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Diner: Dinner and a Movie

Making a wonderful meal to accompany a wonderful story

By Anne Mitchell · November 29th, 2006 · Diner
Jim Fugett

Hello and welcome to Dinner and a Movie, that annoying show where a perky TV host and a scantily-clad hostess interrupt a perfectly good movie to yack about food. But instead of perky and scanty, tonight it's Grinchy and Santy -- and we're watching the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.

Actually, we couldn't book the Grinch and Santa after all, since this is their busy time of year and their agents told them that print is old media. So you're stuck with me.

The good news is that I'm a huge It's a Wonderful Life fan. I'll watch it more than once every Christmas season, and I cry every time. In fact, I cried when I read the It's a Wonderful Life Wikipedia entry while boning up for this article. How pathetic is that?

So, on with the show! Just pretend that I'm scantily clad and you're watching It's a Wonderful Life (and not that I'm wearing a sweatshirt over my pajamas and you're reading CityBeat in some bar in Norwood).

Just imagine Christmas music, the sound of sleigh bells, the smell of cinnamon, black and white film, opening credits ... snowy Bedford Falls.

George Bailey's friends and family are worried. We know this because we're eavesdropping on their bedtime prayers, which have gotten the attention of a Benevolent Deity of your choosing and his Head Angel. Remember, it's the movies, and this sort of thing happens in the movies.

Anyway, the B.D. and the H.A. are listening to a lot of concerned folks who are worried about George, who's having a mighty bad day. Why, if George Bailey were being played by Samuel L. Jackson instead of Jimmy Stewart, he'd be all "Mutha-effer!" But Jimmy's not Samuel, so instead George Bailey is sitting on a bar stool getting quietly and purposefully drunk while the B.D. and the H.A. are bringing Clarence, angel second class, and us, the audience, up to speed.

You see, George has spent a lifetime dreaming dreams that haven't come true.

Every time he went past some antiquated gizmo in the drugstore where he worked, he wished for a million dollars. "Hot dog!" he'd exclaim as he hit the gizmo.

You, my faithful reader, might have wondered when we were going to get to the "dinner" element of this Dinner and a Movie, and here we are. Our dinner begins with the humble hot dog transformed into the cocktail frank -- named after Frank Capra, the director of It's a Wonderful Life. Actually that last bit is a lie, but it sounds good, doesn't it? So grab a toothpick, stab a weenie and let's continue.

The B.D. and the H.A. are giving Clarence a crash course in George's dashed dreams. Not only did he never get the million dollars that he wished for so consistently, but he also never got to travel, leave Bedford Falls and visit exotic foreign lands.

But what do they eat in those exotic foreign lands, you ask? In France, they eat French bread! So have some French bread with your cocktail franks while our story continues. We're about to get to the meat of it.

Meat! Oh, yes.

Clarence, the aforementioned angel, is craving some wings. Angel wings, but we don't have the recipe for those. Instead, we take our cue from the song that George and Mary sing on their way home from the school dance. That's it! "Buffalo gals won't you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight...."

The buffalo wings! That's what Christmas is all about! Crispy yet gooey. Spicy but cooled by snowy-white, creamy bleu cheese dressing. No wonder Clarence wants wings so desperately.

Or, if you need more nutrition with your sentimentality, try the treat that Mary Bailey ingeniously prepared in the fireplace of the broken-down house where she and George spent their wedding night. No, not that meaty wedding-night treat, you dirty-minded readers. I'm talking about rotisserie chicken!

And while it would be clever to use a phonograph to spin your birds, I suggest that you forfeit authenticity for all-natural, properly pre-made poultry from Wild Oats. You can always dab on a little Frank's Red Hot Sauce for a hint of buffalo zing.

By the time Bert and Ernie warble "I Love You Truly," you're probably pretty thirsty. While the natural inclination is to grab a frosty cold beer with those wings, our feature film suggests something stronger. As Nick the bartender says, "We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast."

If a martini's too much for you, there's wine, as George says, "so that joy and prosperity may reign forever." Just don't drive away with your headlights off -- it's a wonderful way to crash into a tree.

I love the perfect, low-key way that Jimmy Stewart conveys George's disappointment -- just the aching look on his face as he listens to the train whistles that are meant for someone else. And how about Peter Bailey's motto on the wall of the Building & Loan: "All you can take with you is what you have given away." Can you imagine that slogan at your ATM?

But when George staggers through the wintry night in Potterville -- Bedford Falls without the influence of his wonderful life -- where neon gin joints like "Dime a Dance" have replaced the wholesome emporiums, you can only think of one thing: What's for dessert?

Well, what's the other thing they seem to have a lot of in Bedford Falls? Hot dogs, wings, booze ... snow! Ya gotta have the Sno Balls.

Sure, you can go with the Hostess variety, and I'll look the other way. But to really celebrate, bake up the homemade version from David Leite at leitesculinaria.com: "Perfect domes of fuzzy Day-Glo pinkness, the Marilyn Monroe of the snack rack."

Why, that description would even turn George Bailey's head! Or, if you don't have a domed cupcake pan and want a carry-out version that's a lot more up-market than the plastic-wrapped kind, call Dee Felice Café in Covington. "Boule de Neige" is their signature dessert.

That about rounds out our Dinner and a Movie festivities, film fans. But say you wanted an It's a Wonderful Life evening and were short on franks, wings and even time. I've got a great suggestion for you, too, my old building and loan pal.

Playhouse in the Park is offering This Wonderful Life, a one-man adaptation of our favorite holiday classic, now through Dec. 23. I took my little mother (we'll call her Ma Bailey) to see it last week, arriving early for a spot of dinner.

The young woman running the food booth was working harder than George Bailey at the soda fountain, but she managed to rustle up a couple bowls of soup and a darn fine cranberry chocolate chip cookie to go with the fastest telling of It's a Wonderful Life you can imagine. In just 75 minutes, Harry Bouvy plays every part and conveys all the essentials and heartfelt emotions of a show he obviously loves. You'll love it, too.

Atta boy, Clarence. ©



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