Hey Martha, Can You Tell Me How To Get To…?- Sesame Cookies! – 125 eggs, 95 1/2 cups of sugar, 96 sticks of Butter, and 111 cups of flour used so far- 102 recipes to go!

October 18, 2010


Martha's Sesame Cookies



André's Sesame Cookies


Five million acres of farmland, mostly in Asia, are responsible for the exclusive cultivation of sesame seeds. This oil-rich seed has been around tables of the ancient Eastern cultures dating back as far as history itself. The seeds come in many varieties from hulls of the deepest black to the more common white variety. Once toasted they emit a strong and flavorful aroma. Ground into a paste they are the main ingredient in delicious tahini. Rich in nutrients, the health benefits from the consumption of this tiny food makes this amazing, seemingly small and insignificant seed a true superfood.

Martha’s recipe for Sesame Cookies is quite simple. Toasted sesame seed are ground into a fine pasty flour and added to a combination of all purpose flour and baking powder. Butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract are blended together and the dry ingredients are then added. The dough is rolled into tablespoon-sized balls and slightly flattened onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Each one is then give a light brush of egg white and more sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. The cookies are then baked until they reach a light golden color.

The taste of sesame is unmistakable, although some co-workers who enjoyed these thought they were a bit like Snickerdoodles, not able to identify where the spicy flavor was. A few of my Asian co-workers were able to identify the flavor right off the bat, though. Sesame has a distinctive taste but to most Westerners, it can be confused with an array of other flavors from the East: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc… .  I made a batch of these and brought them to work. Co-workers tried them throughout the day and although there were no raves, I did return with an empty container. This proves my theory that cookies are like sex- Even bad cookies are still kind of good.

I’ve been enjoying reminiscing about my years at Catholic High School but I’m a bit worried I may have painted the picture that the teachers at my old school were all fascist disciplinarians. True, some were, but there was a small group of teachers who really “got” me and if it hadn’t been for them I doubt I would have made it through those years unscathed. This post is for them.

Ms. Nena Nells was the Sophomore Biology teacher. It was in her class we would dissect large earthworms, beetles, and pig fetuses. She was a single lady in her late thirties with shoulder-length hair of tight blonde curls. She wore dark shaded glasses to protect her light-sensitive eyes. Light sensitivity was a problem since most of her notes were given on a large overhead projector and every now and then the glare would set her eyelids a-fluttering. When this would happen, the boys in the class would yell, “Bingo!” and Ms. Nells would become embarrassed. This was better than Ms. Bradington, our religion teacher who had a tendency to nip-out in the cold classroom. The boys would purposely lower the A.C. and when Ms. Bradington’s blouse showed signs of nippage, the boys would yell, “Headlights!”  This would invariably end up with Ms. Barington in tears.

Boys at Catholic High had a tendency to listen and respect the female lay-teachers that were attractive like Ms. DuClaire, the French teacher. She was a petite, young woman with perfect long brunette hair, white teeth surrounded by full, red lips, and always smelled of lavender. There were a lot of horny, young Catholic men who spoke fluent French by their senior year because of Mademoiselle DuClaire.

Ms. Nells was not so fortunate in the looks department. She was a tall woman with a deep, husky voice. Her teeth were several shades of yellow and gray and she always smelled of cigarettes, as she would take smoke breaks in her car between classes. She loved teaching but hated where and who she was teaching. The boys were relentlessly cruel to the female teaching staff. Particularly to the female teachers that were not classic beauties and, at heart, Ms. Nells was a sensitive soul. You could tell the taunting hurt her, which only made the boys taunt her more.

I think it was because of this endless teasing, Ms. Nells and I became fast friends. We recognized in each other a need for acceptance, a need to be understood and appreciated. After class I would hang around and help her organize the classroom. I’d listen to her stories. How she was recently divorced and came to Baton Rouge to fill the position at Catholic High. She would chuckle and then wheeze into cigarette-induced coughing fits as she spoke of her ex-husband. Closer to my senior year, I confided in her. I told her about my struggles with my own sexuality. I remember being so afraid my entire body shook with each word uttered. She looked and me and smiled the sweetest crooked smile. She put her arms around me and just held me close and told me she thought I was just perfect the way I was and that one day I’d make someone a really terrific husband.  I cried a bit. So did she. We remained close through graduation.

In the last week of school, she pulled me into her classroom. She handed me a small wrapped box. Inside were two porcelain masks- comedy and tragedy. Ms. Nells knew how much I loved drama and that my intent was to continue to pursue a career on the stage in college. Inside a small envelope was a self-made gift certificate for a one-way airfare. Enclosed was a sweet note that said if I ever found myself in need, I always had someplace to go, a place where I would always be perfect just as I was. The gift certificate had a jet plane flying directly to her heart. A little precious, I know, but still very sweet.

Ms. Nells left Catholic High School just a few years after I graduated. From what I understand, she met a gentleman, married him and moved out to California or somewhere around the West coast. I have not been in contact with her for over twenty years but I hope she knows there is always a direct flight to my heart, too… with daily departures.

Mr. Chaney Sterling… Oh, Mr. Chaney Sterling… where do I begin? Mr. Sterling was my choir instructor and the head of the drama club. In the Fall of 1981 when I first stepped through the doors of Catholic High School as a pimply-faced freshman, I noticed the construction workers putting the last bricks in place over the proscenium of the gym’s stage to convert it into a wrestling room. Drama productions would henceforth be conducted in the cafeteria or the stage down the street at the girls’ school. I enrolled in choir. It was the only performing arts elective outside of marching band. Classes were held in a temporary mobile building outside the West side of the gym. In this tiny space was just enough room to fit about twenty chairs, a small upright piano and Mr. Sterling. Mr. Sterling was a tall, emotional man in his late thirties who still lived with his aging mother in a subdivision adjacent to my parents. He had the largest head I had ever seen on another human being. It was ironic that the rest of his body was quite small. A bit paunchy, he often squeezed his lower half into a pair of brown, polyester slacks, while the rest of him hovered above his cinched waist. Mr. Sterling was blonde and pale with green eyes and large jowls that disappeared into his collection of solid, pastel, short-sleeved shirts and festive ties. Mr. Sterling was the nelliest thing that ever dared teach at Catholic High School. That said, he was not out. In fact, he often dodged frequent questions about his sexuality and had concocted a cockamamie story about being engaged to this total bombshell in one of the many beauty pageants he would frequently judge. He carried a picture of a stunning young woman in a rhinestone tiara with him and referred to her as his fiancé. I later found out that the stunning young woman was a drag queen who had won the regional competition that year.

Mr. Sterling walked as though he had a metal brace running from his neck down to his tailbone. He always seemed nervous and large patches of pit sweat would materialize half-way through class as he waved his arms to and fro to the meter of obscure male quartets.

That said, Mr. Sterling was a terrific teacher. He not only expected his students to sing with conviction and listen to one another for blending, he wanted each student to develop a sense of relative pitch. He would often stop class to drill us. He’d play a note on the piano and ask a student to sing the third, or the minor fifth, or the seventh of the note. Most students didn’t take this too seriously but I did. I could see what he was doing. He was training our ears to hear tones. It is because of this training, I can usually hear a tune and pluck it out on a piano, a trick that came in handy during my years of working the piano lounges.

Our choir won many competitions and many of the choir members, including myself, were chosen for the State choir. With little in the way of resources or support, Mr. Sterling put together some really terrific concerts and theatrical productions. He was a work horse and his commitment to his students was unquestionable. Years later when I found myself teaching theatre at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, I tried to emulate many of Mr. Sterling’s techniques.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sterling’s personal life was always in question and in my Junior year, a new principal was introduced to the school. Brother Phillip was a no-nonsense member of the Catholic order of the Sacred Heart. He rarely spoke and seemed to move in and out of rooms with suspicious glances for each student he passed. The boys of Catholic High gave him the nickname, The Phantom.

Brother Phillip picked up on Mr. Sterling’s mannerisms right away and after my senior year, he was asked not to return.

Mr. Sterling had proven himself a fine teacher. During his time at Catholic high, the choir had garnered a trophy case of awards and recognitions but all of that didn’t seem to matter. Mr. Sterling was gay and therefore he was unsuited to teach.

Mr. Sterling was not the only one to leave under sexual suspicion.

In my Junior and Senior years I had the opportunity to take a few more elective classes and I chose art. The art teacher was a tiny lady with a great smile named Ms. Beatrice Wilton. She was a lot of fun and had an enormous classroom in a new building dedicated to the arts and sciences. Ms. Wilton’s room was filled with elaborate still life arrangements ready to be sketched. Her teaching method was very free and easy. Ms. Wilton was always warm and friendly and her love of the arts shone through everything she did. It was infectious. Everyone wanted to do good work because nothing was as satisfying as making her smile. She taught me how to look. I mean, really look. How to see, how to observe the whole and break it into its components, then reassemble it the way I saw fit. Whenever I visit a museum or look at a new piece of art, I can hear Ms. Wilton’s kind Southern twang in the back of my mind asking, “It’s very nice, but how does it make you feel?”

Ms. Wilton was not a Catholic. She was a Unitarian and therefore a bit of a radical in the carefully orchestrated moral code of Catholic High. What’s worse, she was raising a son with her “friend”… her female “friend.”

Ms. Wilton did not return to Catholic High School the next year. Neither did the Physics teacher, John Mayo. John was a close friend of Ms. Wilton and an amazing painter.

Throughout my time at Catholic High, I was brought into the counselors’ offices to have these little talks. As I’ve established i previous posts, I was a strange kid and so I was no stranger to the counselor’s office. At Catholic High it started with Sister Katie, a mildly physically deformed nun. She was about four-feet-seven and wore a large metal brace around her entire torso which gave her the exact shape of the leading character of a recent popular Summer film about a small alien visitor, earning her the nickname Sister K.T..  She was a good sport about it and even dressed up as the little alien at a pep rally where she told the other team to “Phone Home.”

Sister Katie was known for her constant smile and her herbal tea which we called, Sister Katie’s Special Truth Serum. For my first two years I’d sit and have tea with her every couple of months where she would pepper me with questions about girls and my body and hinting that I should look into the priesthood.

My Junior and Senior year, these pleasantries ended. My new counselor was Ms. Difazzio, a thin-lipped Italian-American from Metairie, Louisiana. She wore power suits with a large head of dyed, sandy, Southern, helmet-hair. She would sit across a desk with her perfectly sculpted nails folded in front of her and with a forced smile she would begin to list what she thought was wrong with you. It was the Spring of my junior year when Ms. Difazzio asked be point-blank if I was gay. She then added that I could no longer remain at Catholic High School if I chose that lifestyle. I denied everything, of course. She wasn’t convinced and so she began calling in my friends one at a time to ask them about me. The problem was, she didn’t know who my friends were and soon the entire school was buzzing with rumors that I was being expelled from Catholic High because I was gay.

Ms. Nells, Mr. Sterling, Mr. Mayo, and Ms. Wilton all met with Ms. Difazzio and had a private meeting. I don’t know what was said. All I knew was that this group of teachers were furious. Ms. Nells told me not to worry about the rumors and she’d rally the troupes to put a stop to it.

When I returned for my senior year, the rumors had stopped and Ms. Difazzio never met with me again.

I can’t help but think this incident is what fueled those four teachers having to leave Catholic High School.

A couple of years ago, an Alumni columnist wrote an article about my current work as a writer and editor in the Catholic High Alumni newsletter. When I went back home to Baton Rouge to visit my parents I was invited to partake in a personal tour of the campus. The gentleman giving me the tour was a former coach who pretended to remember me. He pointed at building after building and spoke of the funds needed to complete the construction of a few projects, most were for the sports programs. He then took me to his private office and asked if I’d be interested in setting up a personal scholarship endowment for future students. I thought about it for a few seconds and asked if I could set up a scholarship for young men who self-identified as gay or bisexual. All the color went out of the ex-coach’s face. Without even pausing, he reached out and shook my hand and told me to have a nice day.

Too bad.

I thought the Wilton-Mayo-Sterling-Nells Endowment for Gay Catholic Boys had a nice ring to it.


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