Tea With Martha- Earl Grey Tea Cookies- 69 eggs, 54 1/2 cups of sugar, 49 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 52 cups of flour used so far- 138 recipes to go!

June 25, 2010


Martha's Earl Grey Tea Cookies

André's Earl Grey Tea Cookies

“Never work with animals or children.” – W.C. Fields

Today’s cookie is a bit of a twist on the idea of tea-cookies. This treat is actually made with tea. Lots of it. The dough is a simple shortbread mixture of flour, salt, butter, and sugar but has an extra zip from the addition of two tablespoons of ground Earl Grey Tea and a bit of orange zest. This springy dough is then formed into two logs wrapped in parchment paper which are then inserted into a couple of empty paper-towel tubes to maintain their shape. The tubes are then placed in the freezer to harden up. Once they are solid, they are removed and sliced into little doubloons and  baked at 350 degrees until slightly browned.

How do they taste? Well, they are not very sweet but have the distinct aroma and taste of Earl Grey Tea. One of my favorite scents and flavors is bergamot. These cookies definitely have strong notes of this sophisticated and intoxicating flavor.

My friend, Steve was celebrating an anniversary at work and mentioned he was not a “sweets” person. These seemed like a good option to satisfy his personal taste and my seemingly endless need to bake lots of these damn cookies.

I decided to do a little, quick research on the origin of Earl Grey Tea. Here’s what I found out.

Earl Grey Tea is really a description applied to any tea blend that has oil from the bergamot orange added to it. The name was once used only in reference to black teas but is now used less strictly.

Lord Charles Grey was the British Prime Minister from 1830-1834. Among his titles were: 2nd Earl Grey and the Viscount Howick. Legend has that a Chinese Mandarin’s son was rescued from drowning by one of the Earl’s men and in return was presented a tea blend bearing Lord Grey’s name as a gift.

A London tea house, Jacksons of Piccadilly claims to have acquired the recipe for Earl Grey Tea from the Earl himself in 1830.

To me, it doesn’t really matter who came up with this delicious blend of flavors and aromatics. Earl Grey Tea is still one of the most popular teas on the market and for good reason- it’s fabulous.

Now, for part two of Because of Winn Dixie.

There is great advice offered in the quote from Mr. Fields at the beginning of this post. Having worked in vaudeville through most of his early career, he experienced the worst behavior from both children and animals. After my experience on the set of this film, I can assertively agree with Mr. Fields’ assessment.

Because of Winn Dixie is the story of a preacher and his young daughter, Opal who have relocated to a small Florida town. Opal’s mother has abandoned them. They are both feeling the sting of heartache coupled with the pain of establishing a new life in a new town with a lot of old baggage. While visiting the local Winn Dixie grocery store, Opal witnesses a humorous, although destructive scene. A large dog has gone rogue in the produce section of the store. Customers are screaming as the store manager chases the mutt from aisle to aisle. Once the canine is caught, Opal realizes he is in mortal peril. This poor mutt destroyed a lot of merchandise and the manager, who has been reduced to angry tears from the ordeal is about to call the pound to have the dog dispatched. Opal steps in and claims the dog as her own. She names him Winn Dixie and instantly falls in love with him and his seemingly human ability to smile. Something Opal hasn’t been able to do in awhile.

The rest of the story is really quite sweet. Because of Winn Dixie, Opal ventures out into the town and makes new friends. She brings people together. She creates a circle of support. She and her father, the preacher heal the hurt in their hearts.  I love the significance of this story-  the notion that a small act of love and caring is infectious. It grows. It spreads. And eventually it makes the world around us a better place to be.

The task of making a feature film from this endearing short novel presented some enormous challenges to all involved. The story relies heavily on the performances of children and animals. My brief scene was no exception. I was to play Eugene- a henpecked man with his overbearing wife and three, raucous children in tow. He comes to Opal’s trailer park in response to a leaflet Opal’s father posted in an attempt to give Winn Dixie away. The scene was quite simple and was thrown into the story to provide some superfluous comic relief.

The scene was to play like this. While my children misbehaved, my wife was to bark orders at me to inspect the dog’s teeth, ribs, legs, ears, and then check him for worms. I was to begrudgingly follow her instructions while Opal looked on in fear she would lose her dog. As I lifted the dog’s tail, Winn Dixie was to fart violently and all of us were to leave in disgust. Opal was to laugh. Winn Dixie was to smile. End scene. Simple enough, huh?

This is what went wrong.

As I mentioned before, my friend’s wife and kids were to play my wife and kids in this scene. Jake had played the store manager and filmed his scenes earlier that week. Today he was there to help his wife and kids. It was a hot day and Jake’s kids who were two, four, and six years old, had to get up very early for wardrobe and makeup. They showed up on the set feeling tired, hot and cranky. None of them had ever acted before although their mom and dad had prepared them as far as what to do during the scene. They were simply suppose to behave badly and when the dog farted,  act like they smelled something terrible.

The six year old was exceptionally cranky and strong-willed. She was not prepared to perform in front of the thirty people encircling us. The cameras, the booms, the dog handlers, the makeup people, the director, the lighting, the script supervisors, the animals, and the other actors were all a bit too much for her to take in.

Instead, she decided to start throwing rocks. The set decorator and the script supervisor went nuts. She was messing up the set and ruining the natural continuity. How do you explain the random rocks scattered in the background between takes? Jake was standing by with a bag full of candy to calm his kid’s nerves. He shoved a caramel in his six-year-old’s mouth. She began to focus and the director called for our first take.

ACTION!

The whole experience of the rock-throwing and temper tantrums rattled Jake’s wife and she couldn’t remember her lines… or at least the order in which they were suppose to be read.  I just went with it, doing whatever random task she happened to call out.

CUT!

The director cut the scene short and brought the script to her for review. Meanwhile the dog handler was having trouble with the canine playing Winn Dixie hitting his mark. Without asking my permission, the handler began stuffing my pants with dog treats and sprayed doggie pheromones on my crotch to get the dog to come to me.

I thought the dog, a beautiful, rare breed called a Picardy Shepherd, was really the only one on the set that knew what he was doing. The role of Winn Dixie, although a mutt, would have to be played by several dogs during the filming. Each would have special tricks and skills needed to tell the story. Since it is impossible to find five or six mutts who look identical, the solution was to use a rare and obscure breed.

Jake’s wife was feeling more secure with her lines and had calmed down. We began the second take.

ACTION!

We performed the scene, everything was going well until I went to lift the dogs tail when, with a sudden thrust, the six year old shoved her hand with a whack right onto the dog’s anus. Even though the dog was a professionally trained performer, he wasn’t used to being handled quite like that. He snarled and nipped at the six-year-old. I grabbed her hand away from the snapping jaws. She burst into tears and the dog handler whisked in to take the canine talent away.

CUT!

The director and crew were becoming agitated. The four year old began to start throwing rocks. The makeup people tried to dry the tears of the loudly protesting six year old. Jake, sweating profusely, scuttled about shoving candy into the open mouths of his kids.

Jeff Daniels just stood there with his eyes closed and his face to heaven. I could tell he was trying to go to a place of calm in all the chaos around him. I wanted to be there, too.

Finally the kids were reassembled, the dog was calmed, the scene was reset, the scattered rocks were put back in place, the scene began.

ACTION!

Again, everything was going well. Lines were being read accurately, everyone was hitting their mark, I lifted the dog’s tail, the director made a farting sound and the kids did nothing. No reaction. Zip. Zero.

CUT!

The kids went nuts. The six year old picked up her mark from the ground, a simple weight covered in colored nylon that just happened to be shaped like the holy cross.

“Look, Mama!” she said, “It’s Jesus!”

The production supervisor was visibly agitated and told her to put the mark down and concentrate. The six year old folded her arms and sat down with her head between her hands. She was crying again. She had been humiliated and no amount of Jake’s candy was going to fix this. The director went to speak with her quietly. She looked up at him and spat her tongue out at him and quickly put her head down again. As far as she was concerned, it was over. She wasn’t going to do anything he had to say. The director stood and shrugged his shoulders at the Production Supervisor. Jake and his wife were mortified by her behavior. So was I, although mildly amused.

One of the assistants whispered something in the supervisor’s ear. The supervisor nodded and then took Jake and his wife into a shady spot away from the set to have a brief conversation. They both nodded in agreement and went to reason with their six-year old.

I heard part of their conversation. It consisted mostly of promises around a trip to McDonald’s and the purchase of various toys she had been asking for. The little girl perked up and headed back to the set, assumed her place above “Jesus” and the scene began again.

ACTION!

Again, lines were said accurately, Winn DIxie was sniffing at the doggie pheromones emitting from my groin, the kids were paying attention and not looking at the camera or the boom, I lifted the tail and out of the corner of my eye I saw an assistant hold up the wand from a bug-sprayer. Ssssssssss!   He sprayed our faces!  It was a water mixture mixed with sulphur. It smelled like rotten eggs and stung our eyes. The kids reacted unfavorably, to say the least. So did I. “What the hell?!” I screamed.

CUT!

I realized at that point what the secret conversation between the Production Supervisor, Jake, and his wife consisted of. The supervisor was asking the parent’s permission to spray sulphur in the faces of their kids to get them to react properly.

If I were a parent, I would have considered leaving at that point. I would not let strangers spray chemicals on my kid for any reason-  but not Jake and his wife. They agreed. They were getting paid scale-times-four for each kid on the set. That was a serious chunk of change. Go ahead, spray them with acid if need be. We’re in the movie business now!

I was disgusted. There I stood in the heat with pockets full of dog treats, canine pheromones radiating from my crotch, and smelling of rotten eggs. My eyes stung and I felt sickened. Sickened from the smell. Sickened by my friend’s lack of concern for his kids. Sickened by my participation in this whole mess.

Our scene never made it into the final cut of the film. I imagine there was not enough usable footage to edit. I am okay with that. I still get a kick when I Google my name and Winn Dixie and see I still appear as a cast member in the film. I wish the DVD included a blooper reel. We certainly had plenty that day.

It was at this point my love affair with acting began to wane.

I began to question the dignity of it all and paused to consider other career paths.

Preferably ones that didn’t require anything sprayed on my crotch.

And to think-  it was all Because of Winn Dixie.

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2 Responses to “Tea With Martha- Earl Grey Tea Cookies- 69 eggs, 54 1/2 cups of sugar, 49 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 52 cups of flour used so far- 138 recipes to go!”

  1. Carol Says:

    Andre, what a hoot! I’m loving your stories and urge you to PLEASE try to get the whole thing published!

  2. Mary Gemmell Says:

    These are very funny stories you write Andre’. It is after midnight and I am sitting here laughing my head off. Thanks for posting.


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