Just 12 days and counting til I’m off to Spain, and I find myself — yet again — making a last minute decision to try and improve my Spanish before I’m smack in the middle of it again.  What in the name of Pete am I doing?  I fiddle away my spare time  (Ok, what spare time?) when I’m in the U.S. and every time I realize the trip is coming up, I suddenly decide it’s time to get crackin’.  Oy vey.

So this time I was determined to put some effort into it.  Here’s my solution.  I talked with my friend and partner-in-crime Salli, who speaks perfect Spanish and is (bonus!) a Spanish teacher.  She agreed to help out so we called in a friend of hers who also wants to study, and we have instant Spanish class.  Well, except that we’ve only had 1 class and I”m leaving in 12 days.

Here’s the best part, that I highly recommend if you’re trying to learn Spanish.  Forget the formal training and find someone who is either a native or near-native level Spanish speaker, invite them over for a glass of wine, and just speak Spanish.  Ask them to correct you (gently of course) and stick to Spanish for the entire conversation.  In our case, tomorrow I’m preparing tapas,  I’ve got Spanish wine chilling, and the ladies will be brushing up their Spanish.  Oh, and the bonus?  A glass of wine lowers your inhibitions and helps you relax and not think so hard about what you need to say.  The language flows more easily, and you can enjoy the language instead of stressing over it.

Try it sometime — I highly recommend Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic – see below) with a nice chilled Albariño (wonderful Spanish white wine), together with a bit of good crusty bread to soak up the garlic and olive oil.  Now I’m curious how the Albariño would go with Tortiilla Española (come back for a special lesson on this egg artform) — I think I better find out and report back.

Gambas al Ajillo  — Shrimp in Garlic

1/2 lb shrimp  (leave the shells on for more flavor, but peel them if you want it to be easier for your friends)

3 – 4 cloves of fresh garlic – diced  (adjust to taste – but use plenty of garlic)

Good olive oil

Sea salt

In a small skillet or clay cazuela, cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coat of good olive oil.  Add the garlic and stir quickly for just a few seconds to bring out the flavor of the garlic.  Add the shrimp all at once and stir gently until the shrimp is opaque — don’t cook them too long!  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  Serve in a ceramic dish (or leave in the cazuela – just warn guests it’s hot).  Provide toothpicks to pick up the shrimp and place on a thin slice of good crusty bread.  YUM!  (don’t forget to dip bread pieces in the garlic oil)