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.

Cocktails:

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.

Entree:

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.

IMG_3839Ingredients:

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

Dessert:

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!

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