Recipes Inspired by Musicals: My Fair Lady

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We live about a two-hour drive from Stratford, Ontario, which hosts the Stratford Theatre Festival every year from May to November.  They put on some terrific shows, and my girlfriends and I go once a year to take in a Shakespearean play.  I often go with my family, too, starting the year my youngest daughter was six.  And our family tradition has been to see a musical.

The first show we took the girls to was My Fair Lady.  I’ve been fond of My Fair Lady since my grade five class performed some of the songs in a massed choir performance called “Maytime Melodies”.  I’m not sure why they thought it would be a good idea to have a bunch of ten-year-olds singing lyrics like this:

“The Lord above gave man an arm of iron
So he could do his job and never shirk.
The Lord above gave man an arm of iron, but
With a little bit of luck
With a little bit of luck
Someone else’ll do the blinkin’ work.”

So why did Andrew and I decide to take the girls to this show as their first musical?  The music, as written by the talented team of Lerner and Loewe, really is wonderful.  If you prefer romantic songs, you’ll love “I Could Have Danced All Night” and (sigh) “On the Street Where you Live”.  If you like livelier music, there’s “You Did It” and “Get me to the Church on Time”.  And the aforementioned “With a Little Bit of Luck”.

The other reason we had to see the show was the cast.  Playing Eliza Doolittle was Cynthia Dale, stage performer and erstwhile star of Street Legal.  (Only my Canadian friends will know that reference, but it’s a good one.)  And playing Henry Higgins was Colm Feore, one of the great Canadian actors.  His performance completely defined the misogynistic Higgins for me.

Late in the show, Eliza thinks about life without Higgins and realizes she can live on her own.  She sings,

“There’ll be spring every year without you.
England still will be here without you.
There’ll be fruit on the tree
And a shore by the sea
There’ll be crumpets and tea without you.”

I can’t think of a more traditionally British meal than crumpets and tea.  I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour website, and we loved these delicious crumpets for breakfast.  I halved the recipe, because I couldn’t imagine the need for 20 crumpets, but you can find the entire recipe on the link below.  Mine didn’t develop as many air holes as theirs, and they were slightly thicker because I used a 3” ring mold rather than a 3 3/4” English muffin ring.  Regardless, they were great.  Try these, and you too will be wondering if the Rain in Spain stays mainly in the Plain.

(adapted from the King Arthur Flour website)


3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt


Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Cover the bowl, and let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour.  It will expand and become bubbly.  Toward the end of the rest, preheat a frying pan or griddle to medium heat.

Lightly grease the frying pan, and place well-greased 3” ring mold (or 3 3/4” English muffin mold) in the pan.  Pour sticky batter by the scant 1/4-cupful into each ring.

After about 4 minutes, use a pair of tongs to slip the rings off.  Cook the crumpets for an additional 6 minutes on the first side, until their tops are riddled with small bubbles/holes.  They should be starting to look a bit dry around the edges.

Turn over and cook for an additional 5 minutes, to finish cooking the insides and to brown the tops gently.

Remove from the pan, and repeat with the remaining batter, until all the crumpets are cooked.  Serve warm, with butter, or butter and jam.  If you prefer, cool completely, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.  To enjoy, warm in the toaster.

Yield: about 10 crumpets.

Thursday's Child: A Miscellany of Museums

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I’ve been writing about some of my favourite museum experiences this month.  This week, I’ll mention three others that I’ve visited.  None of them merit a whole post, but they each stand out for one reason:

- The least likely museum we’ve ever seen was the Marzipan Museum in Talinn, Estonia.  Did you know that Talinn was the birthplace of marzipan?  Or that there was a whole (if tiny) museum devoted to it?  Before this trip I didn’t, but one look at the fabulous creations in this tiny basement museum made me realize what I’d been missing.   I'll never look at Shrek in the same way again.

- The Alte Pinakothek in Munich was the only museum we’ve visited where we set off an alarm by being too close to a painting.  A security guard was on top of us immediately, but the sight of eleven-year old tears convinced him that it was an innocent accident.  He issued a very kind warning, and in the seven years since then, we have never set off another alarm.

- Visiting the Prado museum in Madrid marked my height of organizational and parenting skills.  I couldn’t visit Madrid without seeing the Prado, but I knew it would be a tough sell for the girls.  So I told them they’d each be an expert on a Spanish painter of their choice.  My youngest daughter bought into this when I told her she could do her research on-line, especially when I agreed that she could design a brochure too.  She took her expert designation seriously; I’m not exaggerating when I say that we didn’t leave the Prado until we had seen every single Goya on display.  (And every Father's Day, the girls give Andrew a copy of Goya's masterpiece, "Saturno Devouring his Children", with great amusement.)

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Chess

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When I travelled in Europe in 1987, my trip ended with ten days in London. I had met my friend Ruth on a Contiki tour at the beginning of my journey, and soon found out she was a fan of live theatre, too.  She’d already been to London, and couldn’t say enough about Chess, the musical that was taking London by storm.

I wasn’t sure – there were so many great musicals playing, and I’d never even heard of Chess – but I went with her recommendation, bought a same-day half-price ticket and found myself in the theatre.  Three hours later, I came out, having been blown away by one of the most moving, clever and brilliant musicals I’ve ever seen.

The story is of an American chess master battling a Russian opponent, and the woman who is caught between them. The lyrics are very funny, the music is catchy, and the story is unforgettable.  But Chess remained a West End phenomenon.  A completely rewritten version ran for just two months on Broadway; it has never really found any success outside of London.

The music is unlike nearly any other musical I’ve seen – brilliant and brash, profound and profane.  None of the characters are standard good guys, as they all come to the tournament with some kind of emotional baggage and leave even more damaged.  And all these years later, the music is as vivid as when I walked out of the theatre in 1987.

Chess pie is a traditional southern U.S. dessert, and I hadn’t even heard about it until recently.  It’s very simple; once you’ve made the pie crust, everything else is simply stirred together and poured in.  I loved the pie almost as much as I loved the musical, and you can be sure I’ll make it again.  The best strategy to make sure you get your fair share?  Just prepare a good opening gambit, and don’t forget to protect your pieces (of pie).

Chocolate Chess Pie

1 unbaked 9” pie shell (preferably homemade)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 heaping Tbsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt
5 ounces evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa and salt.  Add the evaporated milk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla.  Stir together until everything is completely combined.

Pour the filing into your pie shell and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.  If necessary, cover it with aluminum foil partway through to avoid getting too dark.  When the pie is finished, it will be set but still a little jiggly in the centre.

Cool the pie on a wire rack.  Serve it warm or chill for a few hours before slicing.

Thursday's Child: Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Lycian Sarcophagus
The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are a collection of three buildings, situated next to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.  Between them, they house nearly a million archaeological pieces.  We visited two of the buildings, and were staggered by the breathtaking collection that we saw.

The first, and largest, building that we visited is simply known as Archaeological Museum, and it holds pieces from a number of ancient civilizations, including Greece, Turkey and the Roman Empire.  The Alexander Sarcophagus is probably the best-known artifact.  A carving along one of the sides depicts Alexander the Great at war against the Persians and, despite its name, the sarcophagus actually belonged to the king of the Persians.  Carvings along the other sides depict animal hunts.  This sarcophagus is considered one of the most artistic and best-preserved anywhere in the world.

The Sarcophagus of Tabnit
Mummy of King Tabnit
The Sarcophagus of Tabnit is also a renowned part of the collection.  King Tabnit was one of the rulers of Sidon, in modern-day Lebanon.  The coffin was built in the shape of a human, and is beautifully carved. The king’s mummy was removed from the sarcophagus and lies in display under glass beside it.  This was done in defiance of the inscription on the tomb, which warns potential grave robbers that they’ll be cursed if they disturb his body. Inscriptions are in both Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Phoenician alphabet.

Statue of Alexander the Great

We were fortunate to visit in early 2010, when The Discus Thrower was on loan from the British Museum.  Note that when this statue was sold to an English collector in the late eighteenth century, while it was being restored the head was placed incorrectly on the statue.  It should face toward the discus, not the ground.

Having been awed by the Archaeological Museum, we went next door to see The Museum of Islamic Art in the Tiled Kiosk.  Last week I wrote about how I love small museums and this was no exception.  Just a couple of rooms, it was full of light and colour, and we fell in love with the collection immediately. 

The kiosk was built in the late fifteenth century, and was originally part of the Topkapi Palace before being annexed by the museum.

The Mihrab from the Ibrahim Bey Mosque.  A mihrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque
 that indicates the direction of Mecca, and thus the direction that should be faced in prayer.

This tiled peacock fountain was one of the most beautiful items in the collection.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Mary Poppins

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Most of you likely know the story of Mary Poppins, the magical nanny who appears out of nowhere to bring happiness to the Banks family.  Although I don’t remember much about the movie, I have vivid memories of the soundtrack.  My sister Gwen and I listened to the record many times when we were kids, and some of our favourite songs were on that album.  We giggled along with “I Love to Laugh”, when Uncle Albert, Bert and the children floated to the ceiling with laughter.  “A Spoonful of Sugar” was almost powerful enough to convince me that cleaning could be fun.  I must admit that the charms of “Sister Suffragette” were lost on us, but we spent many hours singing, dancing and acting with the rest of the songs.

In one scene, Mary (played by Julie Andrews in the movie) and Bert (Dick Van Dyke) are on an outing in the countryside when Bert describes a perfect day in “Jolly Holiday”:

“Ain’t it a glorious day?
Right as a mornin’ in May
I feel like I could fly
‘Ave you ever seen the grass so green
Or a bluer sky?

“Oh, it’s a jolly holiday with Mary
Mary makes your ‘eart so light
When the day is gray and ordinary
Mary makes the sun shine bright.”

Mary with her parasol, and Bert with his cane, stroll through an animated land, and are serenaded by barnyard animals.  Finally, they arrive at a restaurant where they’re served by penguin waiters, and Mary describes the ultimate meal for this perfect day:

“Now then, what’d be nice
We’ll start with raspberry ice
And then some cakes and tea.”

Mary Poppins was always right, and this time was no exception.  Whether you're a banker or a chimney sweep, a nanny or a penguin, raspberry ice cream makes every day a little more jolly.

Raspberry Ice Cream
(from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz)

1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups strained raspberry puree (from 5 – 6 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries, pureed in a food processor then pressed through a mesh strainer to get rid of the seeds)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Warm the half-and-half and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.  Mix in the raspberry puree and lemon juice, then stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill thoroughly in the fridge, but to preserve the fresh raspberry taste, churn the ice cream within four hours after making the mixture.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, you can still make this recipe, using Lebovitz’s directions as follows:  Pour the cooled mixture into a baking dish or bowl and put it in the freezer for about 45 minutes.  Then stir it very thoroughly, so that any bits that are beginning to harden are completely mixed through.  Repeat these steps every half hour until the ice cream is thick and creamy, about 2 to 3 hours. 

Thursday's Child: Peggy Guggenheim collection, Venice, Italy

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Large museums can be a wonder.  They often have huge collections spread over multiple wings, and a number of important works of art that can’t be missed.  But sometimes for those very reasons, they can be overwhelming.  Some of my favourite museums have been smaller ones, where I can take my time, slow down from speed-browse gait, and really reflect on the art that I’m seeing.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is one such intimate museum, and I fell in love with it the first minute I stepped through the gates. 

Peggy Guggenheim was a member of the New York Guggenheim dynasty, and her life was full of people and events that were truly larger than life.  Her father was one of the victims on the Titanic. As a young woman, Peggy lived in London and Paris, where she amassed a large collection of art.  She met Samuel Beckett at a dinner party hosted by James Joyce; she and Beckett had a brief affair, but his biggest influence on her was encouraging her to focus on modern art.  Peggy intended to open a museum in Paris, but fled the city just a few days before the Nazis invaded.  She was instrumental in promoting the careers of a number of artists, most notably Jackson Pollock, and married the German painter Max Ernst in 1941.

After divorcing Ernst a few years later, she moved to Venice and settled herself and her collection in a beautiful palazzo.  After her death, the building was converted into a museum, and the gallery opened to the public.

One of my favourite elements of her collection is the outdoor sculpture garden.  The sculpture at the top of this post, Lion by Mirko Basaldella, reflects the name of her home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. 

And the most popular feature of the garden is Wish Tree, designed by Yoko Ono.  This tree is covered in pieces of paper on which people have written their wishes.  Reading through earlier entries revealed a list that ranged from the extravagant to the poignant.

I didn’t hang a wish on the tree.  But if I had, I might have used it to ask if I might return to this beautiful museum someday.

Recipes inspired by musicals: An American in Paris

Saturday, October 6, 2012

When I was in university, I fell in love with the Gershwins.

It was actually an Ella Fitzgerald recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s songs that I fell in love with.  I never knew whether it was George’s perfect music, Ira’s clever lyrics, or Ella’s elegant voice that drew me in.  Whichever it was, I listened to this record as much as anything in those days, including the Beatles and The Police, and that’s quite a lot.

Later, when Andrew and I chose a first song to dance to for our wedding, there was really only one option.  It had to be a Gershwin composition, and we went with “(Our) Love is Here to Stay”.  The version we chose was sung by Nat King Cole, and it was a perfect way to start our marriage.

When our first daughter was born, I remember being alone in the hospital room that first night with a crying baby.  I settled her by singing “Embraceable You” and “Someone To Watch Over Me”. 

So you can probably guess that I think the Gershwin brothers’ movie An American in Paris is absolutely delightful.

In addition to the music, the other element that makes this movie so watchable is Gene Kelly.  Kelly was a notorious perfectionist, and he makes every step look effortless.   I’ve never seen a musical number that’s more charming than when he teaches a group of French children how to speak English in  “I Got Rhythm”.  And with co-stars Oscar Levant in “Tra-La-La” and Georges Guétary in “S’Wonderful”, he took a film with a very simple plot and turned it into one that won an Oscar for best movie in 1951.

In short, An American in Paris – with superb music, unbeatable lyrics, and dancing that will take your breath away – is everything a musical should be.

There are a million wonderful recipes that An American in Paris might inspire, but I immediately thought of the food I ate as a young Canadian in Paris on an exchange trip.  On the second day of my trip, I ordered a sandwich in a tiny café. Back home it would have been called a grilled cheese with ham, and it would have made a nice lunch.  But there it was called a Croque Monsieur, and in that tiny café it felt like the most delicious meal I’d ever eaten.

(If you’re new to the blog, welcome to my semiannual feature of recipes inspired by musicals!  Previous months can be found here, here and here.)

Croque Monsieur
(from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris.  This recipe makes a large amount of cheese sauce and enough sandwiches for a big group.  You may wish to halve it.)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp kosher salt
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked ham, sliced thin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for two minutes.  Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened.  Off the heat, add the salt, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere and the Parmesan.  Set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on two baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes.  Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere.  Top with another piece of toasted bread.  Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes.  Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned.  Serve hot.

Thursday's Child: Vasa Museum, Stockholm

Thursday, October 4, 2012

We’ve visited a lot of museums on our travels – perhaps more than the younger Pollocks might have wished – but I haven’t written much about them.  Often museums forbid photography, and even when it’s allowed, the pictures don’t always turn out well.  But this month I’ll try to rectify this omission by writing about a few museums we’ve seen. 

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden was built specifically to house the Vasa, a ship that sank in 1628 and wasn’t retrieved until 1961. 

King Gustavus Adolphus commissioned this ship to head up the fleet that was involved in the Thirty Years’ War in the Baltic region.  Sweden had had success with smaller vessels, but the king wanted a monumental ship that would strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.  And he wanted it immediately.

From the beginning, his orders were to build the ship as big as possible, as ornate as possible, and as quickly as possible.  The Vasa was loaded with more ammunition than any other Swedish ship of the time.  Enormous sums of money were spent on decoration; for example, nearly 500 sculptures decorated the exterior of the ship, including renditions of lions, Roman emperors and Biblical symbols.

A stability test was ordered late in the ship’s construction.  The testing was cut off shortly after it began because they were afraid the ship would capsize.

You can see this one coming, right?

The Vasa’s maiden voyage was on August 10, 1628.  A huge crowd had gathered on the shore to watch it sail away including the king, many of the foreign dignitaries that he hoped to impress, and hundreds of commoners who wanted to be present for the launch.

Everything started well.  There was barely a breeze as the Vasa set sail.  Truly, this was a ship like no one had seen before.

It left the protection of the harbour, and that’s when the problems started.  A gust of wind knocked the ship off-balance.  The crew quickly reacted and righted it.  Danger averted.

But a minute later, another stronger gust assailed the Vasa.  The mighty ship began to list and a lower deck started to take on water.  This caused it to list even more and, in full view of the dazed spectators, the Vasa sank.

Unbelievably, the ship had travelled only 120 metres from shore.  Rescue ships were sent out immediately and some crew members were rescued, but at least thirty people died.

The Vasa stayed on the bottom of the ocean for 333 years.  In the mid-twentieth century, rescue technology was sophisticated enough to attempt a retrieval.  After years of preparation, the ship was pulled to the surface and stored in temporary quarters, until a new museum was designed and built in 1990.

We loved seeing the Vasa, still majestic all these years later.  In fact, we were so impressed that the rest of my family wrote a poetic homage to it (because that’s what our travels are all about: been there, took the photos, wrote the limerick).

“In Stockholm, the Vasa was grand
They cheered and they struck up the band.
But the Swedish King cussed
When an innocent gust
Made her sink twenty minutes from land.”