Recipes inspired by Musicals: Cinderella

Sunday, October 27, 2013
I was enchanted by Cinderella when I watched it as a little girl. I can't remember if I first saw it in the theatre or on TV, but I do remember daydreaming about acting in it ... as the Fairy Godmother. I don't know why I didn't aspire to be Cinderella, but I spent the next few months waving an imaginary wand and singing "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo".

Maybe it was the magic. I couldn't resist the allure of transforming mice into horses, and a pumpkin into a coach.  And now that I'm an adult? Transforming pumpkin into this perfect fall loaf is all the magic I need.

Pumpkin Apple Bread
(adapted from October 1993 issue of Gourmet magazine)

For the topping
1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

For the bread:
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground allspice
8 ounces solid-pack pumpkin
3/8 cup vegetable oil, such as canola oil
1 1/8 cups sugar
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped small (about 1 cup)

Make the topping: In a bowl, blend the flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9” x 5” loaf pan.  Into a medium bowl, sift together both flours, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, canola oil, sugar and eggs.  Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture, stirring until the mixture is combined well.  Fold in the apple pieces and pour into the pan.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the loaf and bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.  Let the loaf cool in the pan on a rack for 45 minutes, remove from the pan and let it cool completely.  Wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil, bread keeps well chilled for 1 week and frozen for 1 month.

Thursday's Child: Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Thursday, October 24, 2013
Last week I enthused about the coast redwoods in Muir Woods just outside of San Francisco. They were truly spectacular, but sometimes it's easy to forget about the subtle beauty closer to home.

A week and a half ago, we took advantage of a rare Monday holiday to go for a hike just north of Toronto. Along with my mother, we visited Forks of the Credit Provincial Park for our traditional Thanksgiving hike. Between the fresh air, the blue skies and the trees in their autumnal glory, it was a perfect day out.

And of course, our post-Thanksgiving walk wouldn't be complete without an all-day breakfast at John's.

Thursday's Child: Muir Woods National Monument

Thursday, October 17, 2013
My final post on the San Francisco area covers our day trip to Muir Woods National Monument. Located half an hour outside the city, the area was slated to be flooded as part of a dam project. It was saved in 1908 when congressman William Kent, who owned the land, donated it to the American government. The park was named after naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and helped establish the National Park system. 

Today, thanks to Kent's generosity, the beautiful Coast Redwoods in Muir Woods grow to 250 feet tall, and many range between 400 and 800 years old. The oldest is believed to be 1200 years old.

This monument is a place of peace and beauty, and I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Three generations visit Muir Woods

Recipes inspired by musicals - Moulin Rouge!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I’m a big fan of the director Baz Luhrmann. His first movie was the charming Strictly Ballroom, which overcame unbelievable odds just to be filmed, let alone to become a cult classic. I loved The Great Gatsby, and his version of La Boheme on Broadway was stunning.  Add Romeo and Juliet to the mix, and you might say he has an aptitude for doomed love stories.

Moulin Rouge! fits that description perfectly.  It tells the story of Sabine, the courtesan, and Christian, the penniless writer. Of course a wealthy duke tries to keep them apart; of course Sabine is terminally ill. The fact that (spoiler alert) we know they can never end up together doesn't detract from the beauty of the story. 

Moulin Rouge! is a tragicomedy, lavishly produced and over-the-top romantic. Yes, you'll need to suspend disbelief when you watch it, but if you let the brilliant visuals and gorgeous music take over, it is stunning to watch. The film editing and choice of music were both very modern; the story was incredibly old-fashioned. The combination is sensational, and it's hard to watch this movie without your heart breaking just a little. 

“Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. And then, one not-so-very special day, I went to my typewriter, I sat down, and I wrote our story. A story about a time, a story about a place, a story about the people. But above all things, a story about love. A love that will live forever, The End.”
 - from Moulin Rouge!

A recipe inspired by Moulin Rouge! had to be as French as they come, and that’s why I chose this wonderful French Onion Soup.  The soup is simple enough that Christian might have warmed himself by eating it on a wintry French evening; the Gruyere-coated crouton is rich enough that the wealthy Duke would have lingered over it. 

Although it takes a while to prepare, it’s delicious and perfectly filling for a cool day.  This version won such enormous acclaim from my family that I won’t wait long before making it again.

French Onion Soup

4 – 5 large Spanish onions (about 4 pounds)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken broth
6 slices country bread
1 1/2 cups coarsely grate Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese (6 ounces)

Using a long chef’s knife, cut 1 onion in half from top to bottom.  Lay it cut side down on the cutting board, cut it lengthwise in half again, leaving it intact at the root end, and then thinly slice crosswise.  (Discard the root end.) Repeat with remaining onions.

Put the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot and put the pot over low heat.  When the butter is melted, add onions and garlic, season with salt, and stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they are a deep caramel colour.  Be patient: depending on the heat and the onions, this may take an hour or more. (Note: it took me about an hour and a quarter.) Don’t be tempted to speed things up, because if you burn the onions, your soup will taste bitter.  On the other hand, if you don’t get the onions really brown, your soup will be pale in taste and looks.

Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir for a minute or so to cook away the flour’s raw taste. Pour in 1/3 cup wine and stir to pick up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pot. Let the wine cook away, which will take a minute or two. Pour in the chicken broth and the remaining 2/3 cup wine, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid just simmers, partially cover the pot, and cook for 30 minutes.  (You can set the soup aside for up to 2 hours, or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes before continuing.)

Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place 6 rounds of bread on it.  Sprinkle the cheese over the bread and broil until the cheese is bubbly.

Ladle the soup into bowls and cover each bowl with a round of bread.  Serve immediately.

Thursday's Child: San Francisco tour

Thursday, October 10, 2013

San Francisco is well-known for a few iconic attractions, including The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Powell-Hyde cable car ride.  When we visited earlier this year we loved all of those things, but San Francisco has a wealth of wonderful areas to visit. Last week I wrote about the California Academy of Sciences, and this week I’ll share some of our favourite destinations in the city.

A visit to any city isn’t complete without a trip to a bookstore.  The choice in San Francisco was easy – we had to see City Lights.  This bookstore came to national and international prominence in 1956 when its owner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.  He was arrested on obscenity charges, but won in a landmark trial that defined freedom of speech in literature.  The Beat movement had a strong connection with the store and its publishing arm; Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs were all affiliated with it. Today, it has a great collection of interesting books, and this is where I did most of my shopping.

City Lights may have been known for the beatniks, but Haight-Ashbury is the street corner most associated with the hippies. In 1967, the summer of love brought young people from all over America to San Francisco.  Wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and flowers in their hair, they ensured that Haight-Ashbury was immortalized as home of the hippie movement.

We visited the Mission District to see the great collection of street art.  Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley are home to a number of murals, many depicting social justice issues.

Everyone rides on a cable car while in San Francisco, but the museum is worth a visit too. It holds several antique cable cars – one dating back to the 1870s – and obsolete equipment. We enjoyed the viewing area for the cables and equipment that run the cars in use today.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Grease

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When I was growing up, seeing a movie on opening weekend wasn’t as big a deal as it is today.  And living on a farm meant we drove to the city only when we could combine seeing a movie with other errands.  So by the time I saw a movie, it had usually been playing a while.

One exception was when Grease opened in June, 1978.  Everyone knew it was going to be the movie of the year.  “You’re the One That I Want” had already been released, and was a hit. John Travolta was starring in it! 

So how did I get there on opening weekend?  I was a member of the high school French club, and with our teacher, Mr. Karn, we were planning a year-end activity.  He encouraged us to have a French-themed dinner at the school.  But the girls in the French club – there were only girls in the French club – begged him to take us to Grease.  He good-naturedly agreed, thereby making the formerly impossible happen – making the kids in the French club cool.

But that isn’t the end of my associations with Grease.  After high school, I went on an exchange trip to France, staying with a family about an hour outside of Paris.  At the end of the month, the North American students put on a show to thank our French host families.  The highlight of that show was a reenactment of “Summer Nights”.  (I was one of the Pink Ladies.)  Our French families cheered us, clapped their hands, and sang all the English words along with us.  Great music truly is universal.

We all have a movie that defined our teenage years, and Grease was that movie for me.  And “Summer Nights” was my favourite song.  In it, we hear about Danny and Sandy’s romance from both of their points of view:

“Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast
I met a girl crazy for me
Met a boy cute as can be

“Summer days driftin’ away
To, oh, oh those summer nights
Well-a, well-a, well-a huh.”

And what did they do on those summer nights?

“Took her bowling in the Arcade
We went strolling, drank lemonade…”

These pink lemonade bars are dedicated to happy teenage memories. What movie do you remember best from your adolescence?

For a full list of previous recipes inspired by musicals, check out my recipe index!

Pink Lemonade Bars
(adapted from The Spiffy Cookie)

For the base:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
zest from one lemon
pinch of salt
1 cup flour

For the filling:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 – 2 lemons)
3 Tbsp seedless raspberry jam (if the jam is too thick, heat it gently over low heat until it loosens)
1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8 x 8” baking pan with parchment paper.

For the base, beat the butter in a stand mixer.  Add sugar, lemon zest and salt, and beat until combined and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the flour, and stir until mixture is just combined.  Press in the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.  Let cool while you make the filling.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon juice.  Add jam and mix well.  Stir in the flour until just combined.  Pour the filling over the base and bake until just set, about 25 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting and serving.