Friday, August 9, 2013

Classic in San Francisco

Photo from LIFE Photo Archive
Rancho Drive-In Theater in San Francisco, August 1948
One of my favorite cities is San Francisco and much of that is due to its historic quality. I remember watching Vertigo for the first time and recognizing many parts of the city and seeing how it became like another character in the twisty plot. So I wanted to explore what other vintage movies were filmed or set in good 'ole San Fran, and here are a few.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967) starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn
The Drayton's views are challenged when their engaged daughter brings home her black fiancé.

Trivia: This was Spencer Tracy's last appearance on film. He passed 17 days after filming ended. At the time the movie was conceived, interracial marriage was still illegal in a number of states. By the time the movie was in theaters, the US Supreme Court in the case of Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

Pal Joey (1957) starring Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak
Joey Evans has it made. Rich widow Vera Simpson provides financial security to Joey and his every whim, but along comes beautiful ingenue Linda English and now Joey is caught between the two women.

Trivia: Rita Hayworth plays what is supposed to be an older cougar type who is keeping Joey as her arm candy, but in reality Rita Hayworth was only in her late 30's when she played the role and actually 3 years younger than Frank Sinatra.

The Birds (1963) starring Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy and Rod Taylor
During a trip to a small Northern California town, Melanie Daniels is met with bizarre attacks by vicious birds who seem to be targeting her.

Trivia: The famous depiction of a woman screaming whilst being attacked by birds that appears on the movie poster is actually Jessica Tandy and not Tippi Hedren. Tippi also is not the one that Rod Taylor as Mitch is carrying down the stairs from the bedroom after Tippi's character has been trapped in a room with the birds, it is actually Ms. Hedren's stand in since Tippi Hedren was hospitalized from exhaustion after spending a week filming that scene. One ending that was considered was showing the Golden Gate Bridge covered in birds and Hitchcock purposely did not include a "The End" at the closing of the film to emphasize the unending terror of the birds.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) starring William Powell, Louise Rainer and Myrna Loy
Based on the life of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., the famous producer of numerous extravagant stage revues known as the Ziegfeld Follies.

Trivia: Billie Burke (best known for her portrayal of Glinda the Good Witch from MGM's The Wizard of Oz movie (1939), was married to Florenz Ziegfeld from 1914 until his death in 1932. Louise Rainer who played Ziegfeld's common law first wife Anna Held was the first woman to win two Academy awards in a row, the first for this movie and the next for her role in The Good Earth (1937).

The Lady from Shanghai (1948) starring Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Everett Sloane
Michael O'Hara meets beautiful Elsa Bannister and is convinced to join her and her husband on a yachting cruise but is soon embroiled in a bizarre murder plot.

Trivia: The movie was shot in San Francisco, although the setting on film is supposed to be New York. The yacht used for filming, the Zaca, belonged to Errol Flynn at the time and despite having been almost destroyed throughout the years from neglect and ownership disputes, it now sails out of Monte Carlo and is considered to be one of the world's finest yachts (and quite possibly haunted). The film was not a success, and many people believe that it may have had to do with the decision by Welles to have Rita Hayworth cut her famous red hair short and dye it blonde.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George and Peter Lorre
Private detective Sam Spade gets involved in a twisted quest for a priceless statuette that involves several eccentric criminals and a beautiful liar.

Trivia: This was John Huston's directorial debut. Although there were several falcon statuettes used during filming, Bogart dropped one of the original ones cast out of lead (others were cast out of resin). This first one can be seen on display at the Warner Bros., movie museum with visible dents from being dropped. To give Mary Astor's character the appearance of being nervous and breathless, John Huston would run with her around the set several times before shooting her scenes.

Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart and Kim Novak
Retired private investigator John 'Scottie' Ferguson becomes obsessed with his client and old friend's young beautiful wife who he has been hired to follow.

Trivia: James Stewart's character eventually finds Kim Novak's character at The Empire Hotel at 940 Sutter St. in the heart of San Francisco. This hotel is now known as Hotel Vertigo and the room (Room 501) where the scenes took place is still reminiscent of how it appears on film. The film was poorly received upon its release, but is now considered one of Hitchcock's greatest films and in 2012 it replaced Citizen Kane in the Sight and Sound critics' poll as the greatest film of all time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Read a Book, Sip a Cocktail No. 24

Photo from
I saw no other way to end my Read a Book, Sip a Cocktail series than with a book on Marilyn Monroe.  I've read a few of them, and this one has been one of my favorites thus far. Not only did Taraborrelli do a great job in recounting Marilyn's life, but he did so in a way that was well-written, documented and not sensationalized. There was still room for the reader to make up his or her mind about her life and to get a better understanding as to why or how events unfolded as they did for Marilyn Monroe. I've always been a fan, but I know that she does not always get the best rap when it comes to her reputation or her stardom. But through this book you are able to see the person behind the big screen. Marilyn had very humble beginnings and a troubled past with her sick mother and no father to speak of. But she also had gumption, heart, and drive. Not to mention talent of course. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe doesn't reveal any particular big secret, but it does allow the reader a glimpse into the beautiful tragedy that was Marilyn Monroe and I for one did not come away feeling sorry for her or lamenting what happened, but rather I gained a better understanding of her life and a wish that I could have been around when she was alive.

For the cocktail pairing I had to of course use champagne, but I wanted to glam it up and make it pretty for MM.  I had seen a champagne cocktail that used a blooming hibiscus flower for garnish and I thought it looked so beautiful, my eye was instantly drawn to it, and that pretty much sums up what Marilyn does to most people, even 51 years from her passing, she still draws the eye in and fascinates us (she passed 51 years ago today on August 5th 1962).  I'm calling this one The NJ for Norma Jeane.

The NJ
6 oz. Champagne (any one you prefer, although Marilyn did like her Dom Pérignon)
A hibiscus flower in rose water syrup
1/3 cup of Granita made from Hibiscus tea and simple syrup

How to: First make the granita.  To begin, seep some dried hibiscus blooms in boiling water to make the hibiscus tea (about 1 1/2 cups). Strain the tea and let it completely cool.  Mix the tea with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of simple syrup. Pour into a small metal cake or pie pan and freeze until the top layer begins to harden. This takes about two hours. Using a fork, scrape the mixture to break the frozen parts into tiny pieces. Freeze for another 30 minutes and then scrape again. Repeat this process until the granita resembles fluffy shaved ice. This takes about 4 hours in total. To assemble the cocktail, lay about 1/3 of a cup of the granita in your favorite champagne glass.  Place a hibiscus flower on top of the granita. Then slowly pour your champagne into the glass.  You can use the flower itself or the back of a small spoon to let the champagne slowly roll into the glass so that it floats on top.

This is the granita the first time out of the freezer
After a few times back and forth between scraping and freezing, the granita becomes 'fluffier'
Start assembling the cocktail with a bed of granita first
Then add the hibiscus flower
These flowers are edible, sustainably harvested in Australia and packed in the essence of Bulgarian roses
Pour the champagne slowly so that it rolls over the flower and into your cocktail glass
The finished champagne cocktail - this one's for you NJ!
As an adage, I just want to say that I have truly enjoyed putting these cocktail and book pairings together.  I don't always sit with a cocktail in hand when I read, well actually, hardly ever. But I know that when I make these drinks they will evoke the books that I paired them with, and hopefully this isn't the end of my cocktail adventures. I will definitely be sprinkling them in here and there as I go forth whenever I can. Cheers everyone!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Read a Book, Sip a Cocktail No. 23

Photo from
I will admit that I watched the movie version of Laura Esquivel's Como Agua Para Chocolate, which was released in 1992 and starred Lumi Cavazos and Marco Leonardi, before I read the book. I actually then went on to read the book in English and I enjoyed it very much because I felt that the film did a great job in capturing the saga of Tita and her ridiculously demanding mother Mamá Elena, her petty sister Rosaura and her weak, coward of a lover Pedro (although in the end I was rooting for him).  I think what I enjoyed the most about the story was the element of cooking and how Tita's emotions were poured into her culinary creations - so much so that those who consumed them were in turn consumed by her state of mind, heart and soul.  Like the title implies, when something is hot enough to make chocolate with, it's basically too hot to handle, and angered to the point of boiling over. So for this drink I wanted to blend both the chocolate aspect of the saying, but also give it a kick with some ginger and bring it home with a sultry-colored fruit (pomegranate would be great with this too, especially from the point of being a forbidden fruit and all that).  In the end this drink delivers a refreshing and sweet flavor blended nicely with the slight heat of the ginger. I think that if a drink had emotions, this would be one with many.

Too Hot to Handle Cocktail

Too Hot to Handle
1 oz. Skyy infusions ginger vodka
1 oz. Crème de cacao liqueur
3 oz. Naked blueberry juice*

How to: Prep your martini glass by sticking it in the freezer for about 5 minutes. In a cocktail shaker mix ice, vodka, crème de cacao liqueur, and juice. Shake for at least 20 seconds. Serve in your ice cold martini glass and keep cool under the collar.

Getting my ingredients ready

After pouring everything into my martini shaker
Pouring away
I love the color the blueberry juice gives to the drink