“Mermaids” and Mock Chicken Pinwheels
Comfort food (and optional kitchen dancing) inspired by “Mermaids.”
The fourth installment in “Media Consumption,” a series of essays and recipes that take culinary inspiration from our favorite movies, TV shows, songs, and books.
There is great responsibility when someone reverently shows you a movie or TV show that is important to them. Even if it’s not to your taste, you should at least respect their enthusiasm, right? Recently a dear friend showed me the 1990 film Mermaids — it was my first time watching it, but for them it was a childhood favorite, and I promised to give it my full attention.
I was immediately awash with an odd nostalgic feeling — like I’d actually spent my youth rewatching Mermaids on rainy Sundays, carefully writing “don’t tape over” on the video label until the tape warped anyway from hundreds of rewinds. You know those movies? Like The Big Chill, and Sister Act, that weren’t made for young people but which we somehow ended up watching, uplifting yet dark, with a spectacular cast, and usually a reliable soundtrack. Comforting films. I knew before the title credits were done rolling that Mermaids was one such film — and that I adored it. My friend was relieved.
Mermaids features a knockout combination of Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci — three actresses with incredible presence, portraying the unconventional Flax family in 1960s America. Cher is Rachel Flax, who moves her girls from town to town at the drop of a failed relationship, finally landing in autumnal, fairytale-pretty Massachusetts. Winona Ryder is our narrator Charlotte, who rebels against her subversive mother with a neurotic, self-flagellating Catholicism obsession. Christina Ricci — in her film debut — is Kate, who dreams of being an Olympic swimmer. Rounding out the cast is an astonishingly charming Bob Hoskins as Lou Landsky, who is determined to keep the Flax family in one place, and Michael Schoeffling as local hunk Joe Poretti, the subject of Charlotte’s infatuation. Had I watched this when it was released, the troubling age difference between Joe and young Charlotte probably would’ve gone over my head; nowadays it’s jarring — I guess in a ’90s movie about the ’60s, it wasn’t so much of a consideration. That aside, Mermaids is so immensely lovely, full of sweetness and wit and above all, warmth. The relationship between the three Flax gals is gorgeous — you just want so badly to be part of their spirited, endearing family, despite their adversities.
Is there any better way to demonstrate familial happiness than a dancing-round-the-kitchen scene? No, there isn’t.
In honor of Mermaids, I’m making a recipe in the style of Mrs. Flax’s cooking predilections. It’s hard to take your eyes off Cher when she’s onscreen — that knowing look in her eyes, her delicious line readings, her sizzling dresses. We are told through Charlotte’s narration that her mother’s singularity extends to the food she makes: exclusively hors d’oeuvres and finger food, because anything bigger feels too suspiciously like commitment — which she cares for as little at dinnertime as she does in relationships. I’ve come up with these Mock Chicken Pinwheels, named to highlight their ’60s dinky kitschiness, which I think Mrs. Flax would appreciate. A combination of raw mushrooms, tofu, sunflower seeds, and basil might sound unusual but it comes together to form a versatile and delicious savory spread. Spear these pinwheels with a cherry tomato on a toothpick, put on Cher’s irrepressible Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), and get ready to shake up the town — or simply dance around the kitchen.
Mock Chicken Pinwheels
Makes about 12
- 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
- 10 button mushrooms, wiped clean if necessary
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or, two teaspoons lemon juice)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- A pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 wraps or flatbreads of your choice (I used spinach-flavored)
- Cherry tomatoes, to serve
Soak the sunflower seeds in boiling water for two hours, then drain the liquid off.
Blend everything except the wraps and the tomatoes together until thoroughly smooth. I find an immersion/stick blender or high speed blender works best for this. A food processor will work fine, but the texture may not be as smooth. Taste to see if you think it needs any more of anything.
Spread an even layer of the mushroom-tofu mixture over one of the wraps, then roll it up tightly from one side into a tube, as if you’re rolling sushi.
Cut into one-inch-thick slices, then spear with a cherry tomato on a toothpick. I actually found it easier to place a toothpick into the cut end rolled up tube and then slice from the other side of it.
The very ends of each rolled up tube will be a bit messy — consider them your cook’s treat and eat them.
Repeat with the remaining spread on the second wrap.