Friday, June 15, 2012

You Gonna Eat That?

Denise and Margaret
Sometimes it pays to have connections, be an insider, rub elbows with the elite especially here in LA/Hollywood. It's all about who you know and naturally, I know a lot of people who are very well connected. Well all that networking finally paid off this week! My dear friend Laura from Beverly Hill . . . I mean, San Antonio is promoting a new product. We met back in college at USC, and by that I mean high school in Texas. Ok so we were on the flag team and lost touch after high school but we DID find each other again in LA! That part is true. Turns out we are both in PR and were promoting an event that her client was participating in. Small world huh? Lucky for me, we kept in touch and many, many, years later, she sends me a box full of free sandwiches courtesy of Raybern Foods! SCORE! Aside from being a fatty, I'm also a foodie so consider this my first official food blog.

The loot
When she first pitched me the idea of sandwiches I wasn't very enthused until she mentioned the care that went into selecting the bread and the natural ingredients. This is LA after all, no processed glucosamazoids in my food please! Like really, gag me with a biodegradable spork! I gathered a few of my coworkers, Denise, Loni, Margaret, and Tessie, aka, the lunch ladies, and told them lunch was on me. The day was sunny and warm as I lugged the dry-ice infused box over to the lunch table, pulled out the neatly wrapped subs, admired the bright label graphics, read the instructions. Oh, we have to microwave these things? Hmm, that doesn't sound appetizing. So off we go back indoors with cold sandwiches in hand. Nuked them for 1.5 to 3 minutes. As each second of microzapping passed, my heart sank. It's going to taste like cardboard and slime, I thought.

I proceeded to divide the generous subs into quarters so we could each try several varieties including what is touted as the bestselling Philly Cheesesteak sandwich in America, Ham & Cheddar, Pastrami & Cheese, Chicken Philly, and Chicken Bacon Ranch. If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I'm completely obliterating my diet here with all this bread, cheese, and beef, but in the interest of market research, I'll make the sacrifice.

According to Raybern, the company was started in 1978 by two guys named Ray and Bernie. It took one year for the company to develop their patented bread recipe that cooks 'bakery soft' in the microwave. In the company’s quest to perfect their recipes, Bernie taste-tested sauces, meats and breads on his family – including son Chad who continues with the company today. Raybern’s makes a million sandwiches a week by hand in California. The rest of the country has been enjoying these bites for years and now they're hitting the SoCal market!

Me and Loni, first bites.
So let the tasting begin! First impressions, not bad. It's very cheesy, the bread is soft. Hey, what is that I taste? Could it be? Is it . . . flavor?? What happened to the cardboard? Nothing nuked could possibly be this soft and delicious. I was so ready not to like it that it took a moment to realize that these sandwiches are actually pretty good. I tried the Chicken Bacon Ranch and as Denise said, "Cheese and bacon make everything good." I agree! The consensus was a resounding thumbs up! Everyone had a favorite but what impressed us the most was how well they held up in the microwave. The idea of these heat and go meals appealed to all of us. Margaret said she'd take them along on a road trip. Although the cheese was very melted, they weren't as messy as they first appeared. I suggested buying up a few for small gatherings or as additions to a BBQ and slicing them up to put on party platters. Loni said they'd be perfect for Super Bowl. We agreed that even guys would like them and would fill their manly appetites, well almost. At 320 calories per serving (two servings per sandwich) we also thought it wouldn't break your diet. 640 calories for lunch, plus my cup of fruit and ice tea, not bad. The only thing missing from these tasty delights are the veggies. I was craving some jalapeƱo slices in my Philly and Loni thought grilled veggies would be a nice addition.

Margaret's top picks were the Chicken Philly and the Ham & Cheese. She thought the Chicken Bacon Ranch was just ok although she has this weird aversion to packaged meat so if she were to buy it in the store, she'd choose chicken.

Denise liked the Pastrami & Cheese the best. It had a good flavor particularly with the dijon mustard. She loves stronger spices. I have to give it up to Denise though. If I thought I was sacrificing my diet, she's actually 99% vegetarian. So thanks for allotting your 1% of meat-eating to me and my blog! Now I'm really glad the sandwiches were good!
 Loni's favorite was also the Pastrami & Cheese as well as the Philly Cheesesteak. She liked that you could see the spices in the sandwich with specks of black pepper throughout. The cheese was not overly processed. "You could tell it was cheese!"

Tessie (on the right) also favored the Pastrami & Cheese as well as the Ham & Cheddar and the Chicken Bacon Ranch. She felt that the stronger flavors like pastrami work better in a frozen sandwich. We all agreed!

As for me, I like it all! If I had to choose my favorite would be the Ham & Cheese and the Chicken Bacon Ranch. What can I say, I love pork!

So now you heard what we had to say. Now go try it for yourself. Raybern's frozen sandwiches are now available at your local SoCal Target stores. Plus, like Raybern on Facebook and get your $1.00-off coupon! Retail is a pack of 2 for $3.99, yes two!!. Not a bad price considering lunch can cost well into and past the ten dollar range anywhere now-a-days. Thank you Laura for sending us such a yummy lunch! Ahh, the glamorous life! Gotta love it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rocio Launches Solo Album

RocioMarron. Photo by Berkeley Gray Photography.
It is with great enthusiasm and a motherly pride that I write about my dear friend Rocio Marron who recently launched her first solo album! Veteran of the Latin and pop music scene, she's played with major recording acts Marc Anthony, Josh Groban, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cuban bass legend Cachao, Los Lobos, and others. You may have also seen her on this year's season of American Idol and The Voice performing with the finalists.

We met in college where she was studying music. I would follow her to her gigs and met her wonderful family and friends. As an original member of my favorite group, Quetzal, she introduced me into this great world of LA Chicano music.

Rocio spent a year writing and recording the album inspired by her family and personal experiences. “For years, I’ve enjoyed playing and interpreting other people’s music,” said Rocio. “Now I had the chance to write the music that had been inside me waiting to be recorded. I had to look no further than my own experiences and love of family to find the inspiration and words to create this album.”

Pic off of my tv. Rocio playing with The Voice's
Season 2 winner Jermaine Paul
Another tv pic. Rocio playing on American Idol
Season 11 with Top 3 finalist Joshua Ledet
 Rocio Marron, released in November 2011, represents the kind of poetic musical stylings and poignant lyrics she hopes will linger in people’s minds. The songs in this debut album draw from her own life, and are designed to touch the listener with relatable lyrics and soothing melodies.  With songs like Heartaches Will Mend, Promise You, and Should Have Waited, Rocio’s lyrics deal with the loss, discovery, and overwhelming feelings of love. “The deepest feeling of unconditional love I ever felt was when my daughter was born,” said Rocio. “Motherhood has brought a whole different perspective on life and priorities. It amazes me that it has made me feel so much, to the point of wanting to share it with everyone.”

Rocio put her multiple talents both in front of and behind the microphone composing, singing, and playing instruments including the violin, viola, and guitar on this album. She also arranged and engineered the tracks along with longtime collaborator Dante Pascuzzo.

Her first video from this album, Leaving Dreams was produced and directed by Eddie Arguelles of Tochtli Films.The song deals with the loss of love and realization that one must move on. It’s that moment when you realize that it’s the best thing to do for yourself,” said Rocio. The video is set in an abandoned Victorian home signifying the end of a relationship and an vibrant outdoor dried creek signifying a rebirth. “Where once you felt safe at home with a partner, now there is an empty feeling surrounded by darkness. It’s not until you search for a way out that you find the light and are able to move forward,” she said.

Her next solo album is set to be released in November 2012.

Listen to the entire album on her website:
Download the album on itunes:

More About Rocio Marron
RocioMarron. Photo by Berkeley Gray Photography.
Rocio Marron is an accomplished violinist whose passion also includes singing and songwriting.  After falling in love with music as a young girl and attending a high school for the performing arts, Marron studied performance violin at USC’s Thornton School of Music. She has toured, performed and recorded with Marc Anthony, Josh Groban, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cuban bass legend Cachao, Los Lobos, and Grammy-nominated Caravana Cubana, among others.  Rocio has also arranged and recorded as musical director for the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas, and she’s been a featured soloist with Ozomatli at the Hollywood Bowl. In film and television, Marron has recorded for major motion pictures including “Blow” starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, “Dance with Me” starring Vanessa Williams and “The Rugrats Movie”. She has also appeared on television programs such as The Young and the Restless, Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, The Rosie O’Donnel Show,  and The Tonight Show.  She performed on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, American Music Awards, Radio Music Awards, and the Grammy's. Most recently, she appeared on both the 2012 season of The Voice and American Idol. She teaches violin and guitar as a faculty member of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Latina Fashionista: Melena

Nothing is more inspiring than a woman who trailblazes through a man's world with such style and grace as this sultry diva of rhythm. In the manly world of salsa music, she shows the boys that the pulse of the earth is no more ingrain and natural than to woman. This week's Latina Fashionista is passionate Cubana percussionist

Born in Havana Cuba, Melena has mastered the traditional rhythms that have traveled from Africa to Cuba, to the dance floors of America. Her Afro-Cuban sound is a conversation of melodies which she plays with fierce passion. Melena is a multi-talented percussionist who is at home on congas, timbales, bata drums, and shekere. She exemplifies the sound of legendary players from the past, to the modern sound of today. Let's take a look her her glitzy performance outfits.

If you want to leave no doubt that you are the star of the show, you can't go wrong with a shimmering fringed sexy number like this one. The more she shakes that shekere, the more this sexy angelic outfit comes to life. It helps reveal Melena's inner rhythm with fantastic fierceness.

 Melena has a subtle style that stands out. She knows what styles fit her body and plays with patters, shimmer, and glitz. She keeps her lush locks relaxed, eyes natural, and adds a punch of color to her lips. These bikini top cut outfits flatter and accentuate her curves and the thin spaghetti straps give the illusion of more bare skin than you are actually seeing. Clever!

See this dress in motion in the great YouTube video of her interview on the Fernando Hidalgo Show, Miami . The flattering neckline is repeated here with an elegant medal and what better way to show great legs than a short miniskirt length. Light colored stilettos elongate her legs as she shows everyone that she can play and dance too!

This stunning lavender metallic piece has a fabulous Middle Eastern flair with that lovely fringe and see-thru veiled bottom. Her statement earrings are complimented by an understated silver necklace. Her best accessory has to be the lovely beaded shekere.

Another stunning piece is this skin-tight golden performance outfit she wore at Washington, DC's Cuba Libre. As she hits the stage, first comes catcalls followed by silence as she begins to play. Soon enough, the crowd realizes they're watching a pro as she shows her timbales and cymbals no mercy! You go girl! You're golden!

And just because she's so lovely, here are some stunning beauty shots.

Pictures of the play
In addition to leading her own band Melena recently wrote and staged her own play: Melena: A Cultural & Musical Journey into my Afro Cuban Roots. The play opened on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at the Sycamore Rouge Theater in Petersburg, Virginia. This was the first Latino production ever at the Sycamore Rouge. The play is a screenplay written by Melena and Jimmy Castro, and a production of Yamile Music/Ritmo Caribe Promotions. The cast consisted of Afro-Cuban percussionists and Melena playing herself in a story of a woman's journey to reconnect with her family through the culture and music of her native country, Cuba. Melena not only performed and acted in this play, it was her first production as artistic/musical director and choreographer.
Special Offer for La Vida Yaya readers! In order to inspire future generation of women percussionists, Melena has graciously offered to personally autograph the first-ever New Generation of Latina Percussionist 2012 calendar for the young, talented girl in your life! Get one for your daughter, niece, granddaughter, or little sister! Show them that women can do anything! Take a look at the list of professional women percussionists below. Who knew there were so many?

This offer is good for the first 10 orders sent to  Melena by June 15!

Let's support Melena who produced this calendar out of sheer will! This was her dream and none of the musicians were paid to model. Plus, she's not making any profit off of these sales. These talented women just want to inspires future generations. Now please place your orders and support these amazing ladies!

Place an order by emailing with the lucky girl's name to be included in the dedication. Tell her Yaya sent you! Price of calendar including shipping: $25

New Generation of Latina Percussionist 2012 Calendar Features:
January - Melena
February - Yuliet "La Papina" Abreu
March - Zoe Fuentes Aldama
April - Madelin Espinosa
May - Jessica "La Timbalera" Rodriguez
June - Yuleydi "Yula" Sosa
July - Ivette Gonzalez Kessel
August - Gretchen Pineda Corrales
September - Roselin Bey
October - Lidia Berman
November - Lisette Santiago
December - Melena

 Q&A with Melena

Who are your fashion icons?  
Melena's mom Myrna Valdes
Ohhh…I have so many. I love old black and white movies and how the women dressed back then. Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, etc…I could go on an on.  I love that era, so elegant and sensual at the same time. I also love looking at pictures of my mother and her sisters who also dressed so beautifully. But, I also love our modern Latina and Afro-American celebrities such as: Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, JLO, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Eva Mendez.  I love the long dresses that all of these actresses get to wear.  I glance through all the celebrity magazine and just adore their dresses. They are of course, expensive so I could only just dream of maybe one day being able to wear a long beautiful dress like they do one day. 

What do you fuss over the most when getting ready? 
My wardrobe! Whenever I get a contract for a special event or concert, the first thing I think is, “What am I going to wear?” I really believe that what you wear makes you feel a certain way and effects your emotions.  So, I want to not only look my best for a performance, I want to feel my best.  I take into consideration all aspects of the gig, and decide from there what I am going to wear and what is best for the occasion. The worst is when they say you have to wear all black and to be conservative. Then it feels like I’m going to some kind of job that has no creativity. The more freedom and expression I have with my wardrobe for performance, the more fun I have both on and off stage!

I usually wear my hair the same but, sometimes I like to try something new. A few times in the past, I have had my hair done at a salon on the same day of an event, coming home very unhappy with the results and having to wash it all over again and start from scratch. To avoid this from happening, I experiment with a new hairstyle at least one to two weeks prior to the event, so that I am not disappointed the day of.  Otherwise, I make sure to style my own hair and just keep it simple.  The same with wardrobe, sometimes I rather keep it simple and I feel more comfortable than trying to experiment with some new look and then not feel like myself. Although, I like to try new things…I like simplicity.

What is your favorite piece of wardrobe and why?  
My gold chain with an amulet my mother gave me several years ago of La Caridad del Cobre. When I don’t wear it, I feel like I’m missing something.  It completes my look.  I feel I’m connected to my mother, family, and roots, the land where I was born, Cuba.  

What inspires your fashion sense? 
Colors are fascinating to work with. They have a way of setting the tone/mood/vibe to your image and how you feel when you are on stage or just even hanging out. But, the biggest influence on me is the type of event that I am going to or performing at that makes the final decision on what I am going to wear.

I just finished producing a play about my life being born in Cuba and holding onto my roots through the music.  I had to organize all of the wardrobe for myself and the cast.  It took me about one month to work with the theme of the play and choose what colors to wear etc…I had so much fun.  We opened up with traditional African outfits in the colors of dark blue and gold from the Yoruba and then moved to the Congo where I chose the colors royal purple and gold. The colors looked beautiful on stage.  I also chose gold for myself and a pretty lavender to close with a rumba at the end. Everything came together beautifully.  But, yes…wardrobe, make-up, hair, colors, everything was taken into consideration.

Also, being a percussionist has a big influence on my clothes.  There was one scene that I wanted to wear a turquoise dress, but I was doing a bongo solo so I had to wear jeans instead. So, I think for me as a percussionist my wardrobe is extremely important as well. Even the dresses I wear have to be very loose fitting so that when I sit behind the congas I’m comfortable.  Now, when I go shopping or have a dress made for me I have to think “Can I play in this dress?”  Usually, I wear jeans so I try to emphasize what I’m wearing with a really pretty blouse.  I also have to be sure that the blouse I wear is comfortable enough for me to play percussion.  

For the play, I had some braids done on the left side of my hair to show my African roots. I have always done this on my performances from time to time. The girl playing my mother wore a scarf around her head, because my mother was very fashion conscience and wanted to be unique and different.  So, when you see pictures of her amongst her friends, she is the only one with a handkerchief around her head. I think that was pretty neat about her.  She was independent in her own creative way. 

Preferred lip color: Soft burgundy.

Check out Melena's YouTube clips!