I have to introduce you to my all-time favorite Christmas movie.
For longer than I can remember, my family has snuggled in on each and every Christmas Eve to watch Christmas in Connecticut. It’s also my mom’s birthday, so we have finger foods, shrimp cocktail, egg nog, and birthday presents. In my younger days, my brothers would tease me for watching the movie again and again in the heat of the summer. For me, it triggers feelings of nostalgia, anticipation, comfort, fun, and simpler times all at once. Whenever I watch Christmas in Connecticut, it feels like my family isn’t so far away. I can hear the echo of my brothers mocking the same scenes over and over, and I still smile every time. I can see the candles my mom lit all around the room, and I hear my dad shooing the dog away while she tries to steal someone’s shrimp. Sometimes movies are better than comfort food, and this one will always mean the world to me.
Christmas in Connecticut stars Barbara Stanwyck as Elizabeth Lane, the Martha Stewart of her time. She is America’s best and most beloved cook, homemaker, and hostess. She is happily married to a successful man, and the two share a home on a moderately extravagant farm in Connecticut, where they are raising a baby boy. She writes a column for Smart Housekeeping, one of the most popular magazines in the country. Elizabeth has a huge following of readers who, pardon the pun, eat up every word of her articles about her cooking, her farm animals, and the rest of her picture-perfect world.
There’s just one catch: not one word of it is true. Elizabeth’s entire career is built on lies. In truth, she is a single woman living in a small apartment in New Cork City, with a typewriter and a view of a clothesline. She eats canned sardines for breakfast and can’t even boil water. All her recipes are written by her hilarious Uncle Felix, a chef and nearby restaurateur. Everything is, as Felix says, “Honky donky”, until one particular Christmas approached.
The owner of Smart Housekeeping summons Elizabeth to his home office to let her know he has received a special request. There’s a feeble sailor named Jefferson Jones, a war hero who nearly starved to death while stranded on a raft for fifteen days. Smart Housekeeping asks Elizabeth Lane to host the sailor for a real old-fashioned Christmas at her farm in Connecticut, and her boss invites himself along. After failing to defy her stubborn boss with every excuse she can think of, she agrees.
Later, she commiserates with her editor, her Uncle Felix, and her friend John. Thinking the jig is up and her career is over, she finally breaks down and agrees to marry John, who has been in unreciprocated love with Elizabeth for years. She figures she’ll enjoy living on his farm, the very Connecticut farm that inspired her columns. It’s then that the idea strikes– why not go ahead and host the sailor and her boss, and stage the entire life Elizabeth Lane has manufactured for Smart Housekeeping? It’s only for a few days. John can marry his love and Elizabeth can keep her job. She’ll have the farm, and the husband. They’ll have to borrow someone’s baby and bring Uncle Felix along to do all the cooking. To her editor’s relief, Elizabeth puts on a near-flawless performance as her alter ego– until she lays eyes on the sailor. It’s mutual love at first sight, but she is supposed to be marrying John. Complications and a web of lies unfold in a light-hearted comedy.
As I mentioned, my family and I always watched the film with all kinds of finger foods, probably a little different every year. I’ve always wanted to make a customized menu just for the movie and its characters. Since the story revolves so heavily around food, there are dozens of options, but I’ve narrowed it down to a good handful. Let’s start with the appetizer!
“I don’t flip them, I scoop them!!”
You have to love the infamous pancake scene. Elizabeth is pressured to put on a show and flip a pancake with all the guests watching. Felix has taught her how to “flip flop the flop flips”, but no amount of practive relieves the tension in the room at showtime.
These are just latkes, which are shredded potato pancakes often made for Hanukkah. I made them a little thicker than usual so they would be a more substantial appetizer. Another great option is hoecakes/Johnnycakes, which are cornmeal pancakes.
You can make these ahead of time, store them in the fridge, then warm and crisp them in a low-heat oven for about 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve them. Serve with sour cream, chopped chives, and bacon bits. Make a lot because they’ll be popular!
K-rations were individually packed nutrient bars that served as meal replacement for soldiers during war. Sailor Jefferson Jones gave the last of his to his shipmate, which is why Jones nearly starved. I honestly don’t know if K-rations are manufactured anymore, so I didn’t bother trying to find them. Rice crispy treats tinted army green probably taste much better anyway.
Romaine Salad with Rich, Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Just like Elizabeth wrote about. You can also add endive if you like it.
This is actually incredibly simple. It’s just chicken, roasted or fried, and served with cream gravy. Or you could call it “the Magoo”.
Asparagus with Hollandaise
Jefferson Jones fantasized about this side dish, hoping it would be part of his first meal if he were ever to make it off the raft alive.
Lovely Raw Egg
Poor Jones. Since he starved longer than his shipmate, he has to abstain from solid food while his buddy feasts in the hospital bed next to him. Jones fantasized about chocolate cake and ice cream, a thick juicy steak with baked potato, and anything else his favorite columnist Elizabeth Lane has ever written about. He’s excited when his nurse comes by one day with a surprise.
“What is it?? Turkey? Steak?”
“No.” says the nurse as she lifts the domed cover away from his plate. “A lovely raw egg floating in your milk!”
“Milk, milk, milk. Every time I yawn I’m scared I’ll moo.”, he complains.
This isn’t really a raw egg floating in a bowl of milk, but it sure looks like it! This is just a cantaloupe ball placed into Panna Cotta. You can use any Panna Cotta recipe, or you could just use vanilla yogurt to save time.
There are a couple of other alternatives for serving “eggs”. You could have a small bowl of gummy eggs out for nibbling, or you could make egg lookalikes with melted white chocolate and yellow M&M’s. Click here to find out how.
The Judge’s Manhattans
“The judge” is such an endearingly odd character, and I have no idea whether that was intentional. He laughs hysterically at jokes I didn’t even know where jokes and he’s just kind of a quirky fellow. In one of the many scenes where he is waiting around to perform John and Elizabeth’s wedding ceremony, Felix offers to make them each a martini.
“Two Manhattans!”, says the judge with a cackle. I don’t get it, and I’m not sure Felix does either, but maybe we’ll understand if we make some Manhattans.
I found this awesome recipe for Pomegranate Manhattans, which uses some easy-to-make rosemary simple syrup. It’s a perfect holiday version of a classic cocktail, but you can stick with traditional Manhattans if you prefer.
Macushla’s Chocolate Peppermint Milk
Macushla is the resident cow. She has lovely brown eyes and a nice firm rump.
Add an eighth of a teaspoon of peppermint extract to a glass or chocolate milk, or three quarters of a teaspoon to half a gallon. Add a little more if you prefer stronger peppermint taste. Serve with a candy cane. The kids will love this.
A nod to America’s Favorite Housekeeper, Elizabeth Lane. Not only does the name reflect our main character, the flavors are actually quite winter-friendly.
This cake is a Southern specialty, but there’s no reason Connecticut can’t borrow it just this once. Lane cake is a white cake with white icing, filled with a custardy blend of coconut, pecans, golden raisins, bourbon, and vanilla. I don’t like raisins so I swapped in dried figs for this recipe, and I used half spiced rum and half bourbon. For this recipe you’ll need:
Three 8″ rounds baked white cake*
*note: this is easiest if they are wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen
Vanilla buttercream or 7 minute frosting
5 Tbsp bourbon
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp cornstarch
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup pecans
¾ cup golden raisins or chopped dried figs
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, blend coconut until finely ground. Add pecans and raisins or figs and pulse until coarsely ground.
Place a skillet over medium heat and melt butter. Add coconut mixture and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk heavy cream, bourbon, cornstarch, and salt together in a bowl. When coconut mixture is done cooking, pour in bourbon mixture and stir to combine. Raise heat slightly and bring mixture to a boil, then remove pan from heat.
Allow to cool briefly, about 3 minutes. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.
Transfer filling to a bowl and cool to room temperature before assembling the cake.
Thank you so much for being one of my readers this year. If you haven’t already, look on the left side of the homepage to subscribe to e-mail updates from Food For the Face!
A very Happy Holidays and much love to each and every one of you.
Other ideas for this party theme:
Jefferson’s thick, juicy steak
Chocolate Cake and ice cream
Mushroom Omlette bites
Horseradish (great with steak)
Nora’s Good Olde Irish Stew