Spinning Out of Control With Martha!- Coconut Cream Cheese Pinwheels! -239 eggs, 181 1/2 cups of sugar, 183 sticks of Butter, and 228 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 34 recipes to go!
September 11, 2011
Wedding showers call for cookies. Fancy cookies, to be precise. Among the cookies in Martha’s book that I’d qualify as “fussy” there’s probably none as “fussy” as Coconut Cream Cheese Pinwheels. Basically a simple butter and cream cheese cookie dough enveloped around a coconut-cream cheese center with a dab of fruity preserves on top, these cookies took nearly six hours to bake. I think the Great Wall in China has fewer steps than this most sadistic of Martha’s recipes.
First comes the dough. Cream cheese, butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and vanilla are combined into a dough which is then divided and shaped into two disks that need to be refrigerated for an hour or so. Meanwhile you have to make the filling. Cream cheese, sweetened coconut flakes and white chocolate are combined into a thick paste. After the dough has chilled, it is rolled out and cut into a series of squares with a fluted pastry wheel. Each square is then placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet which need to be chilled once again. After they’ve chilled they are given another four incisions by the fluted pastry wheel so each can be shaped into a pinwheel. A teaspoon of the coconut cream cheese mixture is placed in the center of each cookie and the edges are folded over in a pinwheel shape. Each cookie is then given a brush with egg wash and a sprinkling of sanding sugar to that it has a glistening and glossy finish. The cookies are then returned to the fridge to rest once again. By this point you need a rest, too.
The cookies are baked for five minutes in a 350F oven. After five minutes they have to be removed and a well needs to be made in the center of each one with the end of a wooden spoon. The well is then filled with a preserve of your choosing. I used a variety of strawberry, raspberry and my favorite, cherry preserves. The cookies then return to the oven and bake until golden. So, there you have it. How I spent six hours of a day in servitude to Martha’s sadistically “fussy” cookies.
Everyone at the wedding shower loved them, though. I was glad. After six hours of baking I wouldn’t have been able to handle the rejection gracefully. They quickly disappeared from the serving tray with plenty of remarks of yums, ooos and ahhhhs.
The Broadmoor subdivision where I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana didn’t have many kids. Built in the late fifties, the residents were mostly retirees, recent empty nesters living in some sort of personal limbo, deciding what to do next. Finish out their remaining years in the tiny ranch house they’ve lived in most of their lives or maybe move out to the country? Retirement villages weren’t really an option since few existed in the mid-seventies. Four houses down from our white brick ranch home lived the Walkins. Mrs Walkins and her husband, Dr. Walkins D.D.S. resided in a red brick ranch home with a sprawling living room that remained decorated for Christmas year round.
The retired dentist and his wife lived alone. Their daughter, Joan had moved out many years ago to pursue an education in veterinarian sciences and had recently settled in a far-away town as an agricultural vet and militant lesbian. I only met her once when she came to visit her mom and dad. She had waist-length hair that fell over her broad shoulders and around her round and rugged face. Her thick eyebrows stayed clinched together in a permanent expression of disdain. Disdain for her childhood home with its thick curtains perpetually closed letting no light touch the stacks of boxes containing useless items of memory and unfinished craft projects. Disdain for the musty smell of cigarettes and thousands of meals prepared in the less-than-tidy kitchen. Disdain for her parents who simply didn’t “get” her. I liked Joan. I liked that from behind she looked like Cousin It from The Addams Family in embroidered bell-bottoms. I like that she was a feisty, cussing, rough and ready sort of lady. I’d never met anyone like her.
I had become friends with Mrs. Walkins and her husband when I was only four years old. It was around the time my sister, Michelle was born. Both of my parents worked at the time. Dad had started a career as a Life Insurance salesman and mom worked as a Histotechnician for a local hospital, preparing tissue samples for examination by the resident pathologist. On top of settling into our new home, both parents working and an endless string of mom’s pregnancies I quickly found out that I was not the center of anyone’s universe. I was bored and needed to explore. I began making unexpected visits to neighbors on our street, interviewing each to see if they were qualified to keep me entertained. Mrs. Walkins was at the top of my list as far as potential candidates.
Her home was dark and mysterious. There were so many boxes and interesting objects in her home. The year-long, silver, aluminum Christmas Tree made me happy, the grand organ in the living room that could play drum accompaniment with the press of a button, the old antique slot machine that sat next to a bucket of nickels which she allowed me to play on for hours, although I wan not allowed to keep any of my winnings. All of these things made the Walkins’ home a strange and alluring playground for the over-active imagination of my four-year-old self.
At Christmas time, Mrs. Walkins had created a strangely festive diorama for the neighborhood to enjoy. It was a series of five hand-crafted papier-maché elves playing tiny musical instruments with Santa on the piano enclosed in a decorative and brightly-lit stage filling most of the Walkins’ front yard. Each were like marionettes with strings that ran from their hands and heads up to a tree and then over to a window opening in her laundry room. She’d attach the strings to her washing machine agitator. When she’d turn on the washing machine, she created magic. The elves and santa would bounce about to holiday music she piped out from her living room. It was such a whimsical gesture of good will and Christmas cheer, I couldn’t help but love her. My parents thought she and her husband were crazy. This, of course, made me love her more.
I remember knocking on her door at the age of four and her inviting me in to scan through magazines. I asked her what we were looking for. She told me she was in the market for a new back and I needed to pick out a good, sturdy back from the models featured in the J.C. Penny’s and Sear’s catalogues. I would then need to cut them out and paste them onto a card for her to give to her doctor. The card would read, “Dear Dr. Byars- Any of these will do. Love, Mrs. Walkins.” This is how she’d keep me occupied. Pointless endeavors of whimsy. I’d make posters, collages, write stories, build things out of paper towel tubes. Every now and then, Dr. Walkins would come home from the golf course smelling of bourbon and pour himself and his wife another stiff drink in a high-ball glass and grade and critique our craft projects for the day. He called me Michaelangelo one day and Raphael another. I didn’t know who these guys were but Dr. Walkins always seemed very pleased with himself when he’d make these remarks. So did Mrs. Walkins.
I remember having a loose tooth and Dr. Walkins pulling it out for me. Mrs. Walkins and I then made a special container for it so the Tooth Fairy would be sure to find it. I also remember them both keeping me purposefully distracted when I was seven. They had seen the ambulance pull up to my parent’s home. They had seen my grandfather’s body pulled away on a stretcher. They shielded me from this. Mrs. Walkin’s gave me glue, cardboard and glitter and we sat there making a name-plate for my room. I remember her hands trembling a bit and her eyes tearing up as Dr. Walkins kept a lookout on my home for signs that it was okay for me to return.
When I think of my very early years, I always think of the Walkins as an integral part. They were surrogate parents for me during a time where attention at our home was rationed out like World War II nylon hosiery. As I entered into middle school, the Walkins decided they’d had enough of the Broadmoor subdivision and moved to a country home on a stretch of land in rural Denham Springs, Louisiana. A pile of junk assembled on the curb in front of their house. Among the boxes of yellowed paper and deteriorating Christmas decorations were the torn and tattered papier-maché corpses of Santa and his merry band of elves. It’s an image that has stuck with me through the years.
Dr. Walkins died shortly after the move. Leaving Mrs. Walkin’s alone. Her daughter, Joan had moved nearer to look in on her mom from time-to-time. When I got my driver’s license, I made a trip out to see Mrs. Walkins. She was still smoking, still drinking, still funny but she’d stopped crafting altogether. She’d stopped creating. She had lost a bit of her spark. She’d lost a bit of what had made her so special. It was a somber visit but I knew she appreciated seeing me.
A few years later Mrs. Walkins was discovered wrapped in a rug behind her couch. She had been robbed and murdered. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It broke my heart. They caught her assailant in Texas just a few weeks after the incident. It was a gentleman she’d hired to do yard work and repairs around the house. One piece of evidence used to convict him was an old antique slot machine found among the stolen affects.
As sad as I was to hear this news I had to smile a bit thinking about Mrs. Walkins’ rule- Play all you want but you can’t keep the winnings.