Tag Archives: Living Social

French or Italian?

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No, not food.

Yes, I love both kinds of food, but I am currently thinking about languages.

I have a list of languages I want to know “one day when I grow up.” I forced myself to stop after 10, but I could easily get up to 20.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • English – done
  • Spanish – done
  • French
  • Italian
  • Swahili
  • Portugese
  • German
  • Russian
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew

This list is always in my head. (So are the lists of “things I want to do” and “things I want to learn”, but those are lists for a different day.)

As it is with most of the magic that happens in my life lately, Living Social sent me an email.

Considering that for most Language Courses you’re going to spend AT LEAST $100, but likely more in the neighborhood of $200, this really is an amazing deal. Granted, I have no idea how good the course is, but for $25 there’s not much I could lose. So I’ve decided to just go for it. But what language to learn first? French? Italian?

I posed the question of French or Italian to my friends on Facebook and received an almost unanimous response in favor of Italian. For some reason, though. I was not pleased with that response. Que boberría! What is the point of asking people if I am only going to shirk their responses? Then again, if the goal of asking was to help me determine what I wanted to learn first, then I suppose their opinions are less relevant than my ultimate decision, right? Because, in the end, this is about me.

Come to think of it… considering my theme song for the year, I guess it would stand to reason that I learn French first, no?
No WONDER I am leaning towards French!

Besides, I get the feeling that Italian will be a breeze to learn since it is so close to Spanish. Meaning, I can save it for later.

Ok, it’s decided French… I think.

How To Make Paella

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Way back at the beginning of December, Living Social had a deal for a cooking class at The Wine Artist.

I saw it. Thought about it. Decided it would be more fun with a friend. Realized I couldn’t come up with someone I would want to cook with because that has always been such a special thing for me. I cooked for Kaima. I cooked with O.D. Churroman. I cooked alone. That was it.

So I got on with my day.

Two hours later, my salsa dancing friend (Donna Martinez – whose has one of those names that you have to say her full name… and in quite the nasal tone) sent me an email asking if I would be interested in taking a cooking class with her because Living Social had a great deal. Since I already knew I had wanted to do it, I decided to just go for it. We bought it, booked it for January, and spent the next few weeks talking about how excited we were.

On the day of our class, Donna Martinez updated her Facebook status talking about how excited she was for her cooking class and proceeded to enjoy the ensuing commentary of how amazing she was and how she MUST cook for everyone. It seemed, Donna Martinez forgot to mention that I would be joining her. Of course, that worked to my advantage because then I would not have anyone demanding I cook for them, especially since none of them know that I only cook for special people.

Because Donna’s heritage is Mexican and and I’m Cuban, we decided to take the “Taste of Spain” class where we would learn to make:
Sangría
Spinach & Cheese Empanadas
Gazpacho
And… Paella*.

The Wine Artist is a winery in Lake Forest. (Who knew that Lake Forest had one?) It is a charming little place where they make and bottle their own wine. They even have Wine Bottling Events where you can design your own label, pick your own wine, cork it, slap the label on, and take it home.

It is SO. COOL.

Plus, they have all kinds of cooking classes and there is wine with every class. Yes, you read that correctly. Wine with every class.

I am not the biggest wine drinker, but some of these wines were DELICIOUS!! And I am in love with the idea of creating my own labels.

The first thing the chef/teacher/owner (MJ Hong) did was ask “Red or White?” and pour us all a glass. She explained that she likes to keep the classes between 8-10 people so that the intimate and dinner party feeling isn’t lost. Besides, if you have as much fun as we did with total strangers, how much more fun could be had with a handful of your closest friends?

Everyone got a station and a job. Not that we were assigned jobs it went more like:
I’ll chop the bell peppers!
I’ll cut the fruit**!
I’ll handle the cucumber***!” (yes, of course that was Donna)

Once the sangria was … marinating?

Once the fruit was chopped and in a pitcher soaking up the wine and other alcohols and the gazpacho was chilling, it was time for the empanadas.

MJ explained that a ruler and a pie cutter were the easiest way to cut the dough into a good size for empanadas. She suggested we do triangles because it was easier and didn’t waste any dough, but that if we were going to make more than one kind of empanada (e.g. spinach and cheese, meat, mushrooms) that having one kind as a triangle and another as a half moon would be an easy way to distiguish the two.

Now that the empanadas were baking, we set down to “work” on the paella****.

And while our paella was cooking, we enjoyed our fresh-out-of-the-oven spinach & cheese empanadas and our gazpacho.

Did you know gazpacho can be served with tortilla chips?
I didn’t, but Kevin did.

So, Paella.
Just about the easiest thing ever to make.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
  • 4 oz of Boneless Chicken – cubed into small pieces
  • 1 Large Onion – finely chopped
  • 4 oz Chorizo Sausage – crumbled and with the casing removed (or you could go with Traditional Spanish Chorizo and not crumble it)
  • 5 cloves of Garlic (although, we used 10 because I like garlic) – minced
  • 2 Bell Peppers (red or green) – cut into thin strips
  • 3 Tomatoes – seeded and chopped (you could cheat and use canned diced tomatoes if you wanted)
  • 4 cups of Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Saffron
  • 2 cups MEDIUM grain rice (uncooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper – as little or as much as you want
  • 8 oz of Uncooked Shrimp – peeled and deveined (or keep the ends on if you want, but peel them for sure)
  • 1/2 lb of Mussels – cleaned and debearded (or buy them cleaned and open already to save yourself time)
  • Chopped Parsley – for garnish
  • Lemon Wedges – to serve

Contrary to what you may be thinking, you DO NOT need a paella pan.

Does it make it easier? Maybe a little.
Does it look cooler? Sure.

You can make it in a frying pan, just remember that wider is better than deeper. 😉
You want a shallow-ish pan otherwise your rice won’t cook all the way through.
However, if you feel like you really want the Paella Pan in order to score “Cool Points” then don’t worry about spending hundreds of dollars on one. You can find a great pan at Target.com for around $30. OR, if you’re already going to special order the Spanish Chorizo, you could order the exact size paella pan you want from LaTienda.com.

So, how do you make paella?

Simple.

Heat the oil in the pan.
Brown the chicken.
Add the chorizo and onions. Cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the garlic, bell peppers, annd tomatoes. Stir fry for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile…
Heat the chicken broth in a sauce pan and, once heated, add the saffron. (This way, the saffron will color everything a bit more evenly.)

Stir the rice in to the paella pan and sauté for 5 more minutes.
Pour in the broth.
Add turmeric, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper to suite your taste buds.

Add the shrimp on top.
Add the mussels on top.

Make sure just a bit of broth from the paella gets into the shell so the actual mussel cooks, but it still should be sitting on top of the paella, not drowning in it – you don’t want to take too much of the broth away from the rice.

Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
(Until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.)
The bottom will burn a little. That is the best part. It does not mean you failed.

Top with parsley.
Garnish with lemon wedges.

Serve.

Enjoy.

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*My fascination with paella first occured when I saw a Pinky and the Brain episode where Brain says, “Pinky, are you thinking what I’m thinking?
And Pinky replies, “I think so, Brain, but how are we going to get the Spice Girls into the paella?

**Fruit for the sangria.

***Cucumber for the gazpacho.

****Up until recently, no one could get me to eat anything that came out of the ocean. Up until the night we made paella, I had never had mussel before. Luckily, I’m not allergic. Oh, and I eat seafood now. 🙂

Finding My Voice

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Wednesday night I thought to myself “Maybe I want to take voice lessons…”
Thursday morning there is a Living Social deal for voice lessons.
SHUT. UP.

I made an appointment with the coolest sounding Russian lady ever.

I knew I was shy about certain things… Me? Shy? I know, right? But it’s true!
Like the drums. I’m SUPER shy about them! I’ve only shared that secret with a couple of people.

And this one? I haven’t told ANYONE.

I knew I was extra shy about my singing voice and that taking voice lessons would stretch me (and I’m talking about more than just my vocal chords), but I still wanted to try it.

Stella, the Russian voice teacher, was SUPER cool. She asked e to sing something so she could get an idea of what she was working with and I did, but I hated the way it sounded. I was only supposed to have an hour lesson, but she spent two hours on me and then a third just chatting.

She had wild, red curly hair and bright blue eyes and a devil-may-care attitude. She was intoxicating to be around. She had been through some incredibly rough times, but she was happy. She inspired me.

She also gave me homework.

Homework for drumming AND homework for singing when I get home between 9-10pm every night and have to be quiet makes practicing for both really difficult.

Thank God for my car. I could practicing drumming on my dashboard (oh yes I did) and I could listen to a song on my phone and sing along as loud as I liked. And I did. And I still do, but only when I’m alone in the car. I haven’t quite gotten over that shyness.

I knew the voice lessons would stretch me, but I didn’t realize how far or how much. Or that it might be too much.
But after both lessons, I left crying.
See, to get the right sound, everything has to be open.
That was the word of the hour “Open up! Open your mouth! Your throat! Your chest! Your stomach! Open everything! It all has to be open!”

I’m not quite ready to be that open yet.

Getting my GroupOn

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I am a lactard. Too much milk will eventually make me feel like there are two squirrels on crack playing an intense game of volleyball in my stomach. The problem is that I love ice cream.

LOVE it.

Almost as much as I love cake. And I LOOOOOVE cake.

Cake is a gift from the gods and should be treated with the utmost respect. (Carrot and Fruit cake are abominations)

So, how do I get around my ice cream dilemma? Frozen yogurt a la Golden Spoon.

Something about the frozen yogurt keeps those pesky squirrels at bay and makes me happy so it’s a win-win.

I was staying away from Living Social and GroupOn, I just didn’t get it, until I was in the bathroom at work and felt like I was in a Groupon commercial.

“Maria, there really hasn’t been anything good on Living Social lately, has there?”
“No, but did you see that one Groupon?”

This conversation cracked me up, so when a buddy of mine shared that my beloved Golden Spoon had a Groupon available, I jumped on the bandwagon. And since I was getting my groupon, I decided to go ahead and give Living Social a try, too.

Now that I have all this extra time on my hands, I’ve started thinking about things I’ve never done and would like to try. I’ve had a bucket list for years, but the stuff I’m thinking about never crossed my mind before.

Before a certain party gave me the Cut to Black, he told me stories of when he used to own horses.

I have always been terrified of horses, but hearing him talk about them (combined with a couple other factors) inspired me to think about taking riding lessons. It was just an idea I was kicking around in my head. I assumed it would be a crazy expensive venture and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it other than I knew it was something I wanted to do.

Groupon to the rescue!

No sooner had I made the mental decision of “Yes! I WILL learn to ride a horse!” and had then wondered, “But HOW?” that Groupon made a happy little sound on my phone and the deal of the day? HORSEBACK RIDING LESSONS!

I did not have to think about it.

I went for it.

My first lesson is next Saturday.