Recipes Inspired by Musicals: La Boheme

Saturday, March 22, 2014
I wasn't sure if I could count La Boheme as a musical. It is, after all, an opera - possibly the most tragic and romantic opera ever written. But I'm including it here because Andrew and I saw it performed on Broadway, and because it was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2003 (including Best Revival of a Musical). And mostly because I set the rules on this blog, and I'm calling it a musical.

The great Baz Luhrmann brought La Boheme to Broadway after a popular run in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The story is simple. Rodolfo and Mimi, poor bohemians living in Paris, fall in love. They decide to live together, but are torn apart by Rodolfo's jealousy. Mimi moves out and becomes terminally ill with consumption. She and Rodolfo are reunited one last time; they remember their happy moments, and she dies. The show ends with Rodolfo calling her name in grief and throwing himself upon her dead body.

Even by operatic standards, that's a lot of sorrow.

Leek and potato soup is a French classic, and it's as beloved by the wealthy (who might call it vichyssoise) as the poor (for whom the ingredients would be simple and affordable). Whether it's eaten warm or cold, this soup will appeal to the bohemian - or the aristocrat - in all of us.

Leek and Potato Soup
(from Around my French Table, by Dorie Greenspan)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, preferably Spanish, chopped
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed and thinly sliced
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
6 thyme sprigs
2 fresh sage leaves (optional)
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups milk

Optional toppings: minced fresh parsley, sage, tarragon or marjoram; grated parmesan; grated gruyere

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter, then season with salt. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not browned.

Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste the soup and season generously with salt.

You can eat the soup as is, or puree with a blender until smooth or semi-smooth. (If you choose to do the latter, I highly recommend using an immersion blender. There are few tragedies worse than a soup-in-the-blender tragedy.)

Recipes Inspired by Musicals - A Little Night Music

Sunday, March 16, 2014

When Andrew and I visit New York, we almost always end up at the half-price ticket booth in Times Square, looking for same-day tickets to a Broadway show. Most of the time we get tickets to hidden gems, shows that we haven't heard of starring fabulous actors that aren’t household names.

That wasn’t the case when we visited in July 2010. When we got in line, we checked the board to see which shows were available. Unbelievably, there were still tickets left for A Little Night Music by the great Stephen Sondheim, featuring two of the greatest legends of musical theatre, Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters. “There’s probably just two tickets left, behind a column at the back,” I thought, and quickly chose second and third choices.

When we got to the front of the line and tickets were still available, we snatched them up, not believing our luck. The show was in previews, which probably explains why we got in. But, preview or not, I thought the performance was perfect. And hearing Stritch and Peters perform was an unforgettable experience.

A Little Night Music is named for Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (if you think you don’t know that piece of music, you probably do). And it features the well-known song “Send in the Clowns”. Only a true professional could make such a well-known song sound like you’ve never heard it before. That’s exactly what Bernadette Peters did in her magnificent performance. Seeing this show was truly an exceptional experience.

This show of missed opportunities and second chances is set in Sweden. (It was originally inspired by an Ingmar Bergman movie.) When I was looking for Swedish recipes, I came across this lovely Swedish Apple Pie. Baked without a pie shell, it’s topped with a crust that reminded me a bit of my German grandmother’s apple pies. This is one of the easiest pies I’ve ever baked and, based on the enthusiastic reviews, I’ll make it again.

Swedish Apple Pie
(adapted slightly from Stacey Snacks)

5 – 6 medium apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar (first amount)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves

1 cup sugar (second amount)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a pie pan with sliced apples and walnuts. (I used 6 apples in my 10” pan, but if you’re using a 9” pan, 5 apples would probably be enough.)

Mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and cloves. Sprinkle over apples, coating them well.

Brown the butter (for instructions on how to brown butter, see these instructions). Add 1 cup sugar and the flour, and let the mixture come to room temperature for about 10 minutes. Add egg and stir well. Spread the batter over the apples with a rubber spatula or a spoon.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden.

Thursday's Child: I Stood in Venice

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the winged Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

Lunette, St. Mark's Basilica

Mosaic, St. Mark's Basilica
She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers:
And such she was; her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone - but beauty still is here;
States fail, arts fade - but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

- from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, by George Byron
Courtyard of Pension Accademia
St. Mark's Campanile

Recipes Inspired by Musicals - Caroline or Change

Sunday, March 9, 2014
When we visited New York in the spring of 2004, we stopped at the half-price ticket booth for Broadway tickets. And, as we often do, we asked TKTS staff for recommendations on what to see. The show that everyone raved about was Caroline or Change, the musical composed by Tony Kushner, who also wrote Angels in America.

Caroline or Change was one of the most moving and thought-provoking musicals I've seen. Caroline works as a housekeeper for a middle class family living near New Orleans in the early 1960s. Eight-year-old Noah, whose mother died of cancer, admires Caroline and wishes he could live with her family. Because they can't afford to give her a raise, Noah's stepmother tells her she can keep the money Noah leaves in his pockets when she does the laundry, to remind him to be more careful. She hates taking money from a child, but needs it for her own family. Noah starts leaving money there on purpose to help her out, but when he accidentally leaves a $20 gift from his grandfather, it causes a rift between them.

The change in the show title refers not just to his pocket money, but also to the changes taking place in society at the time. The birth of the civil rights' movement, the assassination of JFK, and her daughter's insistence that she find a less demeaning job all weigh heavily on Caroline's mind.

"Thirty dollars every week.
And I am mean and I am tough, but -
Thirty dollars ain't enough."

- "I Got Four Kids", from Caroline or Change

As always, the TKTS recommendation was perfect. We loved this show.

Hunting for a recipe that represented New Orleans, I knew I wouldn't find a better Mardi Gras recipe than these pancakes from the city's best-known farmers' market. You can't beat pancakes with maple syrup, but they were also wonderful served with a lemon sauce.

Lemon Scented Blueberry Pancakes
(adapted slightly from Crescent City Farmers’ Market)

1 cup blueberries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp finely ground cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
6 Tbsp skim milk
4 Tbsp (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Maple syrup or lemon sauce, for serving
Extra butter for cooking and serving


Combine blueberries and 2 tsp of the flour in a small bowl and toss to coat well. Set aside.

Place the remaining flour and the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl, and whisk to combine. Combine the buttermilk and milk in a separate mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter and egg until well combined, and stir the egg mixture into the buttermilk mixture. Add lemon zest and vanilla, and stir well.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter and set aside to rest while the skillet is heating.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a small pat of butter to the skillet, and then add 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook until they are bubbly around the edges and the top surface is beginning to look slightly dry, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over and continue to cook until the pancakes are golden on the bottom and just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Place on a warm place and cover lightly with foil while you cook the remaining pancakes.

Serve pancakes hot with maple syrup or lemon sauce.

Lemon Sauce
(from my mother's recipe box)

2 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups cold water
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Mix cornstarch and sugar, and slowly add cold water, stirring until smooth. Cook over medium heat until thick and clear. Remove from heat and add butter and lemon juice.

(Note: you could easily halve the sauce recipe as it makes a large batch.)

Thursday's Child: Murano glass

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Broken, the better to glitter.

Was that your intention,
to break apart just enough
to shine? What’s forged

without heat, or gleams without
a blush of poison?”

- from “Murano” by Mark Doty

Of the four classical elements, water is the one that defines Venice best. It's ironic, then, that the art for which Venice is best known is a product of fire and air.

Glass-making is the most important industry in Murano, a district of Venice made up of several islands connected by bridges. In the thirteenth century, all Venetian glassmakers were forced to resettle to Murano because of the risk of fire in the city. They soon formed a community on the island, and for many years were known for making the best glass in the world. In fact, artisans were prohibited from leaving the country, to prevent their specialized techniques from being copied elsewhere.

Many of today's glassmakers use the same techniques that have been passed down for generations. And they've taken advantage of their reputation by opening some of their factories and studios to visitors. When we were in Venice, we took a water taxi to visit one of the factories, and enjoyed seeing the stages of the process, including heating and colouring the glass, and shaping it by blowing or by using hand tools. These artisans work in incredibly hot temperatures - even watching the process from a safe distance was steamy. We were amused to see this artisan light a cigarette off the hot, malleable glass.

the fate of the maker,
to become what's made."

- from "Murano" by Mark Doty

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Sunday, March 2, 2014
My family has a long association with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Andrew and I first saw the show when we visited London in 1992, a year after we were married. That trip was my first chance to meet most of his British relatives; both the trip and the musical were a big success.

A few years later, my mother took my sister and me to see the show at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, starring Donny Osmond. And when my daughters were young, their elementary school put on a production in which their babysitter played Joseph.

But by far my favourite memory of Joseph happened when my youngest daughter was a newborn and my oldest daughter was a three-year-old – a very lively, animated three-year-old. It had been hard to keep up with her while I was pregnant, but now that she had a baby sister, I didn’t know how to keep her busy, especially when I needed to nurse the baby.

But one day, inspiration hit. I turned on the soundtrack to Joseph and asked her to perform the show for us. And she proceeded to take every role, acting and singing with an energy that was incomprehensible to her sleep-deprived mother. This routine became a staple of my child-rearing techniques, and kept her happy for many hours with very little participation required from me.

If you know the musical – or the Bible story on which it’s based – you won’t be surprised that the recipe it inspired was a loaf of bread. Joseph made a name for himself by interpreting dreams. Meeting two men in prison, they each told him their dreams, and Joseph explained what they meant. First, the butler told his dream and Joseph said he’d soon be freed. Then it was the baker’s turn:

“There I was standing with baskets of bread.
High in the sky I saw birds overhead,
Who flew to my baskets and ate every slice.
Give me the message – like his would be nice.”

(Unfortunately for the baker, he didn’t get a good-news message like the butler.)

When I make homemade bread, I almost always bake whole-wheat, whole-grain varieties. But focaccia, with its roots in ancient Rome (panis focacius), seemed in some vague way to complement a musical set in an ancient civilization. Now I realize the only connection is that my family – like the birds in the lyrics – ate every slice, with astonishing speed.

For other recipes inspired by musicals on my blog, see my recipe index.

Rosemary Focaccia with Coarse Salt
(adapted slightly from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett)

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary needles (remove the stems), chopped fairly fine
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp instant, fast-rising, or bread-machine yeast
1 1/3 cups ice water, plus more if needed
1 Tbsp olive oil (first amount)
1 Tbsp olive oil (second amount), plus more as needed
3/4 tsp sea salt or other coarse salt

First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the flour, rosemary, salt and yeast until blended.   Vigorously stir in the water, scraping down the bowl and mixing until very well blended. Vigorously stir in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. If the dough is dry and hard to blend, stir in enough more ice water to yield a moist, yet slightly stiff dough.  Split dough in half, and place each in a medium to large mixing bowl. Cover bowls tightly with 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: Line two 8” x 8” baking pans with parchment paper. Using a well-oiled rubber spatula, turn the dough out into the pans, trying not to deflate any more than necessary. Drizzle each loaf with 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil. With well-oiled hands, lightly pat and press out the dough until it is evenly thick and extends to within 1 inch of the edges all around. Tent the pan with olive oil-brushed plastic wrap.

Let rise: For a regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 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: 20 minutes before baking time, place a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 500 degrees.  Place a broiler pan on the oven floor.  To bake, place the loaves in the oven and reduce the temperature to 475 degrees.  Immediately add a cup of water to the broiler pan - be careful of splattering and steam.  Then bake for an additional 8 – 10 minutes (or until the centre registers 209 to 212 on an instant-read thermometer) to be sure the centre is done. Cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Note: Focaccia is best when fresh. Cut into rectangles and serve warm or at room temperature. To maintain crispness, drape with a tea towel at cool room temperature for 2 to 3 days.