January Goals Wrap-Up and February Goals

One month of 2015 down, eleven to go! I was surprisingly successful on my goals for January.

1. Remove myself from any email lists I don’t use. I never actually did this, but I did do a lot of sorting of my emails into various folders so that they will no longer clutter my main inbox. I also took a big step in moving on from my former opera life by letting my account with YAP Tracker expire, so I will no longer be getting daily emails for auditions that I will never go on. #freedom

2. Organize miscellaneous areas in our house. Accomplished! It’s nothing spectacular, just some plastic bins from Bed Bath and Beyond, but I do feel better every time I search for an office supply or open up the drawer next to our dryer or need to find a tool.

3. Meal plan and grocery shop once a week. I was able to keep this up better than I expected. I had originally planned to go grocery shopping every Friday because it’s my day off, and while that didn’t always work out, I still managed to go roughly once a week. Because of that, we were able to cook at home more often and eat healthier than we had been before. I’d really like to be able to keep that up in the coming weeks and months.

And now for my February goals!

Truth be told, I’m busy almost every night in February. In fact, there are a bunch of nights when I am double- or even triple-booked. Let me just tell you, trying to work out a conflict schedule between church choir, San Francisco Symphony, and the musical I’m in was a nightmare. Did you know it’s really hard to make everybody happy?

All that to say that I don’t have very many specific goals for February. My main goal is to survive with minimal damage to my sanity, health, and relationships. But here are a couple of other things I’d like to accomplish.

1. Walk every day when I get home from work. A couple of weeks ago, I had had a tough day at both of my jobs, and when I got home in the afternoon, I felt like I really needed to go for a walk and clear my head. It was a pretty nice day, so I headed out and ended up walking the neighborhood for almost 45 minutes, just listening to music and letting the fresh air and exercise calm me down. It was so awesome that I vowed to do it every day, and of course I immediately dropped the ball on it. I figured if I wrote it down and made it public as a monthly goal, I might actually do it.

2. Continue blogging 2-3 times per week. My creative juices have really been flowing lately, and I’ve been able to come up with a bunch of fun topics (at least I had fun thinking of them and writing some of them). I would love to get a more consistent schedule going and maybe even create more of a series. Blogging is 100% a hobby for me, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to get more involved with the community.

What are your goals for the month of February?

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Tamale Making

Every February for the past five years, our church has sent a team of people to Mexico for a week to work at an orphanage called Rancho Santa Marta. It’s a very successful trip each year because of the variety of projects available for people of all ages and skill levels. I’ve never been, but T is going for the first time this year, along with several of our youth group kids and many other multi-generational volunteers.

It costs a bit of money for each person to go on the trip, so in order to lower the cost for everyone, we do a fundraiser in January where we make and sell tamales by the dozen. We have one family in our church who are all expert tamale makers, and every year they coach the rest of us through the process of making them. It’s pretty simple, so even some of the younger kids in the church can come help out.

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Some of the leaders showing us all how it’s done.

To make tamales, there are a few items you need:

  • Masa, or tamale dough (plenty of recipes available online)
  • Some sort of pre-cooked meat (we used pork)
  • Corn husks (the bigger the better)
  • Plastic gloves (it gets messy)

The first thing to do is create a small pancake of masa on top of a corn husk. You want it to be thin, but it should cover about the upper 2/3 of the husk. Then place a small-ish amount of meat in the middle of the masa. You can spread it out a little, but not all the way to the edges.

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It should look something like this.

Once you’ve put the meat in, fold the whole thing in half or in thirds, making sure the masa seals on the open edge. Fold up the bottom (pointy end) of the corn husk and push the masa and meat towards the top, but don’t let it come all the way out.

After that, the tamales have to steam for a while. Food and Wine recommends an hour and a half, but I don’t think our cooks did it for that long. So sue me, I was helping with the preparation, not the actual cooking.

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Students working.

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More students (and T) working.

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A tortilla press, which you can use to make the masa flat and even on the husk.

It's a messy process.

It’s a messy process.

Pan full of assembled (but not yet steamed) tamales.

Pan full of assembled (but not yet steamed) tamales.

One of our students hard at work making it just right.

One of our students hard at work making it just right.

We sold the tamales in bags by the dozen, with instructions for reheating at home. Of course, T and I bought two bags, one of which was completely gone within 24 hours. They are always so delicious, and we raised a good chunk of money toward the Rancho Santa Marta trip.

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The finished product.

And they are even more enjoyable as a consumer!

And they are even more enjoyable as a consumer!

Have you ever made tamales before?

Friday Favorites: Cafe Legato

Ah, Cafe Legato. With a name like that, how could I not love it?

Shockingly enough, this place was discovered by my non-musician brother. His hipster soul was drawn by its relative obscurity, while I of course come back time after time for the classical music theme. Located only a few freeway exits south of my house, it has quickly evolved into my favorite work spot.

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Not just coffee. It’s the experience. But the coffee is great too.

You notice the classical music theme as soon as you walk in the door. The walls are decorated with paintings of composers and performers, framed bits of sheet music, and posters. There’s even a piano along one wall. They also have some cute branded merchandise, and one of these days I will bite the bullet and get myself a Cafe Legato mug.

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When you go to order, you can choose from a whole list of “normal” cafe beverages, as well as speciality drinks like the Vivaldi’s Winter, Staccato Freeze, Amaretto Overture, Symphony Delight, and Chai Quartet. They also have a small selection of pastries, and patrons benefit from free, no-log-in-required wifi. The best part is, you can use your FiveStars membership card here and earn points towards a free drink. (I earned mine today!)

My vanilla chai latte helping me get through a morning of church choir organizing, blog writing, and opera planning.

My vanilla chai latte helping me get through a morning of church choir organizing, blog writing, and opera planning.

I don’t have many complaints about Legato, but if I had to give one critique, it would be the staff. They tend to come across a bit unfriendly and unsociable. This is exactly the kind of place where I could see myself being a “regular” and making friends with the owners, but they never seem interested in making even the smallest of talk over the register. I’ve tried more than once, so I don’t think it’s me. (They were also giving me weird, suspicious looks while I was snapping the few photos in this post, so I apologize for the less-than-stellar quality of them.)

The good news is, the coffee is delicious and it’s a quiet place where I can come to work and feel surrounded by the music that inspires me. I just wish more people knew about it!

Bay Areans, have you ever been to Cafe Legato? Let’s go sometime!

Yummy Spots: The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is the abundance of awesome coffee shops. Possibly due to the abnormally high number of hipsters that flock to San Francisco, many of these places are independently owned and offer a tasty, cheaper (and in some cases, green and healthy-ish) alternative to the Starbucks empire.

Today’s post is not about one of those independent, hole-in-the-wall shops. But it is about a place we didn’t even have anywhere near the Bay Area until a couple of months ago.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf was one of my most-frequented spots during college, since the branch furthest north was only a 20-minute drive away from my college town. Once I moved back to the Bay Area after college, I particularly missed their cinnamon-y, earthy, delicious chai lattes. Every time I make a trip to SoCal, where there are an abundance of Coffee Beans, I make it a point to go, even if it means going out of the way to a shopping center a mile away from the freeway.

So imagine my giddy, squealing, practically jumping-up-and-down delight when I discovered this past December that there was a Coffee Bean going in at one of our local malls, right here in San Jose! It’s not the closest mall to my house, which is probably better for our bank account, but while I was waiting for T’s car to get smogged today, I was able to run across the street to the other mall and grab a much-longed-for chai latte from the brand new shop.

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The other people relaxing in the open café area thought I was ridiculous for taking a selfie.

If you’re planning a trip to SoCal, it absolutely must include a visit to Coffee Bean. And if you find yourself in NorCal, specifically West San Jose, check out the newest location at Westfield Valley Fair!

(More) Brazilian Candy Acquired!

While we were in Rio, we asked our friends what kinds of food and goodies we should bring home. Instead of simply giving us a list, they handed us a bag full of candy that they had personally picked out. Naturally, all of them were ridiculously yummy and addicting, and some of them disappeared before we even landed back in San Francisco.

One of my favorites was the Bis, a wafer covered in chocolate similar to a Kit-Kat bar, but not being from the US, it was of course better. We brought back four of them, and three were gone within about two days of us coming home (I’m not ashamed). So T, tired of me hoarding all the chocolate, found these Bis bars on Amazon and ordered them. And look what already arrived this morning:

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Yummmmmmmmmmm. It’s going to be hard to save some for T, but I’ll do my best.

Interested in what else we loved about Rio? Check out two of our favorite spots: Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor.