Monday, February 25, 2013

Vino Love - deLormier Winery Primitivo, 2010

Alexander Valley, Sonoma County

Happy Monday Kittens...alright, you and I both know that's a stretch.

Mondays are notoriously difficult and I find that a glass of wine can be instrumental in ending a less than stellar day on a better note.  

Last month I ventured up to the Bay Area for one of my closest friend's birthday celebration and, naturally, we spent a day wine tasting in Sonoma County.  To be honest, I enjoy both the wine and the atmosphere of Sonoma County better than I do Napa County.  I've been all over Sonoma, but this particular trip took us to deLormier Winery, a spot I'd heard of since my friend is a member there, but I'd never actually paid this place a visit or even tasted their wine.  deLormier is a beautiful winery that, while it's very much out of the way, is definitely worth a visit.  

photo credit and winery write-up
This was our first stop of the day.  I apologize for the lip balm smudges on my tasting glass...

deLormier has it all - a beautiful tasting room, wonderful staff, and fantastic wine!  One of the bottles that I purchased was their 2010 Primitivo.  I hadn't heard of this varietal before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and when I did a little research, I was not surprised to learn that it is very closely related to the Zinfandel grape.  This particular bottle was incredibly fruit forward.  Both the nose and flavor is overwhelmingly that of black cherry.  I got minimal tannins and, unlike a true Zin, I didn't get any spice.  I kept tasting and looking for something else, but simply kept coming back to black cherry.  Quite yummy!

I opened up this bottle on the weekend and had the last glass this evening.

Such a smooth, delicious way to end a Monday...

Salud Kittens!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eating Clean - Veggie Egg Bake

Hello Kittens!

This week marks the third week of eating superbly clean.  Aside from Brunch.  Brunch makes the world go round, and if you factor that 20 of 21 meals a week are clean, I think that has to be considered a success.  There is no way to sustain any type of healthy eating if you deprive yourself of Brunch.  It's science.

On Thursday, I made a fantastic egg bake!  I've made this dish a few times since receiving the recipe from a friend of mine.  She makes this on the weekend so that she has breakfast ready to go for the week ahead.  Since I have started having some pretty fancy oatmeal every day for breakfast (people at work have offered to buy it off of me numerous times - seriously), and I adore breakfast for dinner, I love having this with steamed vegetables - and it feels good to have something healthy on hand to pop in the microwave when I get home from work late and I need to make something quickly.  With baking time, this takes about an hour and a half from start to finish, but I'd say it's definitely worth it.

As a disclaimer, I know that eating whole or clean doesn't necessarily mean eating a processed food substitute, but in doing a good amount of research, I'm going to go ahead and make an exception for the occasional use of Egg Beaters since they are composed of 99% egg whites and 1% other stuff - click here for ingredients.  And now onto the Egg (beater) Bake!

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 tablespoon minced garlic
-3 cups chopped baby bella mushrooms
-1 1/2 cup Egg Beaters
-1 cup reduced fat milk
-Large squeeze Dijon mustard
-1/2 cup Bisquick
-2-3 tablespoons butter
-1 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I use reduced fat Mexican blend)
-2 cups chopped tomatoes
-2 cups baby spinach
-Salt and Pepper
-Cooking spray
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put olive oil, onion, and garlic into a large skillet.  Cook over medium heat until onions soften.

2. While the onions are cooking, whisk together Egg Beaters, 1/2 cup milk, and Dijon mustard in a small bowl.  Set aside.

3. Add mushrooms to softened onions and cook down.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remainder of the milk and the Bisquick.
5. Melt butter and add to the Bisquick mixture.

6. Whisk the egg mixture into the Bisquick mixture.

7. Add cheese.

8. Add sautéed mushrooms.

9. Add tomatoes, spinach, a pinch salt, and pepper.

10. Spray an 8" x 10" dish with cooking spray and pour in mixture.

11.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over top and bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in middle comes out clean of egg mixture.  Inspect knife well as the melted cheese will stick - you do not want to overbake.

12. Cut into 6 or 8 pieces and enjoy!

NOTE:  To avoid charring the spinach, make sure you've covered the leaves with the egg mixture as best you can.  Also, these are the vegetables I prefer, but you can make any changes to veggies or cheeses based on your preferences, I've heard lean meats are good in this as well.  

Hoping you have a successful week with any eating resolutions you may have made, Kittens!


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Cinematic Experience - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958

Happy Weekend Lovelies!

Last week I sat down and watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  I have owned this film for years and just thought that I had forgotten it.  Turns out, I'd never actually seen it.  And I now know that I wouldn't have forgotten this film.  Don't misunderstand...not because it's a great film.

This film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tennessee Williams.  Before I go any further, I'm going to point out that Williams did not approve of the screenplay, even telling people waiting in line to see it that the toned down movie would "set the industry back 50 years. Go home."
watch the trailer here
There are some fantastic aspects to this film and I typically enjoy play adaptations for the big screen, but for that to work, you have to give your audience characters they can care about.  Sadly, this one does not.  Not one.  Towards the end of the film, Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie and Burl Ives' Big Daddy begin to exhibit redeeming qualities, but truly that's it.  Because this is based on a play, the entire film takes place over the course of one day.  Some could argue that looking at a person's actions on just one day doesn't fully represent them.  And that's true.  Unfortunately, that argument doesn't make for an enjoyable or interesting cinematic experience this time around.

The film opens with Paul Newman's character,Brick, attempting to jump hurdles at the local high school at 3AM.  Unsuccessfully because he is drunk.  The next scene shows Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie the Cat arriving at an opulent estate belonging to Brick's father.  Brick's brother Gooper is sitting in the courtyard where his five misbehaved children are running amok while Gooper's wife Mae, or 'Sister Woman' as she is often referred to in the movie, is trying to put the finishing touches on Big Daddy's 65th birthday celebration.  We quickly get an idea of just what type of children these are when one of them puts both her hands into a tub of ice cream and then throws a handful on Maggie's legs.  

Maggie goes up to the room she is sharing with her husband Brick and begins ranting (an understandable reaction) to him.  
"One of those no-neck monsters hit me with some ice cream!"
"Now why did you call Gooper's kiddies no-neck monsters?"
"'Cause your brother's children got no necks, that's why. They're not visible. Their fat little heads sitting on their fat little bodies without a bit of connection."
"That's too bad."
"Especially when you can't wring their necks if they got no necks to wring."

This conversation takes place while Maggie is changing her ice cream-soiled stockings which Brick doesn't so much as notice.  The level of his dismissal of her is the first indication that there are some big problems here, because really, how could you NOT notice Elizabeth Taylor?  She's absolutely stunning!  "I think it's mighty fine the way that fella on the doorstep adores and still takes in my shape with what I consider deserved appreciation."  Too bad she's not talking about her husband.

We quickly learn just how cold and heartless Brick is, how callous he is with Maggie.  Conversely, we see just how desperate Maggie is for Brick to love her.  "Living with somebody you love can be lonelier than living entirely alone when the one you love doesn't love you."  Desperate.  Lonely.  Heavy.  And 100% true. She goes on in arguably the most famous monologue in the film, "If I thought you'd never never make love to me again, why, I'd find me the longest, sharpest knife I could and I'd stick it straight through my heart. I'd do that...Oh Brick, how long does this have to go on, this punishment? Haven't I served my term? Can't I apply for a pardon?...You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!"  Brick's response?  A cold, "Then jump off the roof Maggie. Jump off it...What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"  "Just stayin' on it, I guess. As long as she can."  Maggie later declares "I don't mind making a fool of myself for you."  And that's the motivation for everything that she does...the desperate need to be loved by this one man, no matter the obstacles.  On a certain level, I feel bad for her...on another level, my inner feminist wants to take her by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into her.

Unrequited love is also at the center of Big Mamma's relationship with Big Daddy.  "Oh Big Daddy, in all these years, you never believed I loved you. And I did. So much. I even loved your hate, your hardness."

The story itself is simply relationships playing out at Big Daddy's birthday celebration.  That morning he comes home from spending six weeks at a clinic where he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  This information brings out all the ugliness in Gooper's family, namely his wife, Mae.  She is saccharine sweet to Big Daddy and Big Mamma, trying to get in their good graces, so that the 28,000 acre plantation and power of attorney will be left to Gooper.  She unashamedly uses her five children to aid her in that endeavor.  It's absolutely disgusting.  I searched high and low to find a clip of the revoltingly irritating 'no-neck monsters', but I came up empty handed.  Though I did find a photo.  I'm hoping you can pick up on just how terrible this party was.

It seems that there are issues with everyone's interpersonal relationships.  Brick and Big Daddy.  Big Daddy and Big Mamma.  Big Mamma and Gooper. Gooper and Mae.  Gooper and Big Daddy.  Big Mamma and Maggie.  Maggie and Mae.  But the most severe problems lie in the relationship between Brick and Maggie. The ghost of his best friend, Skipper's, suicide haunts Brick to the point of paralysis.  Maggie pleads with Brick, "The laws of silence won't work about that, not about Skipper and us. It's like locking the door on a fire, in hopes of forgettin' the house is burnin'. Not lookin' at a fire doesn't put it out...Why won't you face the truth just once? About Skipper, about me, about yourself?"  And that is the crux of the problem - the relationship that Brick had with Skipper.  Brick's homosexuality, or bisexuality perhaps, is something that isn't that subtle, but Tennessee Williams felt that the movie downplayed that relationship to the point of ruining his play.  And still it was enough to justify Brick's alcholism.  At one point, Big Daddy asks Brick why he doesn't just kill himself.  Brick replies, "Because I like to drink."

In my opinion, Brick's inner turmoil does not excuse his actions toward Maggie.  Nor does anyone's issues or interpersonal relationships warrant the fact that they're all dicks (Gasp!  LANGUAGE!  I know, but truly, they are).  And this is my problem with this film...while the acting is really remarkable and the film exquisitely cast, these are still characters who I can barely stomach and do not want to spend any more time with.

Perhaps I'm missing something, this classic film is VERY well reviewed, critics and audiences alike seem to love everything about it.  While the film did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for several - Best Picture, Best Actor (Newman), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, and lastly, Best Actress (Taylor).  That last nomination and her performance is even more incredible when you consider that her husband, Michael Todd died in a plane crash shortly after filming began.  Like I said, the acting is amazing, and both Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are achingly beautiful, but the story and the script negate the positive aspects for me.

How many of you have seen this film?  What are your thoughts?

Here's hoping our next cinematic experiences are fabulous!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Brunch 02.17.2013 - Sister Bonding in Manhattan Beach

The Strand House & The Manhattan Beach Pier

Hello Lovelies!

Last Saturday, I posted a recap of the two Brunches I've attended in 2013.  The push to publish was the fact that I had Sunday Brunch scheduled with my sister.  Tough life, I know.

Last spring, my sister, one of oldest and dearest friends, Oma, and I had brunch at The Strand House.

When that same friend came into town at the end of the year, we returned for Sunset appetizers.  It was gorgeous.

And it was about time to pay this place another visit.  This is truly one of my favorite places!  FANTASTIC views, fantastic food, fantastic drinks, and I always go with fantastic people.  Are you getting that I think this place is fantastic?

Sunday was a truly beautiful day.  My sister and I don't get together nearly often enough and I cherish the times when we can catch up.  Like most sisters, we didn't always get along very well, but as we've gotten older, we've cultivated a very special friendship.  She is truly very special and I am proud, incredibly proud, to have her as my sister.  Alright, enough with the to get down to business.  Brunch business.  Important stuff.

The Strand House is the last restaurant on Manhattan Beach Blvd and is floor-to-ceiling windows, so each seat has a fabulous view of the water.  Breathtaking.  Also breathtaking is this view.  Upon sitting down, I ordered a small French Press, a fantastic Sunrise Over Manhattan Beach (Prosecco and tangerine juice which was a very tasty Mimosa alternative) and Sylvi ordered a Bloody Mary.

We then started with an order of the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes which were divine.  Seriously.  SOOO Good!

For our main courses, Sylvi had the House-Smoke Salmon Platter which included robiolina, which is the Italian equivalent for cream cheese.

Sylvi found it on accident.  Quite inventive presentation...

Last time we had Brunch here, I ordered the Salmon Benedict and I ordered it again.  It was just as good as I remembered!

After Brunch, we took a stroll on the pier.  The views were beautiful!

There was even a man who brought a sprinkler head so that the pigeons could frolic and bathe.  They were having a grand time.

At the end of the pier, we even had a dolphin sighting!  Actually it was a pod of dolphins and it totally made our afternoon.

We made a great friend!  It got pretty serious pretty quickly.

Two fabulous ladies had a fantastic day.

Au revoir ma soeur!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eating Clean - Minestrone

Hello Lovelies!

Last week I posted about eating clean.  While a strong driving factor for me is being able to fit into those pieces sitting in my closet that simply no longer zip up, I have recently come across many articles about the things that are hiding in our food.  Things that NO ONE should be eating.  So, I'm going back to basics...even the source of 'natural flavoring' is disturbing.  If you've got a strong stomach, you might want to click here.  I found this comprehensive list while searching for a castoreum link, but knowledge is power, so I'm giving you a little more 'food' for thought.

I am inspired by the clean eating of the Mediterranean diet.  This way of eating, while spawning multiple 'diet' books and the offshoot Sonoma Diet, it is really just a common sense approach to food.  Know what goes into it and make it good using real ingredients.  It stresses enjoying your food and the combination of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, olive oil, seafood, and wine and has resulted in a 50+% lowering of early death rates in people who have adopted this way of eating for 10 years.  This is how I tend to eat normally, but recently, I have not been as diligent as I should be when it comes to avoiding processed foods.  And that has been my downfall.  Those from the Mediterranean, naturally, have the European mindset that a meal is a celebration and that healthy relationship with food is something that Americans tend to lack.  I suppose that has contributed to my downward spiral - when you are living alone, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get in the kitchen and start cooking when you can simply microwave something instead.  And good luck in trying to say healthy when you are putting shit into your body.

Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, and an unnamed woman enjoying dinner in  a photo from Life Magazine in 1958.

On Saturday, I carved out about an hour and a half and made myself a pot of Minestrone.  Below is my modified version of the recipe found in The Sonoma Diet.  I highly recommend picking this book up!

-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon minced garlic
-1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 cup celery, chopped
-1 cup carrots, chopped
-3 cups baby spinach
-2 14-ounce cans basil, garlic, and oregano diced tomatoes
-2 14-ounce cans white beans
-6 cups organic vegetable broth
-1/2 cup orzo pasta
-salt and pepper to taste
-sprinkling of Parmesan cheese

1. Place extra-virgin olive oil, onion, and garlic in a large pot.  Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are soft, approximately 4 minutes.
2. Add carrots, celery, and Italian seasoning.  Cook for 10 minutes until carrots start to soften.

3. Add tomatoes with juice and drained beans.  Cook 10 minutes.

4. Add vegetable stock.  Bring to a simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.
5. Stir in orzo.  Cook 15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through.
6. Add the spinach.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

7. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

8. Enjoy!

Note:  This makes A LOT of soup.  Also, by cooking the orzo in the soup, it thickens up and becomes more like a stew than a soup, but you can always add more stock if you want to thin it out a little.  Although I love this with the orzo, I may try making this with pearl barley next time to give it a little more chew.  This has become my go-to soup, especially in the winter.  If you try this one out, which would be my suggestion, please tell me what you think.

Happy cooking, Kittens!