Thursday's Child: Miami, Florida

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last week, I wrote about spending some time in Key Largo over the Christmas holidays. Before coming home, we spent a couple of nights in Miami, which meant we had time to see the two districts I was most interested in – Little Havana and the Art Deco district.

Little Havana was first established by Cuban immigrants, many of whom settled in Miami because of its proximity to their homeland. More recently, it has welcomed other Central and Southern American immigrants, but the Cuban influence remains strong.

Calle Ocho (8th Street) is the hub of Little Havana. We began our walk at the Brigade 2506 Memorial. This statue was erected in honour of the Cuban exiles who were killed attempting to overthrow Fidel Castro in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

Calle Ocho is rich with Latin influences. We ate Cuban ice cream, and saw art galleries, a cigar factory, and the Cuban Walk of Fame. Of note, one of the recipients of a star on the Walk of Fame is singer Gloria Estefan. Her father was involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and was captured and given a 30-year prison sentence. Two years later, he and the other American prisoners were returned to Miami after $62 million in ransom money was paid.

We couldn’t leave Little Havana without having lunch at its most famous restaurant, Versailles. Even at noon, the line to get in was formidable. It was worth the wait. The menu was huge, but I had to try the traditional Cuban ropa vieja (shredded beef). It was terrific.

Our hotel was located in the Art Deco district, and a neighbourhood walk was on my must-do list. The Hotel of South Beach has retained its beautiful Tiffany tower from when it was a hotel of the same name.  The original Tiffany Hotel was designed by L. Murray Dixon, a leading architect who designed many other buildings in the district (including the Tides, the Raleigh and the Regent hotels).

Walking north on Ocean Drive and back along Collins and Washington Avenues, we had our cameras out full-time. Most of the buildings were, of course, in Art Deco design. The Breakwater Hotel (pictured at the top of the blog) pays homage to a Mayan Temple, while other buildings were built in Streamline Moderne or Mediterranean Revival styles.

Here are some of the beautiful buildings, and one interior, that impressed us.

We loved this gorgeous antique car parked on Ocean Drive:

Sunrise at South Beach:

Key Lime Pie

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's hard to believe I haven't posted my recipe for Key Lime Pie yet. It's one of my most time- and ingredient-splattered recipe cards for good reason: we all love it.

When we visited Key Largo over the Christmas holidays, I made it my personal mission to find the best Key Lime Pie in the state of Florida. I tasted some great ones, but I didn't find one that I like better than the one we eat at home.

This recipe has long roots. When I was in eighth grade, my family went to Florida. I came back with three things: a key chain from Disney World, a barely detectable suntan, and a recipe for Key Lime Pie. My mother made it for years, and when I moved out, it was one of the first recipes she gave me. The only significant change I've made is using fresh limes, even if I can't get key limes. To my taste, fresh limes always trump tinned key lime juice.

(By the way, as of last Tuesday, I've given up sweets for Lent, so this is the last dessert recipe I'll post for six weeks. Hope you don't mind coming along for the ride.)

Key Lime Pie
(recipe taken from the front of a postcard)


1 cup graham wafer crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp sugar


1 can condensed milk, chilled
4 egg yolks
3 ounces fresh lime juice
1 egg white (first amount)

Meringue topping:

3 egg whites (second amount)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp sugar

To make the pie shell, combine crumbs, butter and sugar and pat them into a 9" pie dish. Chill in fridge at least 10 minutes before adding filling.

To make filling, beat condensed milk, yolks and lime juice until thick. In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg white until stiff. Fold into the lime mixture until just incorporated and pour into the crumb crust. (At this point, pie can be frozen or refrigerated until almost ready to serve. I like putting it in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm it up. Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.)

To make meringue topping, beat 3 egg whites, adding cream of tartar and sugar, until stiff. Cover pie with meringue and put under the broiler until browned. Serve.

Gwen, my mom and I in the Florida Keys

Thursday's Child: Key Largo, Florida

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Every winter it happens. The day arrives when I'm tired of the cold, and I just want to remember being warm. When I'm tired of the snow, and I want to remember leaving my house without swaddling myself in layers.

Today is that day. Not a lot of words, just a few photos from a recent trip to Key Largo.

Beautiful sunrises:

And gorgeous sunsets:

Family time spent kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming, reading and relaxing:


Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Fiddler on the Roof

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Even if you’ve never seen Fiddler on the Roof, you likely know its most famous song. In “If I Were a Rich Man”, the Russian peasant Tevye sings about what he’d do if he had a lot of money:

“I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen,
Right in the middle of the town.
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.
There would be one long staircase just going up,
And one even longer coming down,
And one more leading nowhere, just for show.”

But the great music doesn’t stop there – “Sunrise, Sunset” is wistful, “Miracles of Miracles” is charming, and “Tradition” is the showstopping opening number.

I’ve written before that Andrew’s favourite musical of all time was Damn Yankees, but Fiddler on the Roof would be a very close second. When we saw it in New York, Alfred Molina was cast as Tevye. He was brilliant, as was the rest of the cast.

Cabbage soup is thought of as a poor man’s food, a way to stretch your leftover ingredients into a meal. If that’s true, Tevye and his family must surely have eaten it as much as anything else. Cabbage soup is a traditional Russian food, probably because it’s hearty and warm, and it’s a great way to clean out your vegetable drawer.

And you know what? Even if I were a rich man, I’d still eat this soup.

Cabbage Soup
(adapted from my mother’s recipe file)

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup diced celery
1 - 28 ounce can tomatoes
2 - 5 ounce cans tomato paste
3 cups beef broth (first amount)
2 cups raw potatoes, diced
1 cup raw carrot, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
4 cups cabbage shredded very thinly
1/2 – 1 cup beef broth (second amount) (optional)

In a very large soup pot, saute ground beef until browned. Remove ground beef to another bowl and drain most of the fat. Saute onion and celery until soft and browned.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 3 cups beef broth, potatoes, carrots, bay leaves, salt and smoked paprika. Combine thoroughly.
Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove bay leaves and add cabbage. (Note: it’s easier if you do it in that order. I didn’t, and ended up doing a bit of a treasure hunt for the bay leaves.). Add 1/2 to 1 cup beef broth, if required, to thin the soup out a little bit. Combine thoroughly, making sure the cabbage is covered by the liquid. Simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Note: this makes quite a large batch. If you're eating the soup for more than one meal, you may need to thin it out again before heating and serving.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: The Phantom of the Opera

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera was the must-see show in the late 1980s.  It told the story of a phantom who haunted the opera house in Paris, and Christine Daae, the understudy with whom he fell in love. Phantom has since gone out of style but, at the time, no one could resist its flamboyant charms. In terms of sheer drama and visual spectacle, it’s hard to think of anything that equaled it, either before or since.

A quick breakdown of that drama: The crew at the opera house frighten the others with tales of the mysterious Phantom who terrifies singers and wreaks havoc backstage. The Phantom kidnaps Christine, and takes her on a tour of the subterranean lake below the opera house. The main soloist, Carlotta, receives a note that reads:

“Your days at the Opera Populaire are numbered
Christine Daae will be singing on your behalf tonight
Be prepared for a great misfortune
Should you attempt to take her place.”

If that isn’t enough, Carlotta loses her voice, the stagehand who backs her is killed and his body shoved from the rafters, and a chandelier crashes to the ground.  All of this happens in the first act.

So, pretty much a normal day at the office.

The only kind of recipe that could be inspired by The Phantom of the Opera is one so ridiculously over the top, it’s beyond irony. So frivolous and sugary and extravagant, all you can do is stand back and appreciate it for what it is.

I found that recipe in the Meringue Girls cookbook. These squares are the culinary equivalent to Christine Daae’s highest trill, or to a weeping phantom being redeemed by a woman’s kindness.

It won’t be obvious, but I’ve actually given you the “sensible” version of the recipe. I cut back on the sugar by nearly one half, and cut the squares much smaller than the recipe suggested. (I got thirty squares, where the recipe suggested twelve. Not even in my most desperate sugar cravings could I eat one-twelfth of this pan of squares in one helping.)

The only “great misfortune” that will occur is if you never try these dramatic, luscious, unforgettable meringue squares.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Meringue Squares

For the cookie base:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/3 cups chocolate chips

For the meringue:

1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
4 egg whites

1. To make the cookie base:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with parchment paper, with some overhang on the long sides. 

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the melted butter, brown sugar and sugar with a mixer until well blended, about 1 – 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk until light and creamy, another 2 minutes. Mix in the dry ingredients with a spoon until just blended and a crumbly dough forms.

Gently press the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking sheet, making sure the surface is even. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cookie dough and press them down lightly. Bake for 15 minutes, until the dough is just cooked but still soft. Using a knife, spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.

2. To make the meringue:

Pour egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on high speed just until the whites form stiff peaks. Add one tablespoonful of sugar after another to the bowl while still beating. Continue to whisk on high for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and the sugar fully incorporated.

3. To assemble:

Using a rubber spatula, dollop the meringue on the cookie base and spread it to the edges. Cut a sheet of parchment paper about the same size as the pan and lightly press it onto the meringue. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then remove the parchment and bake for 5 minutes more, until the meringue peaks are lightly golden.

Let cool completely, then cut into 30 squares.

Thursday's Child: Podgorze and Kazimierz, Krakow, Poland

Thursday, February 5, 2015
I wrote last week about visiting Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, Poland. This week, I’ll describe my visit to two areas of the city: Podgorze, the Jewish Ghetto during the Nazi occupation; and Kazimierz, the traditional Jewish district.

After the Nazis invaded in 1939, 20,000 Jewish people were rounded up and forced into 320 buildings in Podgorze with only a day's notice. Most of the non-Jewish businesses left the area, but Tadeusz Pankiewicz elected to keep his Eagle Pharmacy running. Pankiewicz was the only non-Jewish person living in the district, and he made it his mission to give comfort to those who suffered. His pharmacy was used as a secret meeting place for the underground movement. He gave residents medications that were expensive and hard to come by, and he and his employees smuggled in food and supplies for those in need. He even provided tranquilizers to keep young children quiet during raids by the secret police. 

The pharmacy has been restored to its original condition and converted into a museum. Each of the cupboards and drawers in this tiny, five-room museum contains information on living in the Jewish Ghetto. Especially moving were the photos of children and adults who lived in the area; the backs of the photos included their names and a brief story of their lives, including whether or not they survived.  

During the occupation, a wall enclosed the entire Jewish Ghetto, keeping residents inside and others on the outside. Most of the wall has been torn down, but a few sections remain, one of which is shown in the photo above. The plaque below commemorates that portion of the wall. At the beginning of World War Two, 60,000 Jewish people lived in Krakow; only 2,000 survived the war.
"They lived here, suffered and perished from the
hands of the Nazi oppressors...."
From Podgorze, I walked back across the bridge into Kazimierz. This area was originally founded in 1335, and before WWII was home to the largest Jewish population in Krakow. Although many of the beautiful synagogues and other buildings were destroyed beyond repair, a few survived the war and have since been restored.

Tempel synagogue, built in 1862, was badly damaged in the war due to its use as a stable. After the war, when the country was under Soviet regime, there was no money to restore it, and the building continued to deteriorate. Fortunately, it was restored by the World Monuments Fund. Now it's hard to imagine how degraded it was: the ceiling and balcony fronts are beautifully detailed, and the synagogue is lined with lovely stained glass windows along both sides.

My final stop on the walk was at Remuh Synagogue. Originally built in the sixteenth century, Remuh is the only Krakow synagogue still used regularly in worship. Many of the gravestones in its cemetery were destroyed during the Occupation. Some were reconstructed, but in many cases the pieces were too small to reconstruct. Those fragments were lined around the interior of the cemetery wall, and became Remuh's Wailing Wall. 

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Into The Woods

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Andrew’s a good sport about coming to the theatre with me. Any time we visit New York, we try to see two Broadway shows. He doesn’t even mind if one of those shows is a musical. He actually likes musicals, as long as they aren’t clich├ęd, and don’t come with a Disney pedigree.

Into The Woods is one of those musicals that I missed seeing live. It wasn’t playing in New York any time we visited, and I don’t remember it coming to Toronto. I was thrilled when I heard it was being turned into a movie.

One night early last month, Andrew and I were talking about going out. He said, “What about that new Meryl Streep movie?”

I hesitated. That new Meryl Streep movie. He knew it was a musical, right? And that it was a Walt Disney production?

And if he didn’t, should I warn him?


When we got to the theatre, from the moment we heard the words, “Once upon a time”, it was obvious Into The Woods was, indeed, a musical. And a Disney production. Andrew looked at me, incredulously.

“You knew this was a musical, right?’ I whispered.

He shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s by Stephen Sondheim,” I said. “You liked A Little Night Music.”

Andrew gave me a dubious look, but settled back with the popcorn.

He smirked through most of the first hour. The low point was probably the song “Agony”, during which he left to check his messages and, possibly, to phone for help.

I’m still not sure what turned the tide. Meryl Streep makes a pretty convincing witch. The presence of two of the loveliest (and most likeable) actresses, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, probably didn’t hurt. Either way, by the end of the movie, Andrew was as invested in the outcome as I was.

In the end, I thought this movie was one of the most moving musicals I’ve seen. The woods represented experience, the leaving behind of innocence: life with all its joys and sorrows, sometimes both at the same time.

“Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood.
Do not let it grieve you,
No one leaves for good.
You are not alone.
No one is alone.”

-       from Into the Woods by Steven Sondheim

The witch’s directions to the Baker and his wife were simple:

“Go into the woods and bring me back:
One: the cow as white as milk
Two: the cape as red as blood
Three: the hair as yellow as corn
Four: the slipper as pure as gold.”

Those rules might have been easier than the one I set out for myself, which was to find a recipe that incorporated as many of those elements as possible. This chowder uses milk (well, cream); corn; and burnished gold in the guise of butternut squash. For the red cape, I accessorized with a napkin in scarlet hues and hoped it was close enough. Best of all, this chowder makes a fairy tale ending beginning for any meal.

Corn and Butternut Squash Chowder
(adapted from Martha Stewart)


2 Tbsp vegetable oil
5 cups butternut squash cut into 1” chunks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste
3 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
homemade croutons and shredded cheese, for garnish (optional)


In a large heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high; add squash and onion. Cook until onion is soft, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add corn and curry powder; cook until curry is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add broth and simmer until squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Using an immersion blender, mix the soup until most or all of the chunks of squash have been blended. (The chowder won’t be completely smooth.) Stir in the cream and heat over medium-low heat. (Do not boil after the cream has been added.)

Add croutons and shredded cheese, if desired, and serve.

For other recipes that have been inspired by musicals, see the list at the bottom of my recipe index.