Crumble Me This, Martha!- Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Bars!- 103 eggs, 83 1/4 cups of sugar, 82 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 93 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 114 recipes to go!

September 11, 2010

Martha's Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Bars

André's Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Bars

Clafoutis (pronounced Clah-Foo-Tee) is a French dessert in which cherries are baked slowly with a rich vanilla custard in a flaky pastry crust. Martha has taken the notion of clafoutis and applied it to a chocolaty and decadent dessert bar. Chocolate-Cherry Crumble bars are essentially made by first mixing a brownie-like batter with the welcome addition of toasted coconut. Half of the batter is spread across the bottom of a parchment-lined pan and then a layer of a clafoutis-like mixture consisting of reconstituted dried sour cherries mixed with egg, sugar, vanilla, and kirsch (a cherry liqueur) is evenly spread on top of the chocolate batter. The remaining chocolate batter is then crumbled on top of the cherry layer. The pan is then thoroughly baked then cooled, sliced into bars and enjoyed.

I baked this particular treat for dessert at a small dinner party my partner and I threw for some close friends. We served it warm with a scoop of ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, and a dash of kirsch. There were a lot of  “oooo’s” and “ahhh’s” from some very happy friends.

In case you didn’t know, you can access any recipe in this blog from Martha’s website. Just simply punch in the name of the cookie you want and get to baking.

I have to say that my baking skills have grown by leaps and bounds since starting this blog. Practice makes perfect, and although my skills are far from perfect, they are significant better these days. Some important tips I’ve learned from baking have been:

Don’t underestimate the value of rotating your pans for even cooking.

All ovens cook differently.

Two-to-four minutes of whipping butter and sugar in a stand mixer may seem like a long time. It is well worth it and makes your cookies taste like love.

Baking is chemistry made delicious.

Salt makes sweet taste sweeter.

Two posts ago I promised to continue a story about my time as a theatre teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High School in 1999. I wanted to obtain permission from a couple of people before I wrote about the events that transpired after I returned to teaching in the Spring of 2000. The subject is sensitive and the events still carry quite a sting after so many years. You may want to go back a couple of posts and get caught up.

The year, 2000 was probably one of the most challenging years I’ve ever trudged through. This insane year started with a phone call over the holidays in 1999. I had been living in a little shack of a house in downtown Baton Rouge. It was an area that my dad referred to as ni**erville. I love my neighborhood. I had been there for almost three years without incident. I knew and respected my neighbors and they knew and respected me. I was known as White André. This was so I wasn’t confused with the other three Andrés that lived in the hood. I was still working with Swine Palace Productions in the afternoons, weekends and the evenings and was currently performing the role of Ferapont in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters in which the extent of my direction from BK, the director was to stand around and be old.

The phone rang. It was Trina. Trina had been a peripheral friend for over ten years. She worked for the children’s theatre company where I did a lot of my early writing, directing and performing and she had been working of late as one of the designated theatre instructors for “talented” students in the parish. I always liked Trina. She was a short and stout woman in her fifties with long, kinky red hair, freckles and dark brown puppy-dog eyes. She often wore glasses on a chain around her neck. She was scattered in her thoughts and her remarks were often spontaneous and shockingly funny. She was married to the wealthy brother of a local politician and therefore her last name carried some weight in the Baton Rouge community so did her pocketbook. She lived on a rather large plot of land in the middle of an upscale neighborhood with her husband and three children who ranged in age from their mid-teens to early twenties. She was highly educated and bubbled with a frenetic desire to learn and share. Her students loved her as did I.

Trina’s voice shook- “André, I’m calling you to ask a favor.”

“I need to be hospitalized for awhile. I’m afraid that I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and they want to perform a hysterectomy right away.”

My heart sank. I had heard that she had been struggling with a cancer scare and had been undergoing an evasive series of tests.

She went on- “You know what a hysterectomy is, right? It’s when they remove the pussy and leave the box it came in.” – Trina roared with laughter. My jaw hit the floor but I wasn’t entirely surprised. This was typical of the type of inappropriately shocking statements that endeared Trina to everyone around her. Well, everyone but other teachers and school administrators.

” I need you to take my classes for a couple of months in the Spring. Can you do that for me?”- she pleaded.

How could I say “no”? Trina was ill. She needed my help and technically, as a designated instructor for the talented theatre students, I’d report to the special education supervisor and not the principal I had just butted heads with.

After an extended pause I finally answered-“Sure, Trina. I’ll take your classes. Just get better. Promise me that.”

Then I heard Trina sigh and with a voice that seemed to quiver a bit, she thanked me. Trina said she’d drop off a box of I.E.P.s to my house in the next week. I.E.P.s or Individual Education Plans are the necessary evil that every special education teacher in the U.S.  must wrestle with. Students who are deemed “talented” by the school system are then placed in special classes where they can focus on their subject of interest in more of a conservatory atmosphere. Funding for these programs comes from the bucket of Federal money allocated for special education. This means if a student is gifted or handicapped, brilliant or disabled, the paperwork for these students is identical. As an instructor of a talented student, I would need to prepare detailed education plans for that student and review the plans with the student’s guardian once a month. I would have to travel to several schools to service students across the parish and keep well-documented accounts of their progress as talented theatre students. In addition, I would be held responsible for making sure they received proper routine medical check-ups. This last responsibility makes perfect sense for a student that suffers from Asperger Syndrome or is Partially deaf or struggling with Dyslexia but my students were healthy kids with no medical reason for being deemed “talented” other than their parents really wanted bragging rights.  In the school system’s eyes, they were simply “Special Needs” kids and as long as the paperwork was completed properly, the Federal funding would continue to funnel in.

My biggest complaint from my time as a teacher was the lack of common sense and inefficiencies in the system. I am a teacher. I teach. Yet most of my time with the talented students was going to be spent in the role of a case worker filling out endless documents for students that, for the most part, were no more talented or gifted than the students I had been teaching for years.

But hey, it was for only a couple of months. Trina would recover and I could hand over all this paperwork to her and be done with it.

The students and faculty were surprised to see me back in the halls after the holiday break. Many stopped me to ask if I was coming back to teach. I explained I was only there to fill in for Trina until she recovered from her surgery. Students just nodded and went on with their day. Teachers, however, looked at me with perplexed expressions. One even winked knowingly at me. I knew that Trina rubbed a lot of the faculty the wrong way. Teachers don’t make a lot of money. Trina was by all accounts a wealthy woman. She would often make flippant remarks about her husband’s money and lavish purchases she’d made or exotic trips she’d taken. This, coupled with her affection for really inappropriate humor did not make her a darling in the faculty lounge. Most of the teachers and administrators reacted to her presence with a mixture of jealousy and disgust. I shrugged off their remarks and expressions as simply a visceral reaction to anything related to Trina. I headed to my morning class.

This particular class consisted of only three students- Gigi, Ben and Evan. Two of the students I was quite familiar with. I had met Ben while working on a children’s theatre Christmas production when I was asked to come in and “fix” a show that wasn’t working. Ultimately the show needed some humor but it was ultimately just not a funny script. Ben was all of eight years old and played the role of the young and precocious son of the lead male.  Over the next ten years I watched Ben grow into quite a gifted and intelligent performer.

I knew Gigi from having previously taught her and her young brother in classes through the years. I had also taken the chance of hiring her older brother to play drums for a production of The Rocky Horror Show at Swine Palace. He had been living in a halfway house and was recovering from a rather nasty drug addiction but he was a sweet enough guy who sincerely wanted to turn his life around and he could play the hell out of the drums.

As the bell rang signaling the beginning of class, Gigi and Ben sat down in two of the four chairs I had arranged in a circle. They were remarkably quiet and seemed a bit depressed. I, on the other hand, was quite happy to have such a small and focused group and looked forward to the work we’d do together. I always admired Ben and Gigi and although I didn’t know much about Evan, I knew he was incredibly intelligent and resourceful. I remembered the previous semester he built a didgeridoo (an Aboriginal instrument that generates a low and resonant drone used in most music associated with Australia). Not only had he built this instrument, he taught himself the circular breathing technique used to properly play this instrument. (Circular breathing is, in essence, the ability to breath in through your nose and out through your mouth simultaneously as to not interrupt the flow of expelled air used to generate a tone.)

Nearly five minutes passed before Evan entered the room. He stepped through the doorway into the large classroom. He looked at Gigi, then Ben, then myself and simply collapsed like a rag doll onto the cold terrazzo floor. Gigi, Ben and I rushed to him. Evan was curled into a ball. He sobbed gasping for air. His body shook as we helped him into a chair. I told him to breath as I gently patted his back. I could feel the heat of very real and intense grief rising from his skin and tears and sweat streamed down his face and formed a puddle on the hard floor.

After a good five minutes I asked if I should fetch a school counselor. To my surprise, Ben answered-

“Uh, Mr. du Broc. It’s probably best we deal with this.”

Gigi nodded. Evan eventually calmed down and some of the redness in his face dissolved. His breath slowed and looking up with red and puffy eyes he asked me-

“What do you know?”

I was confused my his question. I knew that the students loved Trina and the thought of her dealing with cancer was a scary thing for them to deal with, but there seemed to be more behind this level of grief. I looked at the three students. They were exchanging silent glances that seemed to say – Do we let him in? Do we tell our secret? Can we trust him?

Gigi looked frustrated. Evan began to sob again. Ben looked down at the ground while firmly grasping Evan’s hands.

I didn’t know what to say. We sat in silence for another five minutes or so then reluctantly each student took turns telling me their story. Each one of these remarkable, young students was a bit shaken and confused by the events that led them to this somber and upsetting moment.

What the hell had I walked into?

How could I fix this?

Could I fix this?

Why hadn’t anyone told me?

I try to keep these blog posts to 2,000 words or less and some stories just take more- this one’s worth it.

Check out the next 2,000 words with the next cookie post coming very soon.


One Response to “Crumble Me This, Martha!- Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Bars!- 103 eggs, 83 1/4 cups of sugar, 82 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 93 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 114 recipes to go!”

  1. Russ Says:

    Oh Lord — I’ve got three or four scenarios running through my head right now. They’re all violent and supernatural of course. I’m sure the real story won’t shock me. I’m just sure.

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