Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wine tasting: Charles Smith's "The Velvet Devil" Merlot, 2013.

(For all the wines I've tried in 2016, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this entry, or simply "wine" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

So the rainbow of wine tastings here in 2016 continue apace; working my way since New Year's from the heaviest to lightest of twenty famous grape types, I've now tried Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chianti, which means this week it's finally time for Merlot! As most people know, Merlot has been far and away the most popular type of red wine for the last several decades, and for good reason; it features the bold colors and tastes of wines much darker than it, but delivers a much smoother and less tannic taste (due to the grapes being lighter-skinned than other deep red grapes, which then ripen and are picked earlier in the year). It goes with just about every type of food you can imagine, can grow in pretty much any region of the world, and is essentially the wine most people turn to when asked to bring a bottle of red to a dinner party.

Since there's no one particular region particularly well-known for Merlot, I decided to go with a Washington State winery today, Charles Smith Wines which has a fascinating history. (The owner, who seems to be around the same age as me, spent a decade as a rock-band manager in Europe in his youth; then after moving to Seattle in the '90s and opening a wine store there, he got the bug to start making his own, eventually winning accolades from a whole series of industry publications.) Like many "New World" wines, this is known by a cute brand name ("The Velvet Devil") instead of by its grape type, with a sharp little label designed by award-winning Danish graphic designer Rikke Korff.

“The Velvet Devil” Merlot, 2013
Columbia Valley, Washington
13.5% ABV
Wine Advocate rating: 87

Look: A deep and bright purple that looks almost identical to the darker reds I tried earlier this year; apparently this is a hallmark of Washington State Merlot, with wine from other areas having not quite as deep a color.

Smell: Significantly less intense than the darker reds I've so far tried this year, a delicate aroma with a hint of sourness.

Taste: A smooth and soft taste like the Pinot Noir I tried a few weeks ago, but with more of a bite than it, containing a strong flavor of such “semi-sweet sweet” fruits as cherries and with just a hint of oak. With almost no taste of tannins at all, and with lots of acid that make the lips tingle, this goes down as easily as a typical glass of white, making it easy to see why this is the red wine of choice for people who don't normally enjoy red wine.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New diet recipe: Salmon Pan Bagnat.

(For all the recipes I've posted in 2016, click the "recipes2016" label at the bottom of this entry; or just "recipes" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

New diet recipe! This is a "pan bagnat," a specific type of sandwich that originally became famous in Nice, France, in which a helping of salad nicoise is placed inside a hollowed-out roll and sat aside for awhile to soak in the juices. In my case I substituted salmon for tuna, and left out the hardboiled egg. 250 calories for each sandwich you're seeing!

Serves 4

.3 cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp chopped olives
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt and pepper
6 oz (1 can) tuna or salmon
1 hardboiled egg, chopped
.25 cup sliced basil
2 tsp olive oil
1 large baguette
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 cup sliced tomato

Combine first seven ingredients; combine basil and oil in separate bowl. Cut baguette in half, then scoop out insides. Rub cut garlic over cut sides of bread then discard. Drizzle basil mixture over insides of bread, then spoon in tuna mixture. Add tomato slices. Wrap finished sandwich in saran wrap and let sit for at least a half-hour.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wine tasting: Renzo Masi's "Fattoria di Basciano" Chianti, 2012.

(For all the wine tastings I've done in 2016, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this post, or simply "wine" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

So to give new readers a brief recap: One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to get better educated about wine (which dovetails nicely with two other resolutions, to finally start throwing dinner parties at my apartment regularly, and to start doing more creative and intellectual things simply for the sake of being creative and intellectual); so the first thing I'm doing as part of this education, which will last approximately the first four months of this year, is making my way through a rainbow of 20 different popular wine types, and doing them in order from the darkest reds to the lightest whites, each time picking wineries from areas that are particularly well-known for that particular type of wine. (After that, a couple of months of learning just about French wines, which should be interesting; and if you have a suggestion for a topic for me to take on after that, by all means drop me a line at and let me know!)

I've already been through Shiraz* (from Australia), Malbec (from Argentina), Cabernet Sauvignon (from South Africa) and Pinot Noir (from the US's Washington State); and tonight, Chianti! (And yes, in answer to your question I know you're already asking, it is federal law that lazy journalists must always refer to Silence of the Lambs when writing cheesy "Wine 101" guides to Chianti.) Chianti is the first "Old World" wine that I've tried this year, which is another way of saying "European" (seriously, that's all those terms mean -- "Old World" means European wine, "New World" means "everywhere else on the planet"); and like many Old World wines, the word "Chianti" doesn't refer to a type of grape (most Chiantis are made primarily of Sangiovese grapes, most often blended with a small amount of local grapes), but rather a region in Europe, in this case the Chianti region of Italy whose most famous cities are Florence and Pisa. (Chianti is actually a small section of the much larger and more famous "Tuscany" region of Italy, and for many years the word on wine labels referred to just that tiny section of Tuscany; but in 1932, crazy ol' Mussolini expanded the definition of "Chianti wine" to include most of Tuscany itself, a definition that still exists to this day. If you want to get highly particular about what kind of Chianti you're drinking, wine from the original Chianti boundaries is known as "Chianti Classico," and is legally the only type of Italian wine allowed to include a black rooster on their label; the wine I tried tonight is "Chianti Rufina," from a little valley immediately northeast of Florence.)

*And some bad news to report -- in an attempt to delete an extra posting of my Shiraz tasting, the very first wine I tried this year, through my buggy Blogspot user interface, I accidentally deleted both postings so that it no longer exists. I do have my original tasting notes about the wines themselves, though, so maybe one day I'll get around to rewriting the blog post about the subject. Now that I've started getting really active again with my Blogspot blog this year, in fact, I've come to realize that their user interface is really buggy, in a way that it used to not be; makes me wonder just how much support Google is giving to this platform anymore, and whether I should maybe move this entire blog to a place like Medium or WordPress or Tumblr.)

Let's just admit it, that Chianti has suffered a major blow in reputation in the last few decades; originally a highly respected local variety that goes back hundreds of years (like so many now-famous European wines), Italy cranked up its production to massive proportions after World War Two in order to stimulate their economy, eventually becoming famous in America in the Mid-Century Modernist years for its distinctive straw baskets served on red-and-white checkered tablecloths (the literal origin of these American stereotypes for "Italian restaurant"). And while this was enough to make Chianti the most popular red wine in America during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the sloppy quality of their unregulated industry caused the entire region to suffer a huge backlash among American wine lovers starting in the 1980s, as both US drinkers became a lot more refined and the California wine industry suddenly became a world-class one. It's a backlash that still continues to this day, but be aware that most vintners in Chianti are now much like the professionals in New World countries; dedicated to bringing quality back to their much maligned community, that is, including a trend to make modern Chiantis almost entirely out of Sangiovese grapes so to better advertise their "purity."

My tasting notes below are from a few days ago when I first tried the wine, so will repeat a few things I've mentioned here in my recap; but in particular I wanted to mention again how funny it was to taste Chianti for the first time and realize that this smells and tastes exactly like the ideal I've always had in my head of "how wine should smell and taste," undoubtedly a result of being a child in the 1960s and '70s when Chianti was still the go-to red wine for American dinner parties among all my hippie parents and their friends. It was also interesting to try Old World wine for the first time in 2016, and to realize why Old World fans say that European wines are so much more "refined" than New World; since European grapes grow in generally a much cooler climate than the most famous regions of New World wine (such as California, South America, Australia and South Africa), the flavors of Old World wines are less "in your face" and thus more nuanced and complicated. But then again, it's easy to understand why the general wine-buying public has been turning more and more to New World wines recently to begin with; because you have to have a refined palette and some education in order to appreciate refined wines for what they are, while New World wines are much more akin to such modern developments as craft beers and dark roast coffees, a thing to enjoy just unto itself and not necessarily because it "pairs" well with food. An interesting schism to say the least, and I must admit that I don't know enough about wines yet to have a strong opinion one way or another.

Chianti Rufina (95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino), 2012
Rufina, Italy
13.5% ABV
Wine Advocate rating: 90

Look: A strong dark purplish-red like the other wines I've so far tried this year, only more transparent and easier to catch the light. Liquid surface displays the same magenta glint as Malbec.

Smell: It's funny that Chianti was known as the defacto “red wine” in America during the Mid-Century Modernist years, because so far in my 2016 tastings, this smells more like my definition of “what wine smells like” than any other wine I've tried, clearly a reflection of being around so many bottles of Chianti in my childhood in the 1960s and '70s. An extremely strong musty smell that reminds me of a suburban home's basement, which I'm coming more and more to realize is the same thing that wine lovers call an “oaky” smell, the result of the wine being aged for an extra-long time in a subterranean cellar within oak barrels (over a year in this case).

Taste: Thick like the other dark reds I've tried this year, but definitely sweeter and lighter than the Shirazes, Malbecs and Cabaret Sauvignons, with the kind of “mid-sweet sweet” you might find in a fruit like cherries (versus the “not-sweet sweet” of something like Shiraz, reminiscent of blackberries). Less intense a flavor as well, something that in general just goes down a lot easier than most of the other dark reds I've tried this year; this is in fact my first Old World wine of 2016, and it's easy to see why Old World fans call wines like these a more nuanced and complicated flavor than the out-and-out brashness of New World wines.

After a Full Glass: After having an entire glass with a dinner of chicken and vegetables, it's easy to see why so many people prefer the more “refined” taste of an Old World wine with food, because the uniqueness of this Chianti almost entirely disappeared while eating, as if I was literally having a glass of flavored water instead. I have to admit, though, as someone who loves the so-called “harshness” of things like black coffee and stout beer, I already find myself starting to gravitate more towards the bold nature of New World wines (featuring grapes grown in generally much hotter temperatures than Europe, and thus display a much more intense flavor).

More: The winery's website describes this wine as having an aroma of “violets,” which after the fact I realize is an excellent way of describing an Old World wine like this versus a New World wine – an Old World wine is delicate like a flower, at its most enjoyable when you yourself can appreciate subtle things (and have the education to detect the subtlety).

*And a piece of trivia – this was my first wine of 2016 to come bottled with an actual real cork, versus an artificial cork or simply no cork at all (i.e. a screw-on top), a BIG feature of hipster wineries who take more of their cues off craft breweries than off traditional European vintners.

Diet recipe: Baked chicken with cocoa/pumpkin seed paste.

(For all the recipes I tried in 2016, click the "recipes2016" label at the end of this post, or simply "recipes" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

Tried a new diet recipe the other night! This is a simple baked chicken breast with a complicated paste that was put around it, made up among other things of cocoa, pumpkin seeds, raisins, cloves, cinnamon and more. My friend Carrie laughed when she stopped by that night and saw me eating this, because she said it looked so stereotypically like some dish you'd find in a diet cookbook; but I gotta say, this was really good! The chicken itself is 307 calories, not counting the vegetables you're seeing in the photo; full recipe below.

Serves 4

1 tbsp onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 tomato, seeded and cut into 4 pieces
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp chili powder
Pinch of cloves
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa
.5 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 skinless chicken breasts (4 oz apiece)

Process all but chicken until smooth. Coat chicken breasts with mixture, cook in 375 degree oven 15 min (or just until chicken is barely cooked through).

Friday, January 15, 2016

2016 movie viewings #4: WR: Mysteries of the Organism.

2016 movie viewings, #4: WR: Mysteries of the Organism. THREE STARS. When I first added this to my queue I thought it was a traditional documentary about Wilhelm Reich, the influential but ultimately nutjob psychology innovator of the early 20th century. But this turned out to be a lot different than that; shot in 1971, it's not exactly a documentary, but a documentary-style look at the small New England town where Reich set up his operations after World War Two, but then is cut together with what can only be called a pornographic communist propaganda film, shot in Soviet Yugoslavia with all Serbian dialogue, which is then itself cut together with random shots of hippies walking down sidewalks in New York City acting deliberately outrageous, which is then topped with a few minutes of interviews with such famous '70s San Francisco "sex artists" as Cynthia Plastercaster and Betty Tompkins. Utterly worthless as a traditional film, and you owe it to yourself to be aware of that before renting it; but as a historical document of the early 1970s it's AMAZING, an indispensable look at the most radical fringe of the countercultural era, one that gives a much better understanding of why people back then were so tolerant of such dangerous quackery as encounter groups and other such "let your freak flag fly" psuedo-science.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New diet recipe and new wine tasting: Bacon-wrapped salmon steaks and Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon.

(For all my 2016 wine tastings, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this blog, or "recipes2016" for diet recipes; or for all the writing I've ever done on the subject, click "wine" or "recipes.")

A special two-in-one post tonight -- a new diet recipe to share, and a new wine tasting that went with it! The recipe's actually really easy to describe -- simply wrap a salmon steak in a couple of strips of bacon, then broil for five minutes on each side, topped with whatever herbs you have available. It sounds indulgent, but it's only 133 calories, and is a luscious little dinner for those like me who are on a diet.

And to pair with it, a bottle of South African Cabernet Sauvignon! South Africa has a similar history to other New World countries like in South America and Australia; the wine-making tradition there actually goes all the way back to the 1600s, with the original establishment of the Dutch East India Company, but for centuries the wineries there mostly grew grapes considered crap by Europeans, for cheap consumption by local blue-collar workers. After the end of apartheid, though, and especially after the economic recession of the early 2000s, South Africa found itself finally on the receiving end of a lot of new attention from places like the US, and this was combined with South African vintners making a newfound dedication to such "noble" grapes as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which benefit greatly (or so it could be argued) from the long hot days and short cold nights of these New World countries, which both ripens the grapes faster (leading to much bolder flavors than traditional European wines) and halts fermentation at night (leading to more acid in the wine, and hence a "crisper" taste).

Tonight's wine is from a tiny little winery in Robertson called Excelsior, which is actually a horse ranch as well, and has a Victorian mansion on the premises that's been turned into a 9-room inn with accompanying gourmet restaurant that tourists can stay at. Like many South African wineries, the estate was actually turned into an ostrich ranch in the 1800s, to feed the unstoppable Victorian craze for ostrich feathers; but unlike many of the others, Excelsior still continued to make wines that whole time as well, so survived after the ostrich feather boom was over, unlike most of the other ranches which went out of business. As far as I can tell, most of Excelsior's small output of wine is actually meant to be sold and drank at their on-premise inn, restaurant and deli, with only a small amount of it actually being exported through an "all tiny Cape Town estates" distributor they signed up with, which makes this a particularly delightful rare find here on the shelves of my local Whole Foods in Chicago.

(As you can see, I'm starting to build up a backlog of wines for the first time too, in preparation for my Friday night dinner parties that start on January 29th. I'll be doing them all year, so if you'd like to attend one, simply drop me a line at and let me know.)

Cabaret Sauvignon, 2013
Robertson, South Africa
14.5% ABV

Look: The darkest and most opaque wine I've had so far in 2016, with the strongest legs as well.

Smell: Very similar to the New World Shirazes and Malbecs I've tried this year too – a strong and intense aroma, heavily reflecting “not actually sweet sweet” fruits like blackcurrant, as well as what I've been calling in my head a sort of musty smell with some of the wines I've been drinking this year, which I just learned because of online reading is what others commonly refer to as a “oaky” smell, reflecting the oak barrels the wine was aged in before bottling.

Taste: This is a funny case of my initial thoughts exactly mirroring the actual situation; when I first tasted this, it occurred to me how this is just as strong a flavor as the Shirazes and Malbecs I've already tried in 2016, but how it's missing that kinda bitter, kinda “squeaky” feeling in the mouth that comes with the high tannins of dark reds (if you've ever left a bag of tea in your mug for too long, you know that sorta dry, squeaky feeling in the throat I'm talking about), and when visiting the winery's website I saw them talk about how they “rack” their wine twice a day (i.e. siphon it from one barrel to another to get rid of more and more sediment), specifically to lessen the tannin effect of dark red wines. (It's the skins of the grapes that contain all those tannins; the less the grape juice is exposed to these skins, the less tannins it has, which is why red wines always have more tannins than white.) The result is a powerfully dark yet extremely smooth wine, the first I've tried in 2016 that I can legitimately call “lush” without feeling embarrassed.

After a Full Glass: After an entire glass with a dinner of salmon steaks wrapped in bacon, I can see even more why getting rid of excess tannins might be so important to a dark red wine; for this mellowed and combined with my dinner in a way that none of the other dark reds I've tried this year have, a sort of wonderfully perfect companion to the salty, meaty treat of fish wrapped in bacon. An extremely pleasant wine, my first five-star rating of the year, and what I consider my first “hidden gem” among $10 wines I've now found*.

*And it should be noted that this is the very first wine of the year that I bought because of a recommendation from a wine clerk; specifically, a very outgoing Whole Foods wine buyer who asked if I needed any help when I was at the store today, which gave me the excuse to follow advice I read in one of my research books this year, to be honest with a wine clerk about what you already know instead of either trying to claim false modesty or put on airs. I told her that I'm a fan of dark reds, that I like New World wines, and that I didn't have more than ten bucks to spend; so based on this first interaction, certainly this confirms the advice you hear all the time in wine writing, that developing a relationship with your local wine clerks will get you access to amazing bottles you may have never heard of before.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 movie viewings #3: Adult World.

(For all my 2016 movie reviews, click the "movies2016" label at the end of this entry, or just "movies" for every movie write-up I've ever done.)

2016 movie viewings, #3: Adult World. ONE STAR. A movie about a 22-year-old girl with a poetry degree who gets a job at an adult bookstore to make ends meet, written by someone who apparently has never read a poem, has never been inside an adult bookstore, and has never met a 22-year-old girl. Featuring characterizations so bad as to be actively embarrassing to even watch -- including a poetry-major college graduate who has never done drugs, has never met a gay person, and is so embarrassed by adult toys that she throws them in the air and runs screaming from the building when she accidentally picks one up -- how this POSSIBLY attracted the likes of Emma Roberts, Evan Peters and especially John Cusack is way beyond me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

2016 movie viewings #2: Mystic River.

(For all the movies I reviewed in 2016, click the "movies2016" label at the bottom of this entry, or just "movies" for every review I've ever written.)

2016 movie reviews #2: Mystic River. THREE STARS. This wasn't nearly as good as I thought it was going to be, essentially just another Hollywood crime thriller with a plot that relies on a particularly hard-to-believe coincidence; and the once celebrated performance by Sean Penn which got this movie so much attention when it first came out (this was the movie that garnered him his very first Oscar) is now even just 15 years later already looking shrill and histrionic, kind of like watching an old Charlton Heston film these days and thinking, "How could people once be so impressed by this overacting ham?" There are great lines here and there, showing hints of the hugely admired Dennis Lehane novel this was based on, which is so well-loved precisely because it brings such a deeper and more complex sense of character than most crime thrillers; but this by-the-numbers adaptation by the usually much better Clint Eastwood flattens all that to the usual dull sheen of Hollywood movies-of-the-week, a disappointment but one that really makes me want to read the novel now.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Wine tasting: Union Wine Company's "Underwood" Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2014

(For all my wine writing this year, click the "wine2016" label at the bottom of this post, or just the "wine" label for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

So it looks like my two-bottle "head-to-head" wine tastings are over for now, soon after they begun -- and that's because I've officially started up my plans to start having dinner parties at my place on Friday nights, and it dawned on me this week how much wine I need to start stocking up in order to make it through all those dinners. (I'm having eight people over every Friday, and plan on pairing two types of wine each time with a "first half" and "second half" of dinner*; simple math shows that that's four bottles of wine I need to provide every single week, which means I need to start saving every other bottle I buy instead of drinking it myself.) But, since I follow the Mediterranean eating plan, I'm still having a glass or two of wine every night before bed; so I'll still be trying out new brands on a regular basis, slowly making my way from the heaviest types of grapes to the lightest, just now only one bottle at a time instead of cracking open two at once. (Live in Chicago and want to attend one of these dinners? Just drop me a line at and let me know -- the whole point is to bring together interesting strangers for fascinating conversations, so you're welcome too.)

(*I'm done serving courses at dinner parties; it keeps me so busy in the kitchen that I don't have time to actually sit at the table and enjoy the company. So for my dinner parties in 2016, I'm basically having a "first half" that consists of a handful of tapas-like small dishes paired with a white wine, then a "second half" of a main entree paired with a red wine, ending with sherry and dessert and beginning with cocktails and appetizers. Because if you're not getting your guests wicked drunk at your parties, you're doing something wrong.)

Tonight -- Pinot Noir from Oregon! This is the wine that was made really famous by the movie Sideways, namely because of the grape's fussiness -- since it has a thinner skin than most other dark reds, it's more susceptible to the rot and disease that come with cool and wet weather, but that's the same thing that lets it only really thrive in cool and wet weather to begin with, since it ripens early and has a hard time withstanding the blasting heat of a place like Australia or South America -- which means that when you come across a good bottle of Pinot Noir, not only did someone go to a lot of trouble to make sure it came out all right, but the nature of the wine means that it profoundly picks up the odors and tastes of the things that were around it when growing, something that wine lovers call a "complex" bottle. In fact, this is one of the big things that Pinot Noir is known for, that it can taste much more differently based on where in the world it was grown than, say, more stable grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. (And yes, "Pinot Gris" and "Pinot Blanc" are basically variations of the Pinot Noir grape; all three get their name based on the fact that their small grapes grow in tight spiral-like clusters, looking somewhat like a pine cone. Interestingly, this type of grape can be traced all the way back to Biblical times, and was one of the first types to do well in France back in 600 BC when they started making "fine" wine to begin with, although there it's generally known as "Red Burgundy" after the region where it's grown.)

Oregon is considered the number-two place in the entire United States for great Pinot Noirs, just behind their neighbors in northern California; Union Wine Company, for example, is located ten miles south of Portland, in the "Willamette Valley" region where the vast majority of Oregon's wine industry is located. Like many of the more modern "New World" (non-European) wineries, Union takes a cue off the beer industry and gives a brand name to each type of wine they make; the brand I tried tonight is called "Underwood," although they make other brands of Pinot Noirs as well. And an interesting piece of trivia too -- Union is the first company I've ever seen that also sells their wines in 12-ounce aluminum cans, and all their branding and graphic design unsurprisingly has a decidedly hipster bent.

“Underwood” Pinot Noir, 2014
13% ABV

Look: A bright and transparent red that catches the light well.

Smell: Lighter in intensity than the Shirazes and Malbecs I've tried in previous weeks, but still strong enough to be distinct. Like many others, this seemed to me to have reflections of cherries and cranberries in its odor, but I'm not sure if that's me detecting that on my own or me being influenced by what others have had to say.

Taste: Like “Cabernet Sauvignon Lite” – a full and sour taste like the dark reds I enjoy, but with not as strong an intensity, much like the difference between brewing tea three minutes versus six minutes. Still, like the Malbecs last week, this is not the “sweet sweet” we associate with a lot of fruit, but the “dark and barely sweet” of something like cranberries or blackberries.

After a Full Glass: After an entire glass that was drank at the same time as eating, it was easy to see why people are so in love with Pinot Noirs when they want to have a good red wine, because the intensity of its flavor almost magically receded into the background to let the food flavors instead shine through, unlike previous taste tests with Shiraz and Malbec where the wines generally maintained their own unique identity even when eating food at the same time. I mean, I myself don't mind that intensity in drinks – I also drink stout beer and unsweetened black coffee on a regular basis – but if your goal is to drink wine that blends seamlessly with the food you're eating along with it, it's hard to deny that Pinot Noir is exceptional for this purpose. (Also, perhaps this is such a popular wine because it gets you schnockered without realizing it; this has 50 percent more alcohol than a typical white wine you might drink with dinner, but without the intense and dark flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz that reminds you with every sip, "Don't forget, bub, you're drinking a hugely alcoholic wine right now," and I must admit that even after just two glasses I was feeling highly woozy from my Pinot Noir experience.)

Monday, January 4, 2016

New diet recipe: Poached chicken in a wine and tomato sauce.

I'm on a diet right now for the very first time in my life, which so far is going really well -- I've lost 25 pounds in the six weeks I've now been on it, and for the most part have found it to not even be the slightest bit challenging. One of the things I've been doing, then, is cooking low-calorie but interesting meals out of various cookbooks I find in the Chicago Public Library; I had been sharing those at Facebook, but will now be sharing them here since deleting my Facebook account as a New Year's resolution. This is only 170 calories for a serving the size you're seeing here, which is incredible.

Notes: 1) The original recipe calls for white wine, presumably to make the cooked mishmash look nicer; but I was just cooking for myself tonight, so used some red wine I already had in the house instead of buying a brand new bottle of white; 2) the original recipe also calls for this to be a way to cook entire chicken breasts, with the sauce spooned on top; but I've had a bag full of pre-sliced chicken strips that I haven't been using, so made more of a stew-like concoction instead; and 3) I topped mine with a liberal amount of Moroccan spice blend from Chicago's The Spice House; I love going to this Old Town store, so am always looking for excuses to give them online shout-outs.

Serves 4
169 calories

1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
Pinch of cayenne flakes
4 chicken breasts (4 oz apiece)
Pinch of salt

Cook onion in skillet over med heat 5 min. Add garlic and cook another 5 min. Add everything else but chicken and bring to a boil. Add chicken and spoon mixture on top of it. Reduce to simmer for 5 min.

2016 movie viewings #1: Magic Magic

(For all my 2016 movie reviews, click on the "movies2016" tag at the bottom of this post.)

2016 movie viewings #1: Magic Magic. This was advertised as an emo/indie psychological horror film in the style of It Follows, so imagine my disappointment to learn that it was nothing like that at all -- this is instead simply a character study about a young mentally unstable woman who goes on a vacation to South America with acquaintances, stops taking her meds, and has a serious anxiety attack in the jungle when there are no Western doctors around to help her, exacerbated greatly by the local voodoo hillbilly "cures" forced on her by their neighbors actually harming the situation much more than helping. No, seriously, that's the entire movie; and while that might have been all right if I had gone into it realizing such, it was a huge letdown when thinking this was going to be some Funny Games ripoff with Michael Cera playing a cackling psychopath (see above trailer for more). Disappointing in about the most profound way possible.