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.

Viva La Vintage: 1960’s Dinner and a Movie {Italian Style}

Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy
Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy

Dear readers, in this week’s post we are all heading on a European adventure to the country best known for two things: food and romance.  On this trip you will be transported through food and film back to 1960’s Florence, Italy for an authentically magical night of escapism that will make you feel like the fanciest of weekend jet-setters! .

On the menu: Tuna Viareggio with Sauteed Wild Arugula Greens (from the vintage 1960’s cookbook The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto).

The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition
The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition

In your glass: 1967 Grifone Tosacana wine (slightly chilled)

italy6

On the big screen: The 1962 romantic drama, The Light in the Piazza, starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton which was shot entirely on location in Florence.

lightpiazza3

Ms. Jeannie fell in love with this movie not only for its gorgeous location and costumes but also for its unexpected story and wonderful acting. Olivia deHavilland (who most famously played Melanie in Gone With the Wind) plays Meg, a modern American mid-century mother in a coming of age story centered around her daughter Clara’s budding romance with handsome Italian Fabrizio (played by George Hamilton).

piazza

Its not your typical love story, Clara is not your typical young woman and Meg is not your typical mother. With a plot that takes all sorts of twists and turns in unexpected ways, each character reveals several layers of depth, facing situations that are complex and timeless.  It’s also very funny and Yvette as Meg’s daughter, Clara, does a delicate job of creating a woman who is both fresh and feisty. Ms. Jeannie will not say anything else so she doesn’t spoil the surprises in the movie but here is the original trailer so you can get a sense of the adventure…

Florence, located in central Italy is known for its gardens, beaches and simple delicate cuisine. So in keeping with the movie Ms. Jeannie chose a recipe from the vintage cookbook, The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto which organizes the foods of Italy by section within the country.

italy3

Combining the best of the beaches and the gardens – the dinner menu represented both attributes with wild fish and garden greens. Adding in a glass (or more!) of the Tuscan blend Grifone Toscana 1967-  a 2009 vintage made in the same central region as Florence and a rustic baguette on the side made this authentic Italian dinner complete.

italy5

Both dishes were fresh, fast and easy to prepare – perfect summer cooking! Ms. Jeannie purchased both her fish and the wine from Trader Joe’s.  Just a little preparation note – tuna cooks best when its is semi-frozen. So if you buy frozen filets like Ms. Jeannie did, you want to just thaw them in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before slicing and cooking.

Tuna Viareggio Style (serves 4)

1.5lbs fresh tuna, sliced 1″ inch thick

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, sliced

1 small clove garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 anchovy filets, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup warm water

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon oregano

salt to taste

Dust tuna slices with flour. Fry in skillet in two tablespoons of oil, over moderate flame, until lightly brown on both sides. Remove from pan and keep hot (on a plate covered with a lid works great!). In same pan saute onion, garlic and parsley in balance of oil. Remove garlic and add anchovies and wine: cook slowly until wine almost evaporates. Dilute tomato paste in warm water, and add with rest of ingredients. Cook covered over moderate flame for 15 minutes. Add fish carefully and cook 6-10 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

The Sauteed Arugula Greens were a modification from Maria Lo Pinto’s Sauteed Dandelion Greens recipe. Since Ms. Jeannie couldn’t find dandelion greens anywhere, the arugula was the next best substitute. You could also use spinach but cooking times will vary a little bit.

italy7

Sauteed Arugula Greens (serves 4)

2 lbs. fresh arugula

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, cut in half

3 anchovy filets

Clean and wash greens. Roughly cut them in 2″ inch pieces. Heat oil in saucepan, add garlic and brown. Remove garlic and add greens, cover saucepan, and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Cut anchovies into small pieces and add. Mix well and cook 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

italy10

And there you have it dear readers! A mini-mental vacation to the land of good living! If you were feeling especially festive, you could also plan an outdoor movie night and set this one up under the stars. It would be very romantic. Or as they’d say in Italian… questo e molto romantico!

lightpiazza2

The Light in the Piazza is available for download or dvd purchase on Amazon here. The cookbook is available for purchase in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here. Catch up on past blog posts featuring other Italian recipes here. A special thanks to Mr. Jeannie Ology for the handsome hand modeling!