Blame It on Rio (Olympics)

I’m trying to get into the spirit of watching the Rio Olympics…really I am. I must admit, though, the opening ceremonies left me more than just a little bored–so much so that I ended up switching over to The Great British Bake-Off (hey it was the semi-finals!) about an hour into the broadcast.  Maybe it was all the commercials and endless commentaries or maybe it was the surprisingly underwhelming production values (perhaps attributable to budgetary constraints?), but I simply wasn’t feeling it.   Alas, I missed the glorious parade of nations…including the fabulously bare-chested flag bearer from Tonga, which was, according to Rina, her mom’s favorite part of the ceremony.   I’m hoping that once my favorite competitions–women’s gymnastics and swimming–are underway my enthusiasm will get reignited.  If not, I’ll have to settle for the highlights and entertain myself with movies (partially) set in Rio.  Okay, to be fair, they don’t authentically reflect Brazilian culture–strictly popcorn Hollywood fare–but engaging nevertheless.

Flying Down to Rio (1933)

No one actually flew down to Rio to make this musical and very few people remember that it was really Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond who got top billing.  What makes this otherwise lightweight musical noteworthy to film history buffs is the debut of perhaps arguably the most famous, most beloved onscreen dance pairing of all time–Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Now Voyager (1942)

Bette Davis at her melodramatic best, transforming herself from a dowdy neurotic Bostonian spinster heiress to a sophisticated, fashionable modern woman through intense therapy, who finds love on a cruise ship with a married man played by Paul Henreid. Their tentative onboard flirting culminates in a brief tryst while on a day trip through Rio de Janeiro (must have been something in air).  No film at the time did more for smoking than Now Voyager. Paul Henreid’s iconic duo cigarette lighting became symbolic of the sublimated sex act.

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Notorious (1946)

Alfred Hitchcock spins a masterful tale of romance and intrigue centered around post WWII Nazi espionage in Brazil.  To say the chemistry between Cary Grant (Devlin) and Ingrid Bergman (Alicia) was caliente would be an understatement.  Rio provided the perfect setting for their love affair to blossom.  The eroticism of their cleverly choreographed kisses, which danced around the Production Code restrictions of the time, were hands down some of the sexiest moments in film history.

Brazil (1985)

If you’re in the mood for something completely offbeat, director Terry Gilliam serves up a big heaping plate of it in his fantastical oddball story about a low level bureaucrat’s (Jonathan Pryce) search for his dream woman in a dystopian, totalitarian world driven by rampant consumerism.     It’s a film full of Gilliam’s trademark Monty Pythonish dark humor and imaginatively elaborate sets. Who knew how prophetic his vision really was in light of the recent controversies involving the IOC?

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

What was it about 1985?  Here’s another film with dark political underpinnings centered on a riveting story about two prisoners in a Brazilian jail, involving political intrigue, espionage, sexual identity, love, and the power of storytelling.

Fast Five (2011)

If you’re just looking for some mindless fun, then Fast Five, the fifth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, might be right up your alley. It’s an adrenaline rush of wildly preposterous car chases and high octane fight scenes set against the backdrop of modern Rio de Janeiro.

Whether you’re watching the Olympics or just a movie (sort of) set in Rio, you can always use some refreshments and snacks–two of the most characteristically Brazilian being the Caipirinha and Pao de Queijo (cheese bread).  I added whole frozen blackberries and fresh mint to my Caipirinha, topping it off with a little soda water for a refreshing twist on a Brazilian classic.

Blackberry Caipirinha

  • 2 oz. Cachaca
  • 2 tsp. turbinado or raw sugar
  • 1/2 lime, quartered
  • 3-4 fresh or frozen blackberries
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • chilled soda water

Place the sugar, lime pieces and one sprig of mint at bottom of a highball glass and muddle together to release the essential oils.  Add the Cachaca along with 4-5 ice cubes and the blackberries.  Top off with soda water and garnish with the remaining mint sprig.

I would describe the Pao de Queijo or “cheese bread”  as a cross between the cheesy French gougere and a popover on the outside, with the chewiness of mochi on the inside.  It’s made with tapioca flour so it’s gluten-free.  To jazz it up a bit, I seasoned the batter with a tiny sprinkling of garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, and ground black pepper.

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Yield:  1 dozen

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (e.g. canola, light olive, grapeseed)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (aka starch)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a blender, process the egg, oil, and milk to combine.  Whisk together the dry ingredients then process into the wet ingredients until smooth.  Add the cheeses and pulse just to combine.  Pour the batter evenly amongst twelve well-greased muffin molds.  Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 22-25 mins. until the cheese breads are golden brown and puffy.  Cool in the tins for few minutes before unmolding.






On the Set: The Grass is Greener

On the Set by Rina Ayuyang

Many moons ago, I self-published a comic series called Namby Pamby. This is from the last issue from 2008, and marks the first of a series of comics that will adapt excerpts from movie star memoirs. What I like most about movie star memoirs is learning the behind-the-scenes moments during the making of my favorite movies, especially the interaction between the stars, crew and director. This one is from Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies by Stephen M. Silverman. Stanley Donen is one of my favorite directors, whose versatility in directing musicals, comedies, suspense genres is something I truly admire. Plus he got to direct some of the most iconic stars in Classic Hollywood. Stay tuned where I try to find some back story to The Women from Joan Fontaine’s memoir. Click here for a bigger glimpse of the comic>

An Affair to Remember…Now that was when people KNEW how to be in love.

We thought it was only fitting, given that it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, to celebrate the granddaddy of all classic Hollywood romantic dramas  An Affair to Remember (1957).

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.14.05 PMSure, there have been several versions of this classic tale about a playboy and a singer, engaged to other people, meeting and falling in love on a transatlantic ocean liner–Love Affair (1939) starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne (good) and Love Affair (1994) starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (dreadful)–but the best one of all features the dynamic duo of Cary Grant (Nickie Ferrante) and Deborah Kerr (Terry McKay), whose onscreen chemistry virtually crackles with energy, from the first moment their characters meet aboard ship.  While all the other passengers are fawning over the infamous Nickie Ferrante, Terry isn’t impressed and takes pleasure in mocking his Lothario reputation.  “You don’t happen to have a match?” he asks her (opening his cigarette case), to which she responds,”You could light it from that inscription, couldn’t you?” (referring to his ex-lover’s amorous declaration).

What I find most intriguing about their relationship is how candid they are with one another, particularly with respect to their previous relationships (in the case of Nickie, his MANY dalliances).  Both admittedly enjoy living the high life, even if it’s on a lover’s dime, and don’t exactly relish the idea of having to trade in the pink champagne for beer, which could come off as somewhat unseemly…except that it IS Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr so it’s all good.  When they make their pact to give themselves six month to essentially “grow up” and get real jobs, you get a sense of how genuine their love is, which makes their subsequent struggles to reunite all the more touching.

No wonder I find myself, like Meg Ryan’s character Annie in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), bawling at the end of the movie and wondering why it’s so hard to find that kind of love.

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I’d like to think that the kind of love in An Affair to Remember can exist in real life…well, minus the car accident and permanent paralysis that is.

If you’re not exactly in the mood to binge-watch a marathon of romantic movies this Valentine’s Day (which according to experts is a bad idea), I have the delicious alternative.  In honor of what is arguably one the best romantic movies of all time, I present my An Affair to Remember-themed Valentine’s Menu.


I came up with two featuring Terry McKay’s bubbly of choice, pink champagne (or in this case sparkling rose wine).

The first is a twist on the classic Champagne Cocktail, with a spiced cherry bitters instead of the Angostura–three to four dashes on a sugar cube dropped into a glass of chilled bubbly enhances the fruitiness of the wine.

The second is a sparkling version of a Capri, a delicious mix of fresh ruby grapefruit juice and Campari, made even more delightful with the addition of sparkling rose.  Rina says the cocktail makes her think of sunny Capri which in turn reminds her of the part in the movie where Nickie and Terry visit his grandmother in the south of France.


For the main course, I went with something a little more modern–Seared Duck Breast with a Citrus and Pomegranate Marsala Sauce, served on a bed of baby greens tossed with blue lake green beans and diced beets, dressed with a sherry citrus vinaigrette.  Yeah, I probably could’ve made Bouillabaisse (which is what Terry recommends Nickie have as they slyly pass each other on the staircase) or something really traditional like Steak Diane–but that would be too obvious.   Besides, juicy pink duck breast with crispy skin is much sexier…and it’s a dish you might find on one of today’s ocean liners.


For the Seared Duck

  • Two 4-5 oz. Duck Breasts
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Large Shallot (or 1/4 Small Red Onion), minced
  • 1 Clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup Dry Marsala
  • 1/3 cup Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 cup Citrus Segments (e.g. mandarins, oranges)
  • 1 tsp. Citrus Zest
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate Seeds
  • 1 tsp. Honey
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter

For the Sherry Citrus Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 1 Small Orange
  • 3 Tbsp. Aged Sherry Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Agave Syrup or Honey
  • 1 Tbsp. Minced Shallot
  • 1/2 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves
  • 1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste


Baked Alaska is one of those showy desserts that has been a staple on ocean liners and cruise ships for ages.  If Nickie and Terry weren’t trying so hard to fly under the radar they might’ve enjoyed one of these in the dining room.  It looks much harder than it really is.  I made a very dark chocolate midnight cake for the base (although you can substitute with store bought chocolate pound cake).  The cake is super moist and dense, and freezes well so you can stash the leftovers and save it for another dessert.

Chocolate Midnight Cake:

  • ½ cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 ½ cups Sugar
  • 1 ½ cups Boiling Water
  • ½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup minus 2 tbsp. Cake Flour
  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda

Sift cocoa and sugar into a mixer bowl. On low speed whisk in boiling water for 3 mins. Increase to medium speed and add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk for another 3 mins. Sift together remaining dry ingredients and gradually whisk into the mixture. Continue whisking for another 3 mins. Pour batter into a greased and parchment-lined sheet pan (10 ½ “ x 15 ½ “ x 1”). Bake cake at 325 degrees for approximately 15-20 mins. or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool completely.

To make things easier, I used a store bought raspberry-swirled gelato.  Any ice cream or sorbet will work, although since it is Valentine’s-themed I’d pick something pinkish or red and white swirled.  The Italian meringue might be the hardest part.  If you don’t want to go through the trouble of cooking a sugar syrup, you can whip up a simple meringue, beating 2 egg whites with about 1/4 cup of sugar until stiff and glossy.  I’m not all that big on pyrotechnics, so I didn’t toast the meringue the old school way–with flaming 160 proof liquor.  Avoid calling the fire department and use a small kitchen torch.

Nothing says “I love you” like your very own Baked Alaska.  Happy Valentine’s Day!