Martha’s Cover Model Cookie! – Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies- 47 eggs, 42 1/2 cups of sugar, 32 sticks of Butter, and 34 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 147 recipes to go!

May 23, 2010


Martha's Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

André's Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Today’s cookie comes straight from the cover of Martha’s book and is a delightfully chewy, gingery, chocolatey, masterpiece. Martha’s Cookie book was originally purchased by my partner, Dan and I think his purchase had mostly to do with the featured cookie on the cover oozing chocolate from its creamy center. I could tell when he gifted the book to me what he was really saying was “Make this cookie, please.”

Freshly grated ginger combined with powdered ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, cocoa powder, brown sugar, butter, salt, baking soda, white sugar, butter, molasses, semi-sweet chocolate chunks, and flour yields two dozen of pure happiness.

Dan took these to work with him the next day and sent me a text an hour later that they were gone in ten minutes. His coworkers raved and reported that these were absolutely their favorite cookies so far.

Molasses is what really gives this cookie its dark brown color. A minimal amount of cocoa powder is used and certainly not enough to turn the batter a rich chocolate brown. The ginger flavor is what really gives this cookie its zing. There is nothing on this planet that has the rich, complex flavor of fresh ginger. When tasting the cookie, immediately you are struck by the distinct taste of gingerbread but very soon after the rich creaminess of the chocolate takes hold. The finish is a slight burn at the back of the throat from the ginger and ground cloves. It’s simply a delicious, sophisticated cookie and should be baked often.

Well done, Martha… or Martha’s minions…or whoever came up with this recipe…Well Done!

There’s a great feeling of satisfaction that comes with baking. It’s really about creating, I think. I take a few ingredients from around my kitchen and create something wonderful. Best of all, it’s something wonderful that is meant to be shared. It makes me feel accomplished, thoughtful, smart, skilled, and generally self-satisfied.  It’s not extraordinary. It’s not like I spent the afternoon writing an opera or giving the cat a sex change. It’s something small and simple. Just enough to make me feel productive and useful. Just enough to brighten someone’s day and thus brighten mine, too.

I’ve spent much of my life in careers centered around making others happy. As an actor I believed that my first responsibility was to the audience. They needed to be delighted and engaged by everything I did on stage. This was particularly true of my time as a circus clown. If an audience’s joy depended on me dropping my pants, I dropped my pants. If it meant taking a pie in the face three times a day, so be it. Many may have thought these actions were undignified. I saw it as me doing my job well. It brought me great satisfaction to see families sitting together in a crowded stadium smiling from ear-to-ear.

Every Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show begins with the ringmaster’s announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Children of all ages!…”

I love that thought. From the beginning of the show, the audience is told to leave adulthood at the door. Be a kid again. Laugh. Smile. Enjoy!

The veneer of the circus was everything I desired in a career. It was a chance to make masses of people happy, a chance to travel all over, an opportunity to take my silliness very seriously. What  I found backstage, however,  was very different. I am not writing an exposé of backstage at Ringling. My former work as a circus clown has carried me far and opened a lot of doors for me over the years. For that, I am very grateful, but there was a world behind the curtain that I was not equipped to handle.

Audiences come to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show On Earth (Big Bertha to circus folks) to see primarily two things- Clowns and Elephants. During my time on the road we traveled with more than a dozen of both. Inside the world of a traveling circus there are unique customs, superstitions, and even language. Developed over a hundred years, the circus was its own traveling city.

In your first year with the circus you are known as a “First of May.” This is in reference to the time of year when new hires were traditionally introduced into the circus. I came to the circus in November but was still considered a First of May. Because you weren’t paid much your first year, or really any subsequent year thereafter, you had opportunities to accept additional work during set up or tear down. This work was referred to as Cherry Pie. First of Mays would go to the production manager and ask if there was any Cherry Pie left? If there was then you could expect some long, late-night hours of heavy lifting and tedious grunt work.

If a particular show was sold out, the boss clown would announce it was a Straw House. It was customary back in the days of the Big Top to throw straw on the floor once all the bench seats were sold to accommodate more audience members. If you needed a complimentary ticket for a friend or family member, you would ask for an Annie Oakley. Back during her days in the circus, Annie would take a patron’s ticket, toss it in the air, and shoot a hole through it with her revolver.

There was an entire glossary of terms and customs provided during our time at clown college to prepare us for life on the road. There were words for the rigging equipment, the vendors, the box office, the food stand, and if you had to pee, you’d better know where the donikers were located.

There was something really terrific about the history of it all. It made me feel as though I were a member of some insane, exclusive club. Within the world of the circus, there is one place that is excluded to all other members of the circus save the clowns-  Clown Alley. It’s where the clowns would keep their steamer trunks filled with supplies, costumes, props, and personal affects. It was considered bad luck to witness a clown transform and so curtains were hung keeping the rest of the circus folk, and whoever else from sneaking a peak at  the clowns getting made-up.

It was in Clown Alley that I first started to hear disparaging remarks. The words “Fag” and “Queer” hung thick in the air like the clouds of  baby powder in the boys’ section of Clown Alley. It worried me. I was gay. They knew I was gay. They joked about me being gay. But the laughter didn’t feel the same as when I took a pie in the face. It stung. Sure, I could drop my pants in front of ten thousand people to get a laugh, but I couldn’t deal with this? I decided to avoid Clown Alley, using it only to get into makeup and change costumes. I, instead, spent most of my time with the elephants.

Having had a roommate who was an elephant trainer back in Tampa, I had a deep fondness for these massive animals. If you look into the eyes of an elephant, you can’t help but remark at their soulfulness. They are filled with expression. When an elephant is happy, you can tell at a glance. Back in Tampa, when the elephants were allowed to play in the water, their eyes would twinkle, their bodies would waddle, their trunks would curl up pulling their large mouths into an unmistakable smile. They looked like they were having fun. They were happy.

I never saw a circus elephant make that face. They looked tired, weary, frustrated, angry, and so very sad. I stopped one of the assistant elephant handlers to ask why a particular elephant had tears pouring down the sides of her face. He laughed, “‘Cause she’s a bitch and the bitch got what was coming to her.” He then pointed to the welt on the side of his face from where she had slapped him with her trunk. He then showed me his bull-hook, a two foot long  stick with  a metal hook on the end used to train elephants. “I gave her about ten good whacks across her skull. Bam! Bam! Bam!” he demonstrated. “Bitch’ll think twice before she messes with Cowboy.”  This assistant trainer’s name was “Cowboy.” A name, I later found out, was given to him in prison. He had never received any formal training in dealing with elephants. He was simply to keep them fed, watered, and in line.

Back in Tampa, I remember there always being a bull-hook in the corner of the apartment. The metal hook had a blunt, rounded tip. My roommate had explained that it was used to hook the inside of where the mouth and trunk met. You give it a slight tug and the elephant will move in that direction. I witnessed many of the Ringling “trainers” sitting in circles, sharpening their bull hooks to dangerous points. They wanted the elephants to fear them, and the best way to do that was to inflict as much pain as possible.

Each of these great animals were looking at a lifetime of being chained to a wall, beaten, and marched out briefly to perform. They would never roll in the grass or enjoy playing in the water like those I left in Tampa.

The largest of the elephants, King Tusk, had a particularly sad story. When he first came to Ringling Bros. from another circus in 1986, he was the largest traveling land mammal alive. He was 42 years old, weighing 14,762 pounds, standing 12 feet 6 inches tall, and sporting a length of 27 feet, King Tusk (Tommy) was a spectacular being. In the wild, elephants are constantly rubbing their tusks down to reduce the weight carried by their head. In this case, however, Tommy was prohibited to do so for forty-two years, allowing them to grow unacceptably long. In fact, where cracks would form along the tusk, metal bands were installed to keep them from breaking. His tusks were over seven feet long and the weight and strain it put on this poor animal’s back was enormous. He had arthritis in his neck and back and by the time I joined the circus in 1992, he could no longer perform any tricks.

Instead of retiring this great elephant with dignity, shaving down his tusks so he could live out his remaining years with comfort, Ringling would have him simply stand in the center ring while two acrobats performed on his back.

Tommy was finally sold to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 1998 after spending 51 years of his life performing in circuses. The zoo, realizing what shape Tommy was in, sent him to live out his remaining years at Two Tails Ranch in Florida where at 57 years of age he was finally euthanized just before Christmas in 2002. Ringling and Feld Entertainment would have you believe that they sent Tommy to retire at the Ranch, but they, in fact, did not.

I am grateful for the experiences I learned in the circus. I learned about who I am as a person, an entertainer, and a clown. I learned new words and had amazing, exciting, and terrific experiences. Most importantly, I learned what dignity means. I filled my steamer trunk with plenty of it as I rolled it out of Clown Alley and away from the Big Top forever.

I will not ever go to see a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show or any other Feld Entertainment Production ever again.

Tommy would have wanted it that way.

18 Responses to “Martha’s Cover Model Cookie! – Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies- 47 eggs, 42 1/2 cups of sugar, 32 sticks of Butter, and 34 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 147 recipes to go!”

  1. Don Adams Says:

    I’ll go even farther, and never have another B&B (or stay at one). What a sad, sad story, and may Tommy rest in peace. Makes one nostalgic for the relative fun and creative satisfaction of a feline sex change… I’m glad you’ve moved on to the simpler pleasures of baking and dropping your pants, André.

    And please ask Dan if they’re hiring at his workplace: I want to get in the cookie line!

  2. Russ Says:

    Wow. Major bummer of a story, Andre. Does Martha have a recipe for “Everything]s Great, Head in the Sand” cookies?

  3. Barbie Says:

    Rest in peace Tommy. Puts a new spin on all the circus parades we attended in the summer in Milwaukee. I’m going to find the Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies receipe your discription did it. There is a story about you in our morning paper, the Monterey County Herald.


    • Thanks, Barbie, for your comment and I hope you enjoy baking the Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies. Thanks for the “Head’s Up” about the article in your local paper. I posted a link to it in my PRESS section. Happy baking and please come back to read more when you can.

  4. Hilary Says:

    Tommy,

    Thanks for spreading the word. It is so important, since these animals have no voice.
    I have vowed to attend no circus or event where animals are on display for entertainment purposes. They are treated in such a painful and torturous way…just for ticket sales. What a world. Let’s be the change.

    Hilary

  5. Hilary Says:

    Didn’t mean to address to Tommy. oops.:)
    Sorry Andre.

    RIP Tommy.

  6. James Says:

    Thanks for your courage in sharing the memories of your experiences with the circus and elephants.


  7. [...] was a brilliant guest post over at PETA Files today by former Ringling Brothers clown André du Broc, about how he left the circus because he couldn’t take the behind-the-scenes abuse of circus [...]


  8. [...] When animal advocates decry circus-elephant abuse with damning documentation, the willful ignorance that allows the cruelty to continue is unconscionable. Andre du Broc is a former Ringling clown who had free and easy access to that circus’ elephants. His firsthand account fortifies an already-strong case against Ringling Bros.. From du Broc’s personal blog: [...]

  9. Katie K Says:

    Reading here about “Tommy” reminded me of an encounter I had with him one day in Long Beach, CA.

    I lived next to the Long Beach Arena, where the circus was going to perform. I walked to work at a nearby hotel thru the Areana parking lot and on this day, there was a semi-truck parked there. As I walked closer, I realized there was an elephant inside – it was Tommy.

    I ventured closer and saw that there was a small gap at the side door. No one was around, so I got closer. Suddenly, a trunk came waving out. I got closer still, and put my hand up.

    Tommy gently smelled (I think) my hand and then, still gently, wrapped the end of his trunk around my wrist. I felt the most amazing connection at that moment.

    At that point, a gruff voice spoke up from the cab of the truck, telling me to get away from the truck.

    Our connection was broken, but I will never forget it. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m sad to learn of Tommy’s passing, but at least he’s not in pain or being abused anymore.

    I also feel good that the peaceful protests I joined afterward resulted in the circus taking that particular venue off of their schedule.


    • Katie-
      Thank you so much for sharing this sweet story with me. I head out tomorrow to Anaheim, CA to address the city council in hopes that a ban will be placed on large captive animal performances within city limits.

      • Katie K Says:

        You’re welcome – I love sharing it! I hope you were successful in Anaheim. I will always remember that encounter and continue to work against animal abuse in the name of “entertainment”.


  10. Oh Andre, I desperately need a cookie after reading about the abuse that the elephants and you both suffered through at Ringling Bros. Thank you for sharing your story and speaking out about what really goes on backstage at the circus. You’re an inspiration!

  11. cath ens Says:

    Hey Andre …what about some vegan cookie recipes, so we can all help to stem the tide of cruelty against other equally as sentient, awesome animals like Tommy….the chickens and cows who provide the eggs & milk have horrendous lives. I mourn for all animals and the way humanity treats them.


  12. [...] “I never saw a circus elephant make that face [a smiling one, indicating happiness]. They looked tired, weary, frustrated, angry, and so very sad. I stopped one of the assistant elephant handlers to ask why a particular elephant had tears pouring down the sides of her face. He laughed, ‘‘Cause she’s a bitch and the bitch got what was coming to her.’ He then pointed to the welt on the side of his face from where she had slapped him with her trunk. He then showed me his bull-hook, a two foot long stick with a metal hook on the end used to train elephants. ‘I gave her about ten good whacks across her skull. Bam! Bam! Bam!’ he demonstrated. ‘Bitch’ll think twice before she messes with Cowboy [a name given to him in prison].’” (former Ringling clown Andre du Broc) [...]


  13. [...] “I never saw a circus elephant make that face [a smiling one, indicating happiness]. They looked tired, weary, frustrated, angry, and so very sad. I stopped one of the assistant elephant handlers to ask why a particular elephant had tears pouring down the sides of her face. He laughed, ‘‘Cause she’s a bitch and the bitch got what was coming to her.’ He then pointed to the welt on the side of his face from where she had slapped him with her trunk. He then showed me his bull-hook, a two foot long stick with a metal hook on the end used to train elephants. ‘I gave her about ten good whacks across her skull. Bam! Bam! Bam!’ he demonstrated. ‘Bitch’ll think twice before she messes with Cowboy [a name given to him in prison].’” (former Ringling clown Andre du Broc) [...]


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