Vintage Dinner and a Movie: With Moms and Daughters and Aunts, Family Style!

The last time we discussed food and film we were in Casablanca in the 1940’s with Ilsa and Rick and a batch of seasoned bar nuts.  Today’s post takes us to New York City in the 1940’s with a gal named Ilka and a platter full of chicken. It’s dinner and a movie day, and we are celebrating it family style!

On the screen is the movie Three Daring Daughters, a romantic comedy starring Jeanette MacDonald, who plays a single mom navigating the tricky waters of career, family and love. On the menu, is a vintage family recipe, Citrus Chicken with Fresh Oranges and Tarragon, which comes from the kitchen of my Aunt Patty, a self-taught gourmet cook who lived most of her life in California.

I was introduced to Three Daring Daughters thanks to an invitation to join the Singing Sweethearts blogathon, hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society this week. Not very familiar with Jeanette’s body of work, I learned a lot about this dynamic actress who was a favorite of 1930s and 1940’s movie-goers.

Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965)

Originally a theater actress, Jeanette was born in Philadelphia and received her acting start on the stages of New York City in the early 1920s before heading west to California for screen work. A trained singer from childhood, she hit her stride in Hollywood, appearing in over two dozen musicals showcasing her operatic voice and garnering several Academy Award nominations.

A collection of rarely seen photos of Jeanette MacDonald courtesy of Click Magazine, 1938. Images include a childhood portrait, a wedding day photo with husband Gene Raymond, a glamorous headshot revealing her new red hair color (previously she was a brunette) and a bridesmaid photo with Ginger Rogers.

Three Daring Daughters, was her second to last musical (released in 1948) and showcases the singing voice not only of Jeanette but also her three on-screen daughters, as well as the musical talents of famous real-life concert pianist Jose Iturbi.

In the movie, Jeanette plays Louise, single mom to Tess, Ilka and little Alix while also trying to balance a full-time editorial job at a popular magazine. Exhausted by work and home life, Louise’s doctor advises her to take a cruise vacation to Cuba, alone, in order to get some much-needed rest. On the boat, she meets Jose Iturbi, a handsome celebrity passenger who is immediately smitten with beautiful Louise. Meanwhile, her daughters, back in New York believe that their mother is worn out because she misses the companionship of her ex-husband (their father), so they arrange to have him arrive in New York just as Louise is returning from her vacation. As you can imagine, mayhem and misunderstanding ensue. We won’t give any more away to spoil the story, only to say that things don’t go quite as anyone expected.

Humorous, engaging and good-spirited, this romantic comedy is well-written, well-acted, beautifully presented and just a fun simple break from the action-packed movies dominating the modern theater scene today. The costumes and set design are gorgeous…

One of Jeanette’s lovely dresses in the film.

and the acting is marvelous, especially when it comes to the three daughters. Professionally trained child actors from an early age,  each of them had hopes of following in the career footsteps of Shirley Temple, so they were schooled in all areas of performance from singing and dancing to elocution, stage direction and character development.

Tess, Ilka and Alix played by Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue.

Sweet without being sappy, Three Daring Daughters is a feel-good story full of the virtues of happy relationships and good intentions. In a combination that is reminiscent of  I Love LucyLittle Women, and An Affair to Remember it’s hard to imagine anyone finding fault with this movie, but, surprisingly it was flagged for immorality due to that fact that Jeanette MacDonald’s character was a divorced woman successfully living on her own. That being said there are no deep psychological dramas to explore here and the entire theme of the movie is cheerful and upbeat.

There’s also not much cooking going on in the film, so instead of recreating a dish from the movie, we pulled one from the family archives of Aunt Patty who was herself one of three young daughters in the 1940’s.

That’s Aunt Patty – the tallest one in the back, her middle sister Phyllis and then my mom, the youngest, in front.

Like Tess (the oldest daughter) in the movie, Aunt Patty was the great big sister to her sisters and was especially connected to my mom.

Aunt Patty holding my mom circa 1943.

Even though we lived on opposite coasts and didn’t see her as frequently as we would have liked she still looms large in my memory. She was a great hugger. Her husband, Buzz called her “Babe,” which my sisters and I thought was hysterical. And like so many ladies in my family, she was a talented seamstress and would often send us presents that she made. One year she sent a pair of three-foot-tall cloth horses for my dolls to ride around on. That seemed like magic! Even though she liked to keep busy and plan lots of activities when we were all together, she always found time to read the Winnie the Pooh series to my sister and I before bed or naptime. And she was a marvel at putting together big family theme dinners complete with decorations and costumes.

Tragically, she passed away in the mid-1990’s from her second round of breast cancer, just a few months after celebrating her 62nd birthday. But she’s never far from our thoughts. Small memories pop-up in my mind about her all the time and of course, I have her hand-written recipes to keep me company in the kitchen.

Living among the fog clouds of Half Moon Bay, California, Aunt Patty was the only woman in my family, when I was growing up, that had a vegetable garden in her backyard, which to me was absolutely fantastic. She gathered much of her creativity in the kitchen from what she grew, so if there was one thing we could always count on at Aunt Patty’s house, it would be super fresh vegetables, lots of herbs and a fun time in the kitchen. She also subscribed to the Julia Child philosophy on butter – the more the better!

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken

This recipe (written in her own hand) is for Citrus Chicken and features fresh oranges,  tarragon and the infamous butter. Sometimes, when I make this I cut the butter in half, but it’s really best prepared as Aunt Patty directed. If you serve it with a simple green salad on the side, the whole meal feels a bit more redemptive! It serves 3-6 people depending on portion size and keeps well in the fridge for chicken sandwiches the next day if you have left overs.

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken

3 boned chicken breasts, halved skinned and slightly flattened

1/4 cup melted butter

2 slices beaten egg

2/3 cup fine dry seasoned breadcrumbs (panko works great!)

1 stick butter, cut in small bits

1-2 cups fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon tarragon

1 tsp grated orange peel

Flatten chicken breasts. Brush with melted butter.

Roll in flour – dip in beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs. Arrange in baking dish.

Dot with Butter. Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix orange juice, tarragon, and orange peel. Pour over chicken. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Cover and bake 35 more minutes, basting if necessary. (A little note: When it is done, the chicken will be wrapped in a soft breading blanket, if you’d like it to be a little bit crispy, simply remove the lid and place the dish under the broiler at 500 degrees for a few minutes until it begins to brown on top).

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken with Tarragon and Orange Juice

There are many ways to present this chicken… on a plate with other seasonal vegetables, alongside or in a salad of mixed green lettuces, or on a sandwich as mentioned above. In addition to being served hot out of the oven, it can also be served at room temperature, which makes it a great candidate for picnicking. We used to picnic with Aunt Patty on the beach, just a couple blocks from her house. I think she’d be thrilled at the idea that her recipe might be in your picnic basket one day too!

I think if Jeanette MacDonald and Aunt Patty had ever met in California, they would have been great friends. Jeanette was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who had to work hard at keeping weight on instead of worrying about taking it off. Aunt Patty could have cooked lots of great dishes for her (with lots of butter!). I’m not sure if Aunt Patty ever saw any of Jeanette’s movies, but she was a big fan of vintage and antique items just like me, so its safe to say that she probably would have would have loved Three Daring Daughters too. Afterall, she was one herself!

Cheers to families who are funny and daring and happy. And to beloved Aunts whose spirits can still be felt in the kitchen.

This is my favorite photograph of Aunt Patty, taken among the wildflowers of California sometime around the late 1980’s.

Learn more about Jeanette MacDonald and her movies by visiting the Singing Sweethearts blogathon on the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s blog here.

And if you find yourself in the kitchen with Aunt Patty sometime soon, send us a message and let us know how it all turned out.

Cocktails and A Movie: Discussing Censorship, Bar Nuts and Breen on the Set of Casablanca

 

This week’s post has us traveling all the way back to a cosmopolitan city in exotic 1940’s North Africa thanks to a lovely invitation from the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. This weekend, October 13th – 15th marks the date of the Great Breening Blogathon featuring Joseph Breen, an influential, but seldom remembered figure in filmmaking during the glamorous days of old Hollywood.

Joseph Breen (1888-1965)

Joseph was the enforcer behind the Production Code Administration, set up during the 1930’s, which acted as a morality censor for all film scripts, scenes, and storylines in the motion picture industry. Bolstered by his own Catholic beliefs and the bishops who originally wrote the code, Joseph was not interested in seeing sexy, sensual imagery on the big screen and the PCA wasn’t interested in exposing such immorality to the American movie-going public.  The thought of being subjected to plotlines involving extra-marital affairs, obscene language, excessive violence or varying degrees of nudity were offensive. Family friendly, American made films were not the place for such suggestive behavior according to Joseph and the PCA.

With line by line lists of cant-do’s and won’t-permits attached to each script that the PCA reviewed, screenwriters and directors were challenged with creative ways to express character’s motives and actions while also keeping their plots plausible and compelling. How do you portray magnetic chemistry without showing a steamy, passionate kiss? How do you elude to compromising situations without showing corrupt scandals? How do you make your central location not look or sound like the most unethical, debaucherous place in the world yet still convey to watchers that shady dealings are happening right and left? And ultimately, how do you tell one of the most romantic and dramatic love stories of all time without showing anyone caught up in the physical throes of passion?

The answer is Casablanca.

Many noteworthy movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood were questioned by Joseph and the PCA. The Outlaw (Howard’s Hughes 1943 western) showed too much of Jane Russell’s cleavage; the “damn” in Rhett Butler’s famous “Frankly  my dear, I don’t give a damn” line in Gone With the Wind was flagged for unnecessary profanity; and the fact that Casablanca’s Ilsa was married at the time she first met Rick was altogether too salacious for the PCA to greenlight.  All three movies managed to overcome these sticky spots eventually, but not without some major behind-the-scenes defense tactics for creative license.

The PCA and Joseph’s staunch deployment of it was frustrating but important to movie studios because it balanced political correctness with the expectations of what movie audiences wanted to see.  What was considered entertaining and appropriate to movie-goers in mainstream America in the 1930’s and 1940’s was laughter, light-hearted romance, and noble sentiment.  So if movie studios wanted to sell tickets, they had to comply with what watchers wanted to see. And the PCA was there to make sure that decorum and good manners reigned supreme as far as what was being showcased on the big screen.

On the morality level, Casablanca in particular, seemed like it was doomed from the beginning. It was set primarily in a bar, Rick’s Cafe Americain, where alcohol continuously flowed. It was fueled by desperation with characters willing to do anything and everything to garner exit visas to leave the country. It contained a smoldering, forbidden romance, murder and contempt for government officials.  All major issues when it came to the Production Code Administration.

The legendary ending of Casablanca

By the time the script came back from the PCA review office, it contained several red flags and numerous notations from Joseph Breen. No bed was ever to be shown in Rick’s apartment, (such an object would have signaled an intimate encounter with Ilsa).  The dubious character of Captain Renault (who was in charge of granting exit visas from Casablanca) was not allowed to verbally suggest or show that he was granting visas to women only in exchange for sex. And Rick and Ilsa’s fated love affair? Joseph found it highly immoral that Ilsa met and fell in love with Rick years before in Paris while she was  married to her husband Victor Lazlo. This long-simmering love business between Ilsa and Rick had to be cleaned up in order for the movie to go on. Even though sex does sell, in conservative 1940’s America these scandelous situations were considered way too over-the-top for the eyes and minds of mainstream movie-going audiences.

The smoldering attraction between Rick and Ilsa.

So how did Casablanca’s production team manage to get around such roadblocks and ultimately propel the film towards three Academy Award wins and iconic movie status? Through good writing and good direction and good acting. So much of the storyline that seemed PCA in-appropriate – the excessive drinking, seduction, womanizing and volatile emotions were so expertly staged and nuanced that the script eventually passed approval with Joseph Breen. Once Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa)  and Claude Rains (Captain Renault) delivered their performances there was no mistaking the precarious situations that the scriptwriters originally intended. Movie audiences still got the idea loud and clear even if wasn’t visually or audibly spelled out.

In today’s depict-anything-you-want movie plot experience, it seems so foreign to have such a morality cloud like Joseph Breen hovering over a film production. But I wonder if the beauty and ultimate success of Casablanca came in the act of being challenged to subtly hint at each impropriety. Perhaps that is what makes it timeless and still translatable in today’s cinematic scope. It leaves room for our own imaginations to sort out and further dissect the specifics of the relationships between characters.

I’m not a big fan of censoring art in any way. I think you lose the point of it then. I once lived in a town where plays were censored for language or risque content and it felt very limiting. Art is intended to provoke reaction and expand horizons so I’m not sure if Joseph Breen and I would have been on the same page in the philosophy department, but his impact on Casablanca was influential, so maybe his enforcement of the Production Code Administration ultimately helped the movie in the long-run.

For all the spicy current passing between Ilsa and Rick throughout the movie, there is not a lot of spicy food being passed around Rick’s cafe.  Originally I thought it would be fun to write a dinner and a movie post and feature some aromatic Moroccan food of the likes that would have been served at Rick’s. But apparently, the main thing on the menu at Cafe Americain, the bestseller of all bestsellers, was a cocktail or two or three or half a bottle. Champagne, bourbon, scotch, gin, whiskey are present in almost every scene. Alcohol swishes and swirls and sits in glasses while Rick broods, Captain Renault schemes and Ilsa seeks courage.  So in lieu of a traditional North African dinner, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are staying true to the spirit of Casablanca by serving up a food accompaniment with this post that pairs best with your favorite cocktail…Sweet Spiced Nuts circa 1967.

This recipe comes from the vintage cookbook, A World of Nut Recipes by Morton Gil Clark and features three ingredients essential to Moroccan cooking: cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This is a super easy recipe to make for cocktail hour, parties or late night snacking. The flavors are subtle, accommodating and interesting and with nut season now in full swing, you have a variety of options to choose from. For this recipe, I used a variety of mixed nuts which included peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts but pecans, pistachios, macademias, etc all would make delicious alternatives as well.

Find this cookbook available in the Vintage Kitchen shop here.

Sweet Spiced Nuts – Makes 1 Cup

1 cup nuts

1/4 cup fine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8th teaspoon ground allspice

1/8th teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 egg (egg white part only)

Place the nuts in a small bowl and pour over them the slightly beaten whites of 1 egg. Mix so that all the nuts are evenly coated. In a separate bowl combine the sugar and spices and then toss with the nuts, mixing well again so that all the nuts are evenly coated. Spread seasoned nuts out into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. If you prefer ultra-crunchy nuts bake them about 10-15 minutes longer, but keep your eye on them so they don’t burn. Once done, let them cool on the baking sheet until ready to serve. Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation.

Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation. And while you’re at it, raise a toast to Joseph Breen, who made his mark, for better or worse, on one of the world’s most beloved movies of all times. Here’s look’n at you, Joe!

To learn more about Joe Breen and his influence on old Hollywood, catch up with other blogathon related posts here. 

For more dinner and a movie posts from the Vintage Kitchen, pull up a chair here.

And last but not least, find 200 more pages of interesting nut-related recipes in the World of Nut Recipes cookbook available in the shop here.