Recipes inspired by Musicals: Cats

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I know Cats the musical has gone out of style.  But whatever you think about basing a musical on people dressed as cats, you could do worse than using the charming poetry of T. S. Eliot.  My sister and I saw Cats when it first came to Toronto in 1985 in the beautifully refurbished Elgin Theatre.  All these years later, I’m amazed by how many snippets of songs I remember:

 “And when you hear a dining room smash
Or up from the pantry there comes a loud crash
Or down from the library comes a loud ping
From a vase that was commonly said to be Ming,
The family will say, ‘Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie AND Rumpleteazer’
And there’s nothing at all to be done about that.”


“Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity
He’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in a square
But when the crime’s discovered, Macavity’s not there!”

But the cat that inspired this week’s post is the oldest – Gus the Theatre Cat:

“Gus is the cat by the theatre door
His name, as I ought to have told you before
Is really Asparagus, but that’s such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.”

(Also from memory.  It’s no wonder I can’t remember why I went upstairs, if I’m using all this brain space for Cats lyrics.)

I was looking for a simple and seasonal recipe to round out dinner recently, and this asparagus salad was perfect in all regards.  It’s incredibly easy and the flavours are so simple that the fresh asparagus shines through.  In fact, this salad is so good, it might replace some of those lyrics you’ve been storing in your brain for 28 years.

Asparagus Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
(adapted from

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp minced garlic

2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Mix balsamic vinegar, oil, mustard, marjoram and garlic.

Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.  Add asparagus and bell pepper to dressing and toss to blend.  Sprinkle with pecans and serve.

Thursday's Child: Vivero Ecologico La Gallina, Nicaragua

Thursday, April 25, 2013
We visited Vivero Ecologico La Gallina when we travelled to Nicaragua over the Christmas holidays.  This ecological nursery is located near the Masaya volcano, which is just south of Managua in one of the most fertile areas of the country.  We loved visiting this rural district for its beautiful scenery, local artisans, and impressive nursery.

Although the nursery is open to tourists, it primarily sells plants, plant products and accessories to Nicaraguans.  (As tourists, we weren't actually permitted to take plants out of the country.)  Farmers, townspeople and businesses all buy their decorative plants here.

The nursery specializes in native Nicaraguan plants, but carries some imports and a large number of grafted plants.  We loved the fresh scents of coriander and cinnamon, and were impressed by the jasmines, heliotropes, cacti and foliage of many kinds that covered several acres.

Recipes inspired by Musicals - Damn Yankees

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Andrew’s favorite musical is one we saw in New York City in 1994, on a trip with our dear friends Garth and Colleen Jay.  As soon as Andrew heard Damn Yankees was playing on Broadway, we knew we’d get tickets. It had an amazing cast, starring Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and Victor Garber as Mr. Applegate, with fun musical numbers that include “You Gotta Have Heart” and “Two Lost Souls”.

In the show, Joe Boyd roots for the Washington Senators who always lose to the New York Yankees. He says he’d sell his soul “for one long ball hitter”, and Mr. Applegate (aka the devil) appears, to grant him that wish.  Joe Boyd turns into the young phenom Joe Hardy, who is poised to take the Senators to the World Series.  Is he successful?   That wasn’t even the biggest question posed in the musical, as Joe tries to break his contract so he can win back his soul and return to his beloved wife Meg.

Despite optimistic pre-season predictions, our hometown Blue Jays are once again trailing those Yankees in the standings.  However, I won’t be making any rash promises to Mr. Applegate or any other salesman in return for one long ball hitter.

This Yankee pot roast was a winner.  It swung for the fences and was a real home run with my family.  Best of all, I’ve included the recipe below, so you won’t have to sell your soul to make it.

Yankee Pot Roast
(adapted from From Away)

1/3 pound thick-cut bacon, diced
1 3/4 pound beef chuck roast
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp (about 2 branches) fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3/4 cup water
14 ounces diced tomatoes (with juice)
3 medium potatoes, cut in cubes
3 carrots, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut in 1-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large saucepan, brown bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bacon begins to crisp.  Transfer bacon to drain on paper towels.

Pat beef dry, season with salt and pepper, and add to saucepan.  Increase heat to medium-high and turn to brown meat on all sides.  Transfer to a roasting pan.

Reduce heat to medium, add 2 Tbsp butter to pan, and add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn translucent (about 6 minutes).

Add garlic and rosemary, and cook about 2 minutes.  Add wine, water and bay leaves, and cook about 1 minute, while scraping brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Add tomatoes and mix to combine.  Pour over beef in the roasting pan.  Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until beef is almost tender, about 3 hours.

Remove from oven and remove bay leaves.  Add bacon, potatoes, carrots and celery around the roast.  Cook until vegetables are tender, about an hour more.  Remove beef from pot and let sit 15 minutes, then slice against the grain.

Thursday's Child: Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My mother, my youngest daughter and I recently visited San Francisco in celebration of my mom’s eightieth birthday.  Before we went, I asked everyone to list what they most wanted to see.  At the top of my daughter’s list was Golden Gate Park.  Of course she wanted to visit the amazing California Academy of Sciences (which is located in the park) but she also mentioned the Japanese Tea Garden.  I’m so grateful that she did, because visiting this beautiful garden definitely enhanced our trip.

The Japanese Tea Garden was built in the late nineteenth century for the California Midwinter Expo.  After the fair was over, a local Japanese-American gardener, Makoto Hagiwara, entered into an agreement to maintain and upgrade it.  As part of that agreement, he brought in goldfish, cherry trees and other native plants from Japan.

The garden does have a sad history.  In 1942, Hagiwara and his family were sent to an internment camp like so many other Japanese-Americans and Canadians.  Experiencing the garden's tranquility made me realize how difficult it must have been for them to leave this lovely place.

The cherry trees were in bloom when we visited, and the pagodas, the dramatic Arch Bridge and the zen garden all contributed to the serenity that make the Japanese Tea Garden a true respite in the city.

Recipes inspired by Musicals: Godspell

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The first live musical I ever saw was Godspell, which tells the story of Jesus’s ministry, focusing on the parables.  My mom and dad had season tickets to Theatre London (in London, Ontario) with my Uncle John and Aunt Judy.  One month my aunt and uncle couldn’t attend, and they graciously gave their tickets to my cousin Heather and me.  We would have been around twelve that year and were thrilled to be seeing a ‘real’ show. 

These days, almost every performance gets a standing ovation.  But back in the 70s, it was less common.  A show really had to earn an ovation for people to get on their feet.  

Maybe it was my tender age, maybe it was the moving musical numbers (such as “Prepare Ye The Way of The Lord” or “Day by Day”), maybe it was just an extraordinary production.  But everyone in the audience seemed to agree with my pre-teen opinion as we all leapt to our feet to salute this wonderful show.  It was the first standing ovation I ever participated in, and I’ll never forget how inspiring Godspell was.

The Bible is full of references to bread, from the sharing of the loaves and fishes to the Lord’s Prayer (“Give us this day our daily bread…”).  It has been a dietary staple of many ancient and modern societies.  These loaves were full of whole grain and seeds, and I absolutely loved them. 

Speaking of musicals based on the Bible, you may remember that last year my youngest daughter performed in a church musical that was also about the parables.  The choir is off to Nova Scotia for five days later this week to perform at churches in Truro and Halifax.  Having seen the show all the way through twice, I promise you it’s well worth a standing ovation!

Sonoma-Style Multigrain Crunch Bread
(adapted from Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett)


4 1/2 cups white bread flour, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
3 Tbsp yellow cornmeal, polenta or corn grits
3 Tbsp bulgur wheat or cracked wheat
2 Tbsp wheat bran
Scant 1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
4 Tbsp flax seeds
4 Tbsp sesame seeds
4 Tbsp poppy seeds
2 2/3 cups ice water, plus more if needed
3 Tbsp mild honey
1 1/2 Tbsp corn oil or canola oil (plus extra for coating dough tops)
2 Tbsp Cornstarch glaze (recipe below)

First rise: In a very large bowl, thoroughly mix together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, oats, cornmeal, bulgur, wheat bran, salt and yeast until blended.  In a small bowl, combine the flax, sesame and poppy seeds.  Reserve 4 Tbsp of the seed mixture for garnish, then stir the remainder into the flour mixture.  In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the water, honey and oil until well-blended.  Vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flour, scraping down the bowl and mixing until very well blended.  If the dough is dry and hard to blend, stir in enough more ice water to yield a moist, yet slightly stiff dough.  Cover the bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap.  If desired, you can refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours.  Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours (preferably closer to 18 hours).

Second rise: Vigorously stir the dough for 1 minute; it should be very stiff.  (If not, thoroughly stir in enough more bread flour to make it hard to stir.)  Generously oil two 9-inch pie plates.  Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of the remaining seeds in each plate.  Using an oiled serrated knife or kitchen shears, cut the dough in half, then put each half in a pie plate.  Evenly sprinkle each portion with 2 Tbsp of flour. Working in the plate, shape each portion into a ball and smooth the flour into the surface all over. Lightly dusting with flour as needed, shape each portion into a high-domed 6-inch round, smoothing and tucking the edges underneath all the way around.  Generously and evenly brush each loaf with cornstarch glaze.  Immediately sprinkle the remaining seeds over the loaves.  Tent them with foil or plastic wrap.

Let rise: For a regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature for 2 to 3 hours.  For an extended rise, refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours then set out at room temperature.  Continue the rise until the dough doubles from its deflated size.

Baking: 15 minutes before baking time, place a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees.  Place a broiler pan on the oven floor.  To bake, place the loaves in the oven and reduce the temperature to 425 degrees.  Immediately add a cup of water to the broiler pan - be careful of splattering and steam.  Bake, uncovered, on the lower rack for 30 minutes, until the leaves are browned and firm.  Remove the loaves from pie plates and transfer to a baking sheet.  Cover the tops with foil and continue baking for 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Cornstarch Glaze

2 tsp cornstarch
Scant 2/3 cup cold water, divided
1 pinch salt

In a small saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch and about half the water until the cornstarch is smooth.  Stir in the remaining water and the salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat until the mixture simmers gently and continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until it thickens slightly and becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature before using; the glaze will thicken as it stands.  Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week (let warm to room temperature before using).