When Life Gives You Lemons… Make Cookies!- Lemon Madeleines- 54 eggs, 44 3/4 cups of sugar, 36 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 39 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 145 recipes to go!

May 31, 2010

Martha's Lemon Madeleines

André's Lemon Madeleines

I am making good use of the Madeleine pan I purchased at the Brooklyn Kitchen this past March. Not only do I use it to bake Madeleines, those delicious little cakes made famous by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past, I also use it as a light reflector/diffusor while photographing my cookies. It’s quite shiny and the  unusual shape of the molds casts light in all directions. I think there is something very elegant and a tad pretentious about referring to one’s Madeleine Pan, but I really do love having it in my cupboard, so there!

My partner, Dan and I were invited to dinner with friends the other night and I knew the host was fond of lemony desserts. Martha has quite a few, so I tackled a couple, lemony treats- Lemon Madeleines and Lemon Squares. They were well received although, to my dismay, I discovered the host had prepared a batch of lemon squares, too. Ah, Well. C’est la Vie!

Madeleines are small cakes baked in a scalloped tin. They are soft, moist, and spongy. They’re not very sweet but absolutely delicious in coffee. I like to dunk mine. It might not be considered gauche but the taste is well worth the judgmental stares. I think these cookies would also make a terrific gift for any friend or coworker that takes their coffee seriously. Throw a few in a bag wrapped with a bow and leave it on their desk. I’m sure they’d be thrilled. Better yet, leave it for your boss. Baked goods are one of the oldest forms of brown-nosing and during these tough economic times, I’m sure there’s a lot of frantic baking going on out there.

I’ve had a brown nose once or twice in my life. Haven’t we all? It’s funny. In the presence of people we really admire, or fear, or hope to impress, we can do and say some of the stupidest things. Lord knows I have.

After leaving the circus in 1993, I returned home to Baton Rouge, LA.

Baton Rouge (Red Stick) was named so in the early 1700s because the natives in that area would place skins out to dry on sticks along the Mississippi riverbank. The blood from the animals would coat the sticks in a deep, rich red. It became a landmark to the early French explorers who knew what part of the Mississippi they were passing through from all the “Red Sticks”-hence the name- “Baton Rouge.”

During my high school years there was money raised in the city to give the downtown levee a makeover. A sculptor of some renown was hired to create a fountain representing Baton Rouge. What the city got for this commission was a large, brightly lit, maroon phallus surrounded by jets of water. I’ll never forget my art teacher admonishing me in tenth grade. “Who do you think you are? How dare you criticize that poor artist’s piece?” Upon hearing this, the class lost complete control and a new catch phrase entered into our lexicon for the next year.

People in Baton Rouge love three things: The Lord, Deep Fried Foods, and College Football (Baton Rouge is home of the LSU Tigers and their stadium Death Valley, or as the locals call it, Deaf Valley.) Needless to say, I wasn’t planning on sticking around very long. That was until I met a strange, little man with a funny accent and a really impressive resumé.

For the purpose of this storyline, and there will be many entries to follow, I will refer to him as BK, a british gent in his late forties. He spoke with a North London accent, a kind of proper English with a hint of the cockney slang most Americans associate with My Fair Lady thrown in. He was short and fair skinned. Well fed but not stocky, with strands of long, multi-colored hair trying to escape the dark, wool beanie he always wore. His eyes were large and steely-blue and his teeth were… well… he’s British.

BK was an associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company where he had directed  Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Ian McClellan, Ben Kingsley, and a host of other famous Brits. Our first meeting was quite awkward. While staying with friends upon my arrival in Baton Rouge, I contacted some associates from my prior work with the local children’s theatre. One of those associates, Charlotte, had taken the position of managing director with a new, local theatre company and had passed my name and number on to the Artistic Director, BK as a possible music director.

Upon meeting BK, I was floored by his experience, his command of attention, his eloquence, his passion, and his odor. Apparently he was not used to Louisiana heat. He explained that he had moved with his wife to Baton Rouge after being courted for years by the dean of the theatre department at Louisiana State University. He explained that when Trevor Nunn stepped down as Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, many (including himself) had assumed he would fill his shoes. That did not happen. The RSC replaced Trevor with a younger and less experienced director. BK left London and with his wife in tow, moved to the Deep South. He was given a full tenured position with the university’s MFA directing program and an old dilapidated building.

The building was his dream. It was the piece d’resistance that sealed the deal. On the North side of LSU’s campus, in 1926 it was one of the first buildings built on the university grounds. It was an auction pavilion for pigs. LSU was, and still is an agricultural college. The building was vast. A large dirt floor banked on the North and South sides by risers with the East and West framed by two large windows that stretched up to the wood-paneled ceiling. In 1993, it had been left abandoned for almost ten years and the dirt floor was littered with shards of broken glass, pigeon droppings, and foliage which grew thick and wild. The roof sported great, gapping holes that opened out to the sky, and hosts of birds made their nests in the decayed building’s rafters. The university gave this building to BK with one request- Make something out of it.

BK explained his vision for a new theatre. He described it as a performance space unlike any other in the United States. He pointed to the cupola at the top of the large barn. He said with a smile, “It’s like a church, isn’t it? It was where pigs were displayed and auctioned, and some cheeky architect put a fucking steeple on the top, like he was trying to get God to pay attention to the poor swine below.  I love that.” He then handed me a script, it was a play I had not heard of by a playwright I had not heard of. It was called Good by C.P. Taylor. BK asked me to music direct this show. I asked if it was a musical. He replied- “Well… No…and…Yes.” Barry loved to speak in riddles.  He explained that music always played an important role in all his productions and he needed a competent composer, musician, and music director. We discussed money but only briefly. I believed in his vision. I believed in his passion. We shook hands and I was officially one of the first members of Swine Palace.

That handshake changed my life for the next ten years… and beyond.

There will be more…much more to come.


3 Responses to “When Life Gives You Lemons… Make Cookies!- Lemon Madeleines- 54 eggs, 44 3/4 cups of sugar, 36 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 39 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 145 recipes to go!”

  1. Russ Says:

    Ok, so from now on when I hear the words “Baton Rouge”, I’m going to be slightly queasy thinking about bloody sticks.

  2. Rachael Koske Says:

    That production of ‘Good’ was my first strong experience of theatre crossing that magical line and affecting me so completely that I could barely find my way out of the theater. I do not even recall what made such an impression. Maybe it was the music!

  3. Don Adams Says:

    I’m excited to have this story beginning, André, and look forward to more!

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