Swirling with Martha!- Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies- 101 eggs, 81 1/2 cups of sugar, 79 sticks of Butter, and 89 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 116 recipes to go!

September 5, 2010

Martha's Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

André's Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

An empty cookie tin arrived at my home decorated with classic kitsch renderings of poinsettias. Inside was a note from someone who had stood on the periphery of my life for years then moved closer to the center in the past year. Sarah, although never really a student of mine, attended the high school where I taught theatre classes and her older sister who was a technical theatre geektress had worked with me on several productions at Swine Palace and LSU Theatre. I traveled to New York City in March this past year and heralded my arrival by posting an event on Facebook. If friends wanted to see me they would have to join me at Bill’s Gay Nineties in Midtown at 6:00 for drinks. This seemed much easier than having to run all over the city trying to see old friends. To my surprise, nearly twenty people showed up through the evening. They were all people from different chapters of my life. Many had never met the other but by the end of the evening phone numbers, emails, and addresses were swapped and everyone seemed to come together as one terrific little group. I couldn’t help but feel fortunate to have so many truly wonderful, gifted and loving people in my life and I was very happy that they were all able to meet each other.

Sarah showed up with her fiancé, Thomas. Sarah, being from Baton Rouge, LA had moved to my old stomping grounds in Jersey City. She met the love of her life and he was a Joisey-Boy! It was so nice to see a young couple so much in love and so in tune with each other.

The empty tin arrived with:  a note indicating a preference for anything chocolate and peanut butter, a save the date notecard announcing their upcoming nuptials, and some cash to cover shipping. I broke out Martha’s book and made the obvious choice to bake for this sweet couple an equally sweet treat, Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies. It’s a really simple recipe to make, two batters are first prepared: a buttery, chocolaty, brownie batter, and a sweet, rich peanut butter batter. These two batters are combined in a buttered and parchment-lined pan then swirled together with a flat butter knife. Bake, cool, cut and enjoy. Done.

How are they?

Here’s the soon-to-be-newlyweds’ review:

“Thanks so much for sending the brownies. My absolute favorite combination: chocolate and peanut butter. I’ve actually made these before but it was the Betty Crocker/Duncan Hines box mix. 🙂 These were sooo much better than what I’ve ever baked. Moist and fudgy – not too caky. Perfection.
I had one straight out of the tin. Yum. Then Tom stepped it up a notch, microwaved one and topped it with chocolate ice cream. Divine! I love when the crumbly bits mix with the melted ice cream at the bottom. It was like chocolate soup!
We will definitely be sending in that tin again.

Cant wait for your next batch!” – Sarah

…And her fiancé, Thomas had this to say from his blog, pluckyoutoo.com …

“I met André through Firecracker’s sister, who is a stage director. André himself has been everything from a clown in Ringling Brothers circus to a short order cook. We met over drinks at Bill’s Gay Nineties, a theater folk bar in NYC when he was in town. He is an ebullient, witty fellow with a dash of sarcasm. There he told us that he was participating in an AIDS charity walk, and if he made over $3,000 he was going to bake all 175 cookie recipes from Martha’s book. Of course, the donations rolled in from friends all over who like cookies. And who doesn’t like cookies? Besides Newt Gingrich. So we donated, and so many others did that he raised $4500 for the cause. And he got to baking. His friends, co-workers and family got so inundated with decadent treats that he now asks people to mail him cookie containers- and I suggest you slip in a tenspot or double sawbuck to cover shipping and ingredient costs- and he’ll mail you back a gift of delicious, fattening treats. Because Firecracker loves peanut butter and chocolate so much that if  Reese’s did not exist, she would have invented it. He sent us peanut butter swirl brownies. They are amazing. Especially when you heat them and put ice cream on them, but even plain, they are a rich, chocolatey haymaker punch to the palate that makes you want to collapse into a bean bag chair and moan like a pregnant walrus.”

So, thanks, Thomas & Sarah (AKA Firecracker).

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I taught the fresh-faced kids at Baton Rouge Magnet High School. Many of my students are now married and scattered through the world pursuing exciting careers or building families of their own.

I started teaching high school without a teacher’s certificate for the simple reason that in 1996 the Federal government and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board entered into a consent decree that black students could go to the magnet school of their choice or attend a regular school of their choosing to increase the minority numbers. You see, forced busing of students was the norm in East Baton Rouge schools keeping schools essentially segregated. In the eyes of the East Baton Rouge School Board, it was better for them to continue to pay Federal fines rather than to desegregate their schools. When the consent decree went into effect a third of the teachers in the parish quit and the door of opportunity swung open for me to step in with limited experience and no certification.

I loved teaching at the Magnet school. These were really smart kids of varying social classes, academic backgrounds, ethnicities, and interests. It was also exciting because it was the first time the school hosted a significant number of black students. For many of the students, both black and white, it was the first time they had shared a classroom with the other.

I also liked the fact that as a theatre teacher I didn’t have to engage in funding wars with a competing sports program. There was no football team at Baton Rouge Magnet High School. I was teaching the arts in a setting where soccer, debate and math clubs ruled.

I taught at this school for four years. I hadn’t planned on staying around much longer than that. My first year, I taught two stagecraft classes, a theatre history course, and two beginning acting classes. The next year I took on an even heavier workload. The regular theatre teacher took a sabbatical for a semester and I took her classes in addition to my normal classes. The third year I started teaching a class in musical theatre and took the kids on a trip to New York City. I had five chaperone’s and about twenty kids. It was an amazing experience. It was really terrific to see the city reflected through them and all the excitement I felt as a young man experiencing the city for the first time came flooding back. My students unknowingly reminded me to always honor naivety. It’s the biggest lesson I learned from my students. Life is sometimes better looked at with new eyes. That’s where you find wonder, joy, and the bits of happiness that give us the strength to press on.

That said, why don’t I teach anymore?

In the Fall semester of my fourth year, I taught a group of students a class in Stagecraft. Safety was of the upmost importance in this class. I had two young men who had proven time and again they were not to be trusted around the equipment. Band saws, miter saws, screw guns, and circular saws are dangerous if not handled with care and respect and neither of these boys had exhibited the attention skills needed to use them. The final exam required each student to construct a set of shelves from raw materials. I had printed up blueprints and instructions for each student in the class. Knowing that I could not trust these young men around the saws, I pre-cut their wood so that these simply had to assemble the shelves with wood glue and a hammer and nails.

The two boys balked at my instructions as they had at every assignment I’d given the entire semester. I simply shook my head and told them I’d be back to grade their project in an hour.

At the end of the hour, each student presented their finished shelves. The class was essentially an easy-A   for students who put forth a minimal amount of effort. The two boys, however, were sitting on the couch and chatting with a few of the giggly girls in the class, the unassembled pre-cut wood sat next to them.

“Where’s your shelf?” – I angrily asked.

The two boys smirked and pointed to the pile of wood.

I lost control. I picked up the wood and slammed it against the wall. I kicked a hole in an old set piece leaned against the wall and yelled “Jackasses!”

I gave both boys an “F” on the exam and a “D” for the semester.

The next day I was called to the principal’s office. There sat the principal with the two boys and their parents. Both sets of parents sat with their arms folded and looking angrily at me. The two boys looked at the floor with forlorn and lost expressions. I taught theatre and can spot a bad performance from twenty yards.

“Mr. du Broc. Did you call these boys ‘Jackasses?'”- the principal asked.

I couldn’t believe this. These boys’ parents were going to make an issue out of this? I had a teacher in high school who called the entire class ‘Jackasses’ everyday of my freshman year.

“Yessir. I called them jackasses.” – responded.

The principal was a tall and pensive African-American gentleman with a full head of dark cropped hair shielded on each side by a band of gray. Gold, wire-framed glasses magnified his deep laser-like stare. I had never been able to make this man laugh, not even once and as a result, I never trusted him.

“Why, Mr. du Broc would you think it appropriate for a teacher  at my school to refer to a student thusly?”

“Because they were acting thusly, sir.”- I curtly responded.

The parents erupted at that point and I could see a smirk building on the two boys’ faces.

“Ask them!”- I shouted above the din pointing at the two boys.

“Mr. du Broc, It doesn’t matter. You called them a terrible name. You cursed them in front of other students. This type of behavior is not tolerated at my school.”- The principal said in his most authoritative voice.

The principal and I had experienced a few conflicts over the previous years: he didn’t like that I wore jeans with paint and holes in them- I pointed out the fact that I taught shop and that if I wore anything nicer I would be buying new pants every week. He also didn’t like that I questioned authority. He was not used to being questioned. He also hated that many of the students called me Mr. Doobie. He thought it sounded like a drug reference and was inappropriate. I agreed with him on that one. I didn’t like being called Mr. Doobie, but if I let it bother me, then they’d only use that name even more so I simply chose to ignore it.

The principal gave me an ultimatum, apologize to the boys for calling them jackasses, apologize to the parents for causing them such distress, apologize to him for ruining his day and give both boys a “C” for the semester or he would take disciplinary action against me.

This was a power play. I didn’t like this one bit. The principal knew that these boys were trouble and had been since the beginning of the semester. As a teacher, I needed to know that my school’s administration was there to support me. I needed to know that I was trusted to teach my students and that the grades I gave my students were earned not bestowed or bartered for.

I turned to the boys’ parents and before I knew what I was saying I blurted out, “I’m sorry your boys are jackasses. Maybe they’ll grow out of it. Until then they can keep the grade I gave them.”

I turned to the principal and said, “I am sorry I ruined your day, believe me mine just got a lot worse. I learned a lot about you today, sir, and I don’t like the lesson. I cannot work with or for someone who is so quick to throw his employees under the bus because a couple of parents are being manipulated by a couple of lazy jackasses. I resign.”

I walked angrily out of the office, hopped in my car and drove to a bar where I got myself bitterly, and stinking drunk.

I spent the holiday break worried about what I’d do in the Spring and I began working towards moving back to NYC.

Just a few days after the start of the Spring semester, I received a call from the principal. It was an apology and a request for me to return to BRMHS to teach the advanced talented program at the school. They had full classes but no one to teach them.

I returned to BRMHS, but the principal left out a few details about the classes I was returning to.

What I stepped into was a nightmare.

A nightmare I’ll save for another post.

Meanwhile, have you hugged a teacher today?

Seriously, do it.

Don’t be a Jackass.


5 Responses to “Swirling with Martha!- Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies- 101 eggs, 81 1/2 cups of sugar, 79 sticks of Butter, and 89 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 116 recipes to go!”

  1. Rachael Koske Says:

    I am waiting with apprehension ( and a bit of schadenfreude) for the rest of this story…
    Happy to say my current principal would never do this! I can’t say I am surprised that Mr. Will-remain-nameless did.

  2. Ross Says:

    I never knew that happened. I’m sorry you had to go through that, especially with Williams. Your integrity inspires me, and makes me love you even more. Can’t wait to read the next ones.

  3. Suzanne Heins Says:

    Kid, ya got spunk.
    High school principals hate spunk.

  4. sarah Says:

    oh J.B. What a chode. Not sure if you were there at the time but a couple of guys in my class found out his phone number and posted flyers all around town about the grand opening of Big Tony’s pizza place. They posted the number on the flyer and said to call for a free pizza. He got inundated with calls and he was pissed! I dont remember if the guys got caught or what happened in the end but it was the most awesome prank ever – after the one where some seniors realized cows into the school. 😉

    Thanks again for those brownies – I need/want more!

  5. sarah Says:

    *released cows

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