the park has the best food and drinks. If you haven’t already tried it go grab yourself a Grand Marnier slush, it has to be the BEST drink on property the best way I can describe it is candy in a cup, just go have one.

Croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley

Croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley

In France I was challenged to try the Croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley, because I had never had escargot before and both my mother and boyfriend are advocates of buttery snails. I also have a huge addiction to croissants so if I was going to eat snails? This was how I was going to do it, especially when the croissants are super buttery and flaky.

This dish was actually the only one which gave me a bit of heartburn, there was too much garlic which I never say but this was the one time I found that it was too much for me. But the dish itself? AMAZING the croissant was so buttery and flaky and the garlic and parsley added a great layer of flavor to the escargot. 3 escargot were in the croissant and were soft and buttery, they had a lot of flavor after sitting in the croissant and it was delicious.

While I munched on my first set of snails ever, my boyfriend opted for the Boeuf bourguignon which was braised short ribs on top of mashed potatoes.

Boeuf bourguignon: Braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes.

Boeuf bourguignon: Braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes.

The short ribs were extremely tender and they were slathered in a gravy with airy mashed potatoes which were equally good. The only downside to this dish was the fact that it was hard to share between the two of us, since biting into the beef was not an easy task without eating the whole chunk. Though it was very good and had a lot of flavor, but I think everyone agreed that the croissants were number one for us out of France.

Sneaky Creme Brûlée photo from France.

Sneaky Creme Brûlée photo from France along with Croissants. 

We as a group all agreed that France had the best dishes, we really enjoyed the beef and croissants which were all very good and out of all the booths I think France had the most organized system to serve us.

Tomorrow I’ll be finishing up my Food and Wine experiences, from dessert to craft beer and talking about my obsession with MmmHops the Hanson Pale Ale.