West Side Story won the Oscar for best picture the year I was born. Yay 1961! Wait a minute, suddenly all of these “old movies” aren’t so old anymore. Because, dammit, 46 isn’t old, is it?
I think West Side Story is a beautiful and amazing adaptation of one of Broadway’s finest. Although at first, West Side Story wasn’t so well-revered: it didn’t win the Tony Award for 1957’s Best Musical, The Music Man did. But, it’s not a perfect stage to screen adaptation, either. For example, the song “I Feel Pretty” opens up the second act of the play, after the rumble (and Bernardo and Riff are killed but the girls don’t know it yet). I think they should have done it this way for the movie as well: it’s much more jarring, more ironic that way. However, I’m glad they swapped “Officer Krupke” for “Cool” for after Rumble. But the “America” number in the film version really shines: Instead of all the Shark girls singing about the pros and cons of America it Shark boys vs Shark girls. The insanely talented Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, who don’t have all that many scenes together, are particularly brilliant and they have *tons* of chemistry. They both won supporting Oscars (and we’re each others’ Oscar dates, too). I almost wished the movie would have been about Anita and Bernardo–they’re more fun than dopey sweet Tony and boringly pure Maria. But I wish that a lot about musicals–usually the supporting characters are *much* more interesting than the leads (See Guys & Dolls, Grease, Annie). Sorry, Natalie Wood. Sorry. Richard Beymer.
Not only is West Side Story one of the better selections the Academy has ever made, it is also a favorite of mine on a personal, somewhat intimate level. The last time I watched this movie, actually just the end credits, was about 11 years ago. For some bizarre reason I started sobbing uncontrollably. At the credits. Two days later I found out I was expecting. Cut to eight months later and my little Natalie was born. Thanks West Side Story!
For dinner we sided with the Sharks and went with a staple of Puerto Rico: Arroz Con Pollo
1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes including juice
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a medium Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken on all sides, about 12 minutes total. Transfer chicken with tongs to a plate.Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet and add onion, bell pepper, and salt to taste. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, and rice, then cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and boil, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with juice, chicken broth, saffron, and bay leaf. Nestle chicken in rice, adding any juices from plate.
Cook, covered, over low heat until chicken is cooked through, rice is tender, and most of liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in peas, olives, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover skillet and let stand 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf and serve.
I didn’t use peas. I. Hate. Peas.
For dessert I went Sharks again and made a caramel apple flan courtesy of Gale Gand. I also realized that this is the third time I’ve flambeed for this project. Hot stuff!
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons butter
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup half-and-half
Place the sugar in a saucepan, and moisten it with the water without stirring. Bring to a boil and cook until light golden brown. Immediately pour the caramel into an 8 to 9 cup mold (a cake pan will do) and swirl and tilt the mold to coat it with the caramel, including the walls.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large skillet, melt the butter and let it foam. Add the apples and cook on medium low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. Add the brandy and flame it, then continue to cook, shaking the pan, for 2 minutes or so.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the half-and-half and the apples. Pour this custard into the caramel-lined mold and bake in a water bath for 50 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Remove the flan from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Run a knife around the edge of the mold then turn the flan out onto a serving platter. Pour any caramel sauce from the mold over the flan.
For the Jet portion of our program, I discovered this Pinot Grigio named “Riff”. Hence the title of this post.