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My New Adventure: First Year vs. Senior Year

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First Day of Incipio, August 2011
First Day of Incipio, August 2011

Sometimes I wonder how many times I’ve walked up and down the Grand Staircase, how many times I’ve walked through the front doors of Old Main. It’s something we at Saint Martin’s take for granted, it’s just a part of everyday life here. But now that my days of daily walks through campus are coming to an end, I’m getting a little nostalgic.

The picture on the left is the first picture I ever took in front of Old Main. My dad captured this moment on the left the first day of Incipio, in August 2011. Now looking back, I can see how much I’ve changed since being here at Saint Martin’s. I wasn’t a part of the Social Squad then, I didn’t know how many steps it took to get to the top of the Grand Staircase, or what the next four years would bring, but I was excited for my new adventure.

In that way, not much as really changed: I’m still excited for my new adventure. But it is with the past four years of experience at Saint Martin’s that I get to move forward. As a first year student, everything was new. Other than a few week-long summer camps, I had never been away from my family for more than a few days. I was in a new city and I only knew one other person at SMU. I remember thinking, of the upperclassman at the time, “how do you make it look so easy?” As time went on, though, I realize they made it look so easy because it actually did become easier. Yes, I have to work hard in class and work, but once you get use to the new surroundings and your new “normal”, the “OMG, what am I doing?!” feelings start to subside, at least a little bit.

First Day of classes Senior Year, August 2014
First Day of classes Senior Year, August 2014

Flash-forward four years and I’m taking the picture on the right. Still in front of Old Main (albeit facing the other direction), but much more confident in my place at Saint Martin’s and ready to take on my last year at SMU.

Looking at myself as a First Year versus myself as a Senior, I know that I am much more prepared for my next adventure: living in the real world. Where my high school prepared me academically for my four years here, Saint Martin’s has now prepared me for life beyond Baran Drive.

My time at Saint Martin’s has, above all else, given me memories. As I begin graduate school and, eventually, my career, I will remember many of the lessons I learned after walking up the steps of the Grand Staircase into one of the many classes I took here. I’ll remember what it felt like to work in the marketing office, in the early days of the Social Squad. I’ll remember touring the Rec Center before it was even open. I’ll remember what it felt like to be a First Year student, standing in front of Old Main, taking the first a many pictures in front of the historic building and, even though I haven’t yet experienced it, I’ll remember what I felt like to be a Senior and walk down the Grand Staircase towards graduation and my next new adventure.


Interviewing Lidia Bastianich

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When I told the long story that was Gala 2014, I told you about the interview that I was fortunate enough to be able to have with Lidia Bastianich, 2014 Gala chef. And now it’s here, ready to be seen by all. There isn’t too much to say (an English major not having too much to say… that must be a first!) because I think the video speaks for itself. I was a little nervous, but who wouldn’t be in the presence of Lidia? As the only in-person interview Lidia did that weekend, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and am so excited to share her wisdom with everyone. If you were able to attend the “Meet the Chef” event on 10/31/14, you know how inspiring and wise Lidia is and if didn’t, this short interview will give you just a glimpse of how amazing she really is. There’s nothing better than hearing an expert talk about something they are so passionate about and that is definitely what this interview is. Lidia Bastianich’s passion is food and this is just one example of wonderful things you can learn when passion and knowledge meet. Enjoy!

48 Hours of #SMUGala

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#SocialSquad at #SMUGala
#SocialSquad at #SMUGala

Gala was one month ago today and it has taken me all month to process the whirlwind of crazy, amazing-ness. So when thinking about how I wanted to share my experience of Gala with you, I knew had to break it down into smaller portions (because really, each portion is it’s own amazing, awesome experience). So here is an itinerary of the 48 hours that were the 2014 #SMUGala for me.

October 30, 2014

11:00 PM – Attempting to physically and mentally prepare myself for the next two days. Try to get some sleep, but honestly I’m way too excited about tomorrow.

06:30 AM – Wake up and begin to get ready for the day. I wasn’t really sure what to expect at Taylor Shellfish, clothing wise, and I knew I needed a “business casual” look for Meet the Chef. I opted for a comfortable, but nice looking dress and lots of layers for the inevitably cold and rainy morning.

Lidia Bastianich at Taylor Shellfish
Lidia Bastianich at Taylor Shellfish

8:18 AM – Arrive at Lidia’s hotel to meet her, her sous chefs, Mr. and Mrs. Batali, and a few others that joined our tour. I was nervous and excited for the day to begin.

8:32 AM – I officially meet Lidia Bastianich. And she immediately begins to feed me and everyone at the table with the snack platter in her room. As much as I knew about her beforehand, there is something about being able to talk to someone face-to-face. I was blown away by how approachable and down-to-earth she was and that feeling stayed with me the rest of the day.

9:00 AM – After some light chit-chat and snacking, we left for Shelton. I rode with the Batalis in Bill Whitbeck‘s car while the rest went in Lidia’s car.

9:40 AM – Arrive at Taylor Shellfish! I had never been before and was really excited to see the facility. In the photo on the right, Lidia is in front of the Seafood Market where you can go and buy free shellfish, but we were able to take a tour of the whole facility: everything from packaging to the shucking the oysters themselves. It was a HUGE facility. We went to four building all together and saw many people are hard work, preparing all the shellfish. I even spotted a crate of boxes that were marked Saint Martin’s Gala and headed to Saint Martin’s for the main event the next day!

Photo Oct 31, 10 15 49 AM
Eating raw oysters with Lidia Bastianich

10:15 AM – I tried my very first raw oyster! Our gracious host, Marco, shucked them right there in front of our eyes. Literally picked them up from the massive bins that were ready to be processes, cut it open, and handed one to each of us. We had four different kinds of oysters and having them right next to each other made the differences between them more obvious. I am not the biggest fan of seafood in general, so this was definitely a completely new experience for me and I’m so glad I got to try it and with such good company too!

10:50 AM – After we had seen the production facility, we head to one of the nurserys. The hope had been to be able to see an oyster farm, but low tide (the only time they aren’t underwater) is only at night this time of year, so instead we got to see the first place the budding oysters go. The nursery is technically a water vessel so we all donned life jackets and made our way down to the water, where we were able to see little baby oysters. They were so tiny!

11:32 AM – We headed back to campus so we could get cleaned up before lunchtime. The rainy day made for some soggy feet that I’m sure everyone was excited to warm up (I know I was!). After everyone warmed up and had a little rest, I met Lidia and brought her to the O’Grady Library for lunch with a few people, including Abbot Neal, President Heynderickx, and Dino Batali.

2:00 PM – After lunch, I met Lidia again to give her a tour of our beautiful campus. We started in the Abbey Church and because he was just finishing lunch with Lidia, Abbot Neal was able to join us and give us a tour of the church himself. He even suggested Lidia take pictures with the pulpit to look like she has wings. After the church, we took a quick drive around the rest of campus before she returned to her hotel to have some free time before the Meet the Chef event in a few hours.

Photo Oct 31, 4 19 43 PM (2)
Waiting for Lidia on Baran Dr.

4:00 PM – I headed down to Baran Drive to await Lidia’s arrival. Everyone lined up along the road, with balloons, noise-makers, and a whole lot of excitement. As we were waiting, any cars that drove by were surprised with a cheering line through Baran Dr. and it was fun to watch the people’s faces as they drove by. Also, everyone was very excited to see the sun shinning, after the drizzly morning we had.

4:19 PM – Lidia arrives! We spotted her car coming down the road and everyone immediately started cheering. I was able to capture the moment on video and you can kind of get an idea of the excitement we all felt, as well what Lidia was feeling. After she drove by, we all went inside the TUB for the actual Meet the Chef event. Meet the Chef itself was a very cool experience. Dino Batali and I were the ones to actually introduce Lidia, which was really exciting and then when Lidia came up to speech, she blew everyone away with her story of immigrating to American and finding cooking as her passion. Lidia Bastianich is truly an inspiring woman and I am so thankful to have met her. After the even was over, so too was the first day of SMUGala. Honestly, I was pretty tired at that point and was happy to have the evening to rest and rejuvenate for another amazing day the next day, the actual day of Gala.

November 1, 2014

Photo Nov 01, 2 44 26 PM
#SocialSquad before #SMUGala

12:00 PM – I definitely slept in a little bit, but by noon I had eaten, showered, done a few chores, and was ready to tackle the daunting task of doing my hair and make-up. Now I knew I wasn’t really going to have time to change anything after I arrived on campus, so I had to find something that would stay and look nice all day and night. Then it was time to get dressed. I wore a bossiness-casual dress at first, for my interview with Lidia and other pre-gala activities that didn’t require a formal dress, and packed up everything I needed to change into my beautiful gown later in the day.

2:30 PM – I met up with all the Social Squad so that we could make sure we were all on the same page of what we were doing and then split off into our teams for the night. Because we were both doing videos that day, Matt and I were on a team with Christine and Stephen, Jaime, and Conner formed the second team. We each had different tasks and things to cover for the day, especially before Gala and during the reception. This was a good way to make sure we covered everything about Gala this year!


My interview with Lidia Bastianich
My interview with Lidia Bastianich

3:00 PM – Christine, Matt, and I set up for my interview with Lidia in the Green Room. When Lidia actually got there, we were ready to go, but first Lidia had to have an overview of the script and what was going to happen during Gala. She left to look at the stage and familiarize herself with the area she was going to be cooking in. As it got closer and closer to the start of the reception, we were told that there still a lot for Lidia to do and, in order to give her enough rest time before the Private Reception, we wouldn’t be able to do the interview now and that maybe we could do it after Gala was over. I was a little disappointed. I had built up all this excitement and nervous energy beforehand and I knew that by the end of the night everyone was going to be tired and the interview probably wouldn’t happen then. Just as we were starting to take down everything, Lidia came back into the room ready for the interview. She had been prepared for it and was willing to do it, even if it cut into her rest time a little bit. I was so honored! The interview went amazing and I can’t wait to share it with you sometime very soon… Stay tuned!

4:30 PM – Matt, Christine, and I hurried to the volunteer dinner so that we could quickly eat something before the whole night really started. We ate some yummy lasagna, salad, and a few treats from Bon Appetit before Christine and I headed off to change into our formal dresses. Then, we were ready for the night to begin.

My parents & I at the Gala Reception
My parents & I at the Gala Reception

And not a moment too soon, because just then the reception was beginning! The Roving Reporter’s Red Carpet interviews were fun to be a part of and fun to watch happen. Everyone had a good time joking around with Matt. Stay tuned for that video as well, you won’t want to miss it! When I wasn’t just hanging around with Matt and Christine, I was wandering around the reception, looking at the silent auction items, talking to people, and generally enjoying the atmosphere. I was lucky enough to have my parents come to Gala again this year and spent some of the reception with them.

6:50 PM – Just before everyone starting heading through the tunnel into the Pavilion for dinner, the Social Squad all headed over. The Pavilion was far from empty though. Bon Appetit servers, Gala volunteers, and few other people were putting the finish touches on everything, making sure everything was perfect for this amazing night.

7:00 PM – I went to escort Lidia to the wings of the Pavilion where she would wait to be introduced. There were a few people walking by, thanking her and generally being excited to meet her, and I was once again blown away by the opportunity I had been given to spend so much time with her. Lidia’s entrance into the Pavilion was perfect. Everyone was clapping and the guitarists did a wonderful job of playing authentic Italian music.

John Warjones with his $1000 lasagna
John Warjones with his $1000 lasagna

7:37 PM – After many introductions and Lidia’s explanation of the first course, the live auction began. Even though this was my third year at Gala (and my third live auction), I was still so impressed by Jeff Stokes and the runners’ ability to keep track of the bidding. It all goes by so fast and then all over a sudden we’ve raised $10,000! I really like the way the evening is set up. Lidia explains and demonstrates the course and then, as you eat, a few items are auctioned and repeated. It keeps the whole night moving and you are definitely never bored. During all the auction items, the whole Social Squad was running around taking pictures with the winners of items, talking to guests, and having fun, enjoying the atmosphere of Gala.

9:08 PM – I was lucky enough to sneak a few taste of Lidia’s delicious meal from my parents (and boy was it delicious!). One guest, John Warjones, thought the lasagna was so good that he wanted a whole platter to take home and bought it for $1000! It was definitely a moment to remember and pretty much sums up what Gala is: raising money and eating good food.

9:41 PM – Probably one of my favorite parts of Gala is the student speech before Feed-A-Mind and Ben Lopez, this year’s student speaker, did not disappoint. He did a great job of sharing his personal story and how thankful so many Saint Martin’s students are for the scholarships we receive.

MattSMU with Social Squad's bid card
MattSMU with Social Squad’s bid card

9:52 PM – Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the night, Feed-A-Mind, began with three huge donations and just got better from there. If you don’t know what Feed-A-Mind is, basically it asks the guests of Gala to raise their paddle at any given amount (starting at $25,000 and going down in increments to $100) and to donate that much money to student scholarships. For the second year in a row, the Social Squad took on the task of raising money in order to be able to raise a paddle during a Feed-A-Mind. This year, we were able to raise over $3000, which was then matched during Gala! All in all, $242,000 was raised to student scholarships during Feed-A-Mind alone! I am forever thankful for the generous supports Saint Martin’s has!

10:39 PM – And then came the curve ball. I knew that next year’s Gala chef was going to be announced at the end of Gala, which already was new. The announcement came by way of a video and as soon as it played, I’m not going to lie, I freaked out a little bit. If you haven’t watched the video yet, I highly suggest watching it before reading the rest of this post. The video is the perfect way to announce it! Yes, the WHOLE cast of the Chew is coming to Saint Martin’s next year! And yes, I am very, very disappointed that this is my senior year and I won’t be able to have the same role as this year. But, I am so excited to even be a little bit a part of next year’s Gala. Stay tuned for updates on ticket sales, event details, and more!

10:47 PM – Even in the midst of such excitement about the Chew, there were still auction items to be sold! The last item of the night was all of the cookware Lidia used on stage and cooking lessons for 15 at Sur La Table. Much to my surprise, my parents bought this item! My parents are in the process of building their dream home and the addition of Lidia’s cookware to the new kitchen will be perfect. Also, I just confirmed with my parents that the cooking class has been booked and I am invited! Don’t worry, I tell you guys about how amazing it is!

Senior Social Squad members: myself, MattSMU, & StephenSMU
Senior Social Squad members: myself, MattSMU, & StephenSMU

11:00 PM – Tired, happy, and a little sore in the feet, Gala ends. But not before a few pictures with the Social Squad (and one with awesome master of ceremonies Elisa Jaffe). The past two years were fun and exciting and wonderful. But nothing could beat how amazing this year Gala was. I was able to do so many amazing things (in such a short amount of time too!) and I am always grateful for the opportunities being a Saint has given me. Even though next sure is sure to be amazing (I mean there’s going to  be FIVE chefs), this year’s Gala was the perfect way to celebrate and commemorate my last year on the Social Squad.

OK, I think that’s all I have to say. Honestly, I could probably write a book about my experience at Gala this year alone, but I think I’ll stick with this post (and my two other planned Gala posts, coming soon!) I know that my fellow Social Squad members also have Gala posts as well, so if you just can’t get enough of SMUGala, check out the rest of the Social Squad‘s blogs!

Two Days with Lidia Bastianich: Announcing This Year’s #SMUGala Student Host!

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#SocialSquad at the 2013 #SMUGala

I am always so grateful for all the opportunities that being a Saint Martin’s student has given me. I have met some of the most amazing people here. I have been to countless amazing events by Campus Life, Residence Life, and other departments around campus. I have had the best (in my humble opinion) on-campus job anyone could ask for. I have had all of these opportunities and more, all while getting a quality education.

One of my favorite opportunities I’ve been able to enjoy while at Saint Martin’s is being able to attend the annual Saint Martin’s Gala. (Which is basically a month away… Can you believe that?!) I have been so lucky to be able to attend the last two Galas as a part of the Social Squad. Every year has been better than the last and that isn’t going to change this year.

As you probably know, I have been working on a series of videos to countdown to #SMUGala by cooking this year’s celebrity chef, Lidia Bastianich‘s recipes #CookAtSMU style. I’ve had so much fun making all of the recipes and getting to know Lidia through her food. Because of this project, I am even more excited for the upcoming Gala than I have been in past. Now, I’ve been given yet another amazing opportunity and I am officially way too excited about November 1.

What is the this amazing opportunity you may ask? I have been asked to be the student host for Lidia while she is on campus for Gala! For the duration of her time at Saint Martin’s, I will be with her. Gala is made up of so many different events. As her host, I will show her around campus and in general make her feel welcome. While I have loved getting to know Lidia through her recipes, I am so excited to get to know her in person. Being a senior, this is the perfect way to spend my last Gala as a student! This event is going to be amazing, yet again, and I am so excited and lucky to be a part of it! If you want to be a part of it to, sign up to volunteer at the many different events that make Gala what it is!

And stay tuned to #SMUGala for updates on how to help, Lidia, the auction items, the Social Squad’s role, and more!

#CookAtSMU: Toasted Bread in a Savory Broth

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And I’m back! Whew, the first weeks of school have flown by. I’m settling into my classes and my routine that I have to reinvent each semester. One thing that I have been enjoying is having all the Social Squad back in the office! Matt and I were on campus and working throughout the summer, but we sure missed Stephen and Christine. And, as an added bonus, we added another member to the Squad. If you haven’t checked out Connor’s inaugural blog post yet, you should check it out ASAP!

One of the perks of having everyone back in the office is that my #CooKAtSMU videos are getting better. With Christine behind the camera and the editing process, you can expect bigger and better things from #CookAtSMU! Which brings me to the actual point of this blog post (what can I say, I wouldn’t be an English major if I didn’t go on and on, right?). We are continuing our countdown to #SMUGala by cooking Lidia Bastianich‘s amazing recipes (for a full explanation of this series, check out my introductory post).

This week we’re cooking up a warm and tasty Toasted Bread in a Savory broth.This recipe comes from Lidia’s Italian Tablewhich had some of my favorite recipes. This recipe is actually two recipes combined. The first recipe is for Baked Cheese Toasts (the “toasted bread” part of the recipe) and the broth that goes with it (the “savory broth”). Both recipes would be good by themselves, so feel free to split them up when you make it! Also, in the book, Lidia has several variations for the broth. One of the variations is a spinach broth and the recipe can be found on her website, if you want to try something a little different!

So, with no further ado, here is the recipe for a simplest zuppa (Italian for soup) recipe, perfect for the cold weather we’re heading into.

To make 6 servings, you’ll need:

  • 6 thick slices of day-old Italian bread
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 6 cups chicken stock, meat stock, or vegetable broth (I used vegetable broth, though Lidia recommends chicken as her #1 choice)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. Italian parsley

What you’ll do:

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Butter both sides of the bread the bread slices
  3. Press one side of each into 1/2 c. of the cheese so the cheese coast the bread
  4. Arrange the bread cheese side down in the skillet and toast the bread until the cheese is golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Turn the slices and toast the other side until golden brown, about 3 minutes as well.
  6. Place the toasted bread in the bottom on your soup bowl
  7. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil on high heat.
  8. Season with salt and pepper
  9. Ladle the broth over the bread and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.
  10. Enjoy!

Let me know how you like this recipe and if you try any of Lidia’s variations! Until next time, happy eating!

#CookAtSMU: Oregano Eggs

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This week brings us to the Spangler kitchen where I cook what is probably my favorite recipe thus far. Also, probably the simplest recipe. If you are looking for a quick, simple tasty recipe, this is the recipe for you. Lidia said the same thing about it in Lidia’s Commonsense Cooking, where I found the recipe. In the book, she tells a short story of sharing this recipe with friends and I couldn’t think of a better way to share this recipe. The recipe in the book makes enough for four servings, but I only cooked enough for one (2 eggs) and it definitely is easy to make for as many or as few people as you want!

Before I share the recipe with you, I wanted to give a little shout out to Saint Martin’s for making this series possible. I am having so much fun trying all these recipes and getting more and more excited for #SMUGala every recipe. I cannot wait to try Lidia’s recipes made by Lidia herself! Only 82 more days!

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, the recipe:

To make 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano

I didn’t use cheese in mine, but I can definitely see how it would be amazing!

What you’ll do:

  1. Swirl the olive oil in a cold skillet. Gently break all the eggs into the pan (trying not to break the yolks, especially if you want them to be at all runny.
  2. Sprinkle the salt and dried oregano on the eggs. Sprinkle the grated cheese over all.
  3. Cove the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook until the whites are set and the yolks are done to your liking (about 7-8 minutes for runny yolks, 10 for mostly cooked yolks)

And that’s it! Super simple, super easy, super yummy!

I will definitely be using this preparation in the future and will try and experiment with different herbs (sage eggs, anyone?). Let me know if you try any awesome combinations!

Until next time, blog readers. Can’t wait to get cooking with you again!

#CookAtSMU: Rice Cooked with Olive Oil

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This week’s recipe is a simple one. It’s easy to make and you can make A LOT of it, if you want. It reheats well (add a little more oil and water). In the video, I’m cooking on the stove, but this recipe could easily be replicated on a microwave rice cooker and be made right in your room!

Obviously this isn’t a whole meal, but it’s a great base for steamed or roasted vegetables or strips of the meat of your choice. Definitely one of those staples to keep in the back of your mind when you have veggies or meat, but need some starch to go with it! Lidia describes this recipe as the “ultimate comfort food” and that it was her favorite to eat when she was sick. This recipe can be found in Lidia’s Italian Table along with some recipes for what to eat with it!

Are you hungry yet? Don’t worry, the recipe is right here:

What you’ll need to make 6 servings:

  • 5-6 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroil rice (I used jasmine rice, because that’s what I had on hand, so I think anything will work, just adjust cooking times accordingly)
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

What you’ll do:

  1. Boil 5 cups of the water.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of the oil and the salt (to taste)
  3. Stir in the rice and return to boil, stirring constantly
  4. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the rice is al dente and the water is evaporated (~15 minutes). Add the remaining cup of water if the water evaporates before the rice is tender.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the cheese.
  6. Enjoy!

Let me know what you think of this recipe, if you try it, and what’s your favorite thing to eat it with!