Martha’s Got Pep! – Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies! – 108 eggs, 86 cups of sugar, 85 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 95 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 112 recipes to go!

September 18, 2010

Martha's Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies

André's Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies

QUESTION: Black pepper cookies? Seriously?


My partner, Dan had actually baked these cookies awhile ago, before I started this cookie challenge madness. He was intrigued by the name and what they might taste like. Surprisingly black pepper and chocolate play very well together. As more and more artisan chocolatiers spring up across the country, often nestled in the corners of  suburban strip malls, consumers are opening up to stranger and more exotic chocolate combinations. Chocolate & Cayenne, Chocolate & Cinnamon, Chocolate & Ginger, Chocolate & Bacon, Chocolate & Black Pepper- Folks are just simply more willing to give their taste buds new frontiers to explore and Martha’s Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies don’t disappoint.

This cookie is really a basic chocolate shortbread recipe. Fresh ground black pepper is added to the dough which is rolled out into a log and refrigerated. The log is then rolled onto sanding sugar to coat the rim of each cookie with a bit of added sweetness. The log is then sliced into thin discs and placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Each cookie is then given a sprinkle of black pepper before they’re baked into crisp, chocolaty wafers with a bit of a peppery kick.

How do they taste?

I shared this cookie with a friend at work who seemed a bit put off by the idea of the chocolate and black pepper combination. After sampling a couple, he was sold. Yes, you taste the unmistakable flavor of the black pepper but it plays remarkably well with the chocolate. It is a sophisticated flavor combination perfect for adult gatherings. I imagine most children would be sorely disappointed by it, though. Children’s taste buds are far more sensitive to spicy flavors and the black pepper undoubtedly would not sit well with their developing palate.

So, there you have it. If you are planning an adult gathering, cocktail party, or tea with friends try this very adult cookie that walks the line between savory and sweet.

When I put together my list of my past occupations, jobs, career paths, and gigs I failed to mention one particular job/gig that I held for almost four years. It’s not one I’m particularly proud of which is probably why it subconsciously was left off my list.

I was a corporate mascot.

While performing in Chicago during my brief time with the circus, our clown alley received a visitor. Not many people are allowed to step into clown alley as it is traditionally kept private. Superstition holds that it’s bad luck to see a man transform into his clown character before a show. This visitor, however, was an old friend of the clowns and Ringling. Jay Ray was a self-proclaimed master clown who held a prominent position in the professional clown echelon. Since 1965 Jay Ray has served as Boss Clown for the McDonald’s Corporation and was responsible for the hiring and training of hundreds of in-the-field-Ronald McDonalds. He was a stocky man in his fifties with bushy, dark eyebrows and dark thinning hair that, due to a poor dye job, did not match his eyebrows or his gray cheek stubble.  He wore a bright Hawaiian print shirt and dark jeans. He spoke loudly in a somewhat affected big city dialect, his mouth bit at the air with his large, pearly bridgework slicing each word as it tried to escape. He liked to hear himself speak and he was quite verbose. He liked that he spoke at a level where everyone within twenty feet took notice. His humor was blue and a bit corny. Much like a Vegas routine that hadn’t been relevant since 1972. He spoke of women as “Dames” or “Broads” and was quick to make fun of  minority stereotypes.

I instantly hated him. The other clowns, however, adored him. You see, once a clown left the circus, this guy could give them the life of a career clown. They could be a field-Ronald. So they’d laugh harder at this jokes, smile broader at his stories, and shake his hand enthusiastically when he finally left clown alley.

After I left the circus and had settled into teaching workshop classes, writing children’s theatre, and working at Swine Palace, I got a call. It was from the public relations and marketing department for the local franchise of McDonald’s.  It was a lady’s voice. She had the distinct twang of Southern Louisiana mixed with an above average vocabulary. Her name was Karen and she had heard that I was a former Ringling clown and wanted to know if I’d be interested in trying my hand at performing as Ronald for a couple of local events. She explained that it wouldn’t be a full-time thing but more of a part-time-as-needed offer. She also told me that each gig would pay between $350- $750 a gig depending on the size of the crowd as the marketing budget fluctuated with the number of consumers the event would reach. Wow! That was a lot of money for a guy who was barely scratching by, living contract-to-contract. I accepted. Karen was thrilled and told me to expect a phone call from the corporate Boss-Ronald, Jay Ray.

“Shit. Not Jay Ray”, I thought.

A few days later the phone rang. I knew who it was the minute I picked up the phone. He spoke at a level that turned my landline into a speaker phone.

“So, I hear you want to be a Ronald.”, he gruffly said.

“Yessir”, I replied.

“You were with the Blue Unit at Ringling, huh? Did I meet you in Chicago last year?”, he asked.

Again, I replied, “Yessir.”

“Wait a minute. Were you the balding guy? Kinda round-faced?”- he asked oblivious to how potentially insulting his question was.

“Yup. That’d be me.”- I answered exasperated.

Jay Ray went on- “I seem to remember you were a little heavy. If you’re going to be Ronald, you need to keep your weight down. Ever done Weight Watchers?”

The irony of this statement was not lost on me. I was going to work for a corporation who has done more to promote obesity than any other  business in the world and I’m being told to lose weight? Not only that, Jay Ray was a good forty pounds heavier than myself. And what was even more insulting, Jay Ray met me when I was at my ideal weight.

All of this was going through my head when I finally responded to his insensitive assessment- “You’re right. I need to lose ten. I’ll get right on it.”

“Better make it twenty. We don’t want Ronald looking like a white, red and yellow blob. It’d scare the kids. Welcome aboard! I’m going to send you about twenty videos. Watch them. Call my assistant if you have any questions. I’ll have you come out to Milwaukee to train with a few other guys later this year. Until then lose the damn weight and get a few shows under your belt.”

I hated this man.

About a week later I received the videos. A box with around twenty videos in blue boxes arrived at the local McDonald’s headquarters. I finally met Karen in person. She was a petite female with large, brown, Southern hair and perhaps a bit too much make-up. She presented me with the costume, the wig, the makeup, the shoes, the videos, and the props. She also gave me a couple of dates to hold on my calendar. They were to be my first performances as Ronald. I had a month to learn the show, the character and all the corporate-mandated nuances of Ronald.

I’ve never liked Ronald McDonald. Even as a kid, I never found him compelling.  He is, in my opinion, the most un-funny clown to ever dare call himself a clown. He lives in a ridiculous world called McDonaldland which exists in some strange parallel universe. The town is run by the officious, effeminate, and edible Mayor McCheese (how great would it be to be able to eat our elected officials? In fact, that may very well be what happened to him since he hasn’t been seen since the mid-eighties) and is plagued by a villainous underground character who calls himself the Hamburglar.

There’s  a host of  disturbing characters that roam freely through the hamburger patches and french-fry fields of McDonaldland. There’s Grimace, a purple blob of a character who loves milkshakes. Originally he was known as the Evil Gimace and had four arms which he used to steal shakes and sodas but eventually lost them when marketing discovered that children found him too spider-like and terrifying. He also lost the word “Evil” from his name and became known as Grimace- kind of an impotent Barney-like character that hangs out in McDonaldland and consumes milkshakes while living off of Government McCheese.

There’s Birdie the Early Bird, the only female character in McDonaldland. She was hatched when McDonald’s needed a character to promote their breakfast menu launched in 1980. McDonaldland also is the hometown of the Fry Guys. When first introduced, these freaky little characters were called the Fry Kids and like many of the other characters, were villains in McDonaldland who liked to steal french fries. Many people from my generation might remember the “Keep your eyes on your fries” campaign.  Captain Crook was another villain to add to the bunch. Of course his penchant was for filet-o-fish sandwiches. With so much crime in McDonaldland it seemed natural that concerned citizens would want protection. Officer Big Mac was introduced to restore order to the violent and chaotic world of McDonaldland. Working with Mayor McCheese, Ronald, and with support of the short-lived Professor,  Officer Big Mac stepped into McDonaldland like a mutated but less-greasy Giuliani and cleaned up the streets making McDonaldland a safe and tastier place to raise morbidly obese children once again.

This was the world I stepped into for a few hundred dollars a shot.

I was such a clown-whore.

The videos and manuals explained the history of the character and his evolution. In case you didn’t know, the Today Show’s beloved senior imbecile, Willard Scott, was the first Ronald McDonald. He didn’t resemble the Ronald of today. His costume was basically made of boxes, bags and various McDonald’s food products. He also sported a large red mouth like one would see in the more violent scenes of most vampire flicks. (and we wonder why some kids are scared of clowns?)

There was a video on how to do Ronald’s make-up and the importance of getting the nose, mouth and eyebrows just right. There was a video on styling the wig which required me to purchase over a hundred dollars worth of hair product and equipment from the beauty supply store. Before each show, I would have to shampoo the wig in the sink, pin it to a wig block, roll the wig in curlers, apply setting lotion to the curls, dry the wig under a cap & hose hair dryer, remove the curlers, tease & shape the hair, and finally spray it to set. This process took about three hours each time.

There was a video on how to perform the show itself. The show included singing- “Do You Believe In Magic?” and another audience participation song. It also featured eight impressive magic tricks which I learned to perform from the video. Incidentally, Ronald wears gloves and so basic hand magic presented some challenges as my grip was compromised by the bulky polyester gloves. The most impressive trick was a finale where a volunteer from the audience is laid out on a board supported by two folding chairs. The board was then removed giving the illusion that the volunteer was being supported flat by a chair under their neck and under their ankle. The piéce d’resistance, however, was when I removed the chair that supported their ankles leaving the volunteer hovering parallel to the ground balancing precariously on the back of the chair placed under their neck. The audiences loved this trick and I got a kick out of performing it.

My month of at-home-video-training flew by and I was ready for my first show. It was a hot and humid Louisiana Day. We arrived at an area McDonald’s in a large red van with the golden arches prominently displayed on every surface of the vehicle. The side of the van folded down into a portable stage. I retreated to the break room in the back of the restaurant to get into make-up and costume. I pinned my cordless microphone to my collar and waited for the show to begin. In the quiet I thought to myself what a silly way this was to make a buck. I could hear the crowd of kids outside growing ever more anxious to get a glimpse at Ronald.

One of the videos mentioned that worldwide, Ronald was more recognizable to children than Santa Claus. (not every culture celebrates Christmas but just about every culture has a McDonald’s)

Karen fetched me from the break-room and led me to the stage. The store manager announced with great Gusto.

“Ladies & Gentlemen, let’s give a big McDonald’s welcome to the one, the only RONALD MCDONALD!”

The crowd went wild.

I felt like a Christian in ancient Rome.

This was the first of about eighty performances I gave over the next four years.

It was a strange little part-time roller-coaster of a job and I met some fascinating people as Ronald.

I’ll have more tales from McDonaldland in the near future, I promise.

Meanwhile, I’m craving french fries.


3 Responses to “Martha’s Got Pep! – Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies! – 108 eggs, 86 cups of sugar, 85 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 95 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 112 recipes to go!”

  1. Alyse Says:

    I totally forgot about the Ronald job too. Funny. Do u still have the costume? That’d be awesome for Halloween!

  2. Tommy Salami Says:

    Shilling for McDonald’s AND not peeing on Pat Buchanan’s loafers? We forgive you. Those brownies were so good you could kick a few orphans and puppies and you’d still be a-okay with me 🙂

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