Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherry Cookies!- Cherry-Almond Biscotti- 77 eggs, 58 3/4 cups of sugar, 55 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 61 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 133 recipes to go!

July 12, 2010

Martha's Cherry-Almond Biscotti (on the right)

André's Cherry-Almond Biscotti

There’s a wonderful word used in the cooking world- Macerate. It is a technique used to soften or separate foodstuffs by submerging them in liquid. Ironically, the word is also used to describe the process of making something lean through starvation. This is what the word, emaciated, is derived from.

In the case of Martha’s Cherry-Almond Biscotti, maceration plays a big role in the ultimate flavor of this delicious tea-time treat. Dried cherries are soaked in amaretto and heated until they become soft and break apart. The flavor of the cherries are enhanced ten-fold by the warm amaretto and the aroma is simply amazing. The cherry particles are strained and used in the cookie dough along with a couple of tablespoons of the reserved liquid, giving the biscotti an intense cherry and almond flavor.

Chopped, toasted almonds are added to the biscotti dough to give an extra, and much needed crunch to this relatively soft biscuit. I have to say I was quite disappointed with the texture of this cookie. In my opinion, biscotti should be dry and crispy. I baked these longer than what the recipe indicated in a vain effort to get them to crisp up, but the recipe included three eggs. One egg will bind a dough, but three eggs will yield a soft cookie no matter how long you bake it.

I baked these in honor of a girlfriend’s birthday. She had mentioned that while she was not a fan of sweets, she did enjoy a good biscotti. She thought they were quite delicious even though they were a bit soft.

I have been experiencing a string of bad luck with the cookies, lately. This is the third recipe in a row that’s been below par. Hopefully the next few will prove to be winners or a letter to Martha’s editors might be in order.

I try to take failure in stride. It’s not always easy and something I have never really been skilled at. One particular instance was back in 1993 while living in Baton Rouge. I had just set up residence in a small house in Midtown with my  poet/alcoholic boyfriend. I was working for Swine Palace Productions as their resident music director and trying to make ends meet conducting workshops in physical comedy and storytelling with the local arts council.

On a particularly slow month with bills piling up, I received a call from a lady named Shannon. She was the event planner for a local adoption agency. She was putting together the annual dinner to honor the couples who had adopted from their agency. Among the invitees were my friend, Jane and her husband who had passed my name on as a possible source of entertainment.

During our conversation Shannon mentioned that last year’s event featured another fellow performer, James. This made perfect sense. James had been a standup comedian since he was a teen. He was funny, good looking, and most importantly, he was adopted. Of course the audience loved him. James was not available to perform at this year’s event and so Shannon wanted to know what I might be able to do.

I had never performed at an event like this before. Adults? A microphone? Orphans? I wasn’t really seeing much potential to be funny or entertaining. On the other hand, the gig would pay $500 and bills were starting to need some serious attention. I thought to myself, how hard could it be?

I accepted and contacted my friend, Jane immediately.

I thanked her for the reference and asked her what the hell I should do. She had caught a few of my workshops and performances intended for family audiences around town and thought that much of that act would satisfy this audience.

I reluctantly agreed to build this performance on the foundation of my family shows that relied  on large, comic physicality, magic, silliness, and audience participation.

I arrived on the evening of the gig, props and music in hand. Shannon was there to meet me. She was a young, hefty, sturdy and perpetually disapproving blonde. I was decked out in my oversized pants, wide suspenders, tuxedo shirt, and clown nose. She looked concerned.

“Uh… you do realize tonight is for the adults, not the kids, right?”

I began to worry. I was already feeling unsure of my ability to engage adults and now this blonde behemoth had me feeling downright neurotic.

“Well, I guess you know what you’re doing.” -She sighed, rolled her eyes, and headed inside to introduce me to the crowd who was just finishing up their desert and coffee.

The introduction went something like this:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last year, as many of you know, we were so lucky to have the brilliant and talented, James X, perform his hilarious standup for all of you.”

Applause from the audience.

“Well, I’m sorry to say James wasn’t available this year.”

Audible groan from the disappointed audience.

“But we do have some entertainment for all of you this evening. Straight from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus, – André the Clown!”

Silence- except for my friend, Jane applauding like an idiot on uppers.

I wanted to die. Well, I actually wanted to kill Shannon first and then die. You know, stab her in the back causing her to fall backwards crushing me to death in an elaborate murder/suicide.

I had never told her I was André the Clown. She just made that up! As a rule of thumb, I am opposed to introducing anyone as “The Clown” or “The Amazing” or “The Hysterical.”  It’s a surefire way to keep anyone from laughing. It’s like stepping out onto a stage and asking the audience if they’re ready to laugh. Inevitably, once that gauntlet is thrown to an audience, laughter is out of the question.

I took a deep breath and went into my first routine. It’s a pretty funny act performed in silence except for a simple musical soundtrack and a small bird-like whistle concealed behind my teeth. I step out with a tourist bag and try to take a photo of the entire group from the stage. I stop to comb their hair, fix their makeup, power shiny bald heads, and attempt to have them all move in closer so they fit within the frame. It really is a sweet and funny little skit. The audience, for the most part, thought it was funny, too. There was a decent amount of laughter as I handed my camera to a lady in the audience. Moments later I cued her to throw it back to me indicating that she should gently pass it underhand with a bit of an arc. This particular lady had been drinking and ignoring my instructions, pitched the camera overhand and with great force directly at my face. It hit me squarely between the eyes and I swear I saw stars. The audience gasped.

It was obvious I had been injured and that’s when the laughter stopped for the evening. I finished my silent act and launched into my magic show. In preparation for the evening, I had worked up quite a few really good illusions that were sophisticated enough for an adult crowd. Halfway through my first illusion, the volunteer  whom I had pulled up on stage let out a huge gasp. She was pointing at my face.

“Oh my God! He’s bleeding.” – she announced to the audience.

I had a stream of blood coming down from under my red nose. Apparently, the camera incident had caused a nosebleed.

The audience began to murmur restlessly. A few guests got up from their seats and began to exit.

Shannon waddled up on the stage at that point and told the audience to give me a hand for being such a good sport and that hopefully James would be back next year.

I was devastated, humiliated, angry, and worst of all, injured and bleeding.

Shannon paid me a hundred dollars for what little of my act I was able to do.

“Well, that was a disaster.”- she said with a smirk. She then went on- “I’d think about a new line of work if I were you.”

I lowered the blood soaked rag from my nose, grabbed the money, and as I walked towards the parking lot I called angrily over my shoulder, “You take care now! I’ll see you around the buffets!”

It was really the first truly funny thing I had said all evening. She galloped off in a huff.

I called Jane the next day.

“I thought you were great, André. James’ act is better suited for that particular audience, but you were pretty good, too. Except that part where you were bleeding on stage. I didn’t like part so much.”

As Jane’s friend, I emotionally supported her through a troubled marriage, the complicated adoption of her two kids, a two-year bout with Scientology, and six months with Amway.

Adding this last fiasco to the heap of fiascos that defined our friendship, I decided to do the smart thing. I stepped the hell away from our relationship.

Ironically, after her divorce, she moved to Overland Park, KS – just a few miles away from where I live now. I’ve spoken with her a few times in the last few years. She usually has an idea or a scheme up her sleeve when she calls. She’ll ask to meet for lunch so she can share every ill-begotten detail with me.

When she does this I drift off and picture myself pelting a camera squarely between her eyes.


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