Martha’s Unpronounceable Cookie!- Chrusciki Leaves! -145 eggs, 102 1/2 cups of sugar, 104 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 125 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 94 recipes to go!

November 15, 2010

Martha's Chrusciki Leaves

André's Chrusciki Leaves

Chrusciki is a Polish word that basically means Cookie. It is pronounced CHROOST-CHEE-KEE. I am sure the average Polish five-year-old would have no problem wrapping their tongue around this one, but not being Polish myself, I struggle. These unpronounceable cookies are traditionally served during lent since they are unleavened , but they’re just as popular to serve during the Christmas season as well. As you can see by my BEFS counter (Butter, Eggs, Flour & Sugar) above, this recipe calls for twelve eggs. Well, two whole eggs and ten egg yolks. It also calls for a heck-of-a-lot of flour. There’s not much butter or sugar in the dough, however. Flavored with cognac and the zest of a lemon and an orange, the dough tastes a bit of citrus but it’s not terribly sweet. As I explained to a co-worker, this is a Polish recipe from long-suffering Polish people so Polish foods, particularly desserts, should taste a bit like regret.

Chrusciki batter is very much like pizza dough. It’s soft and elastic. It resists being rolled and so patience has to be exercised while flattening the dough so that it can be cut. One of the most delightful things about this recipe is that the cookies aren’t baked. They’re deep fried. Four cups of vegetable oil is heated to 375 degrees and each leaf is flash fried to a light and golden brown color. Surprisingly, these cookies are not greasy in the least. Because of the amount of fat from the egg yolks in the dough, a protective outer layer keeps the cookie from absorbing the hot oil. I was amazed at how fast the cookies cook and within thirty minutes of frying batch after batch I ended up with almost 100 cookies.

I brought these to work for a breakfast meeting. Many folks commented on how pretty and holiday-like they were. I think the reaction to their lack of sweetness was mixed. Some people, particularly women, loved that they were subtly sweet, while others, mostly guys, thought the lack of sweetness was disappointing. Everyone, however, loved the citrus smell and taste. I don’t think I’ve baked a cookie that’s had such a distinctive aroma. Once at the office, I opened the container filled with these delightful Polish cookies and the smell of sweet dough, cognac and citrus filled the air.

I would bake up a batch of these again for a holiday party or another large gathering of people. Be warned, though. These cookies are covered in powdered sugar. It’s where most of the cookie’s sweetness comes from. Anything covered in powdered sugar presents a challenge for its consumer. I’ve shared enough plates of beignets growing up in Louisiana, to know that you’ll end up wearing most of it. I wouldn’t plan this cookie for any formal events or any gatherings where people wear a lot of black like funerals or emo poetry readings.

In 1997 I took a job as the accompanist and music director for a local church in Baton Rouge, LA. The church was a Christian denomination that ironically is based out of where I currently live, Kansas City, MO. It’s called Unity. Technically Unity is a church of metaphysical Christianity. In other words, its faith is based on the notion that we are all made up of atoms. Atoms that have been around since the beginning of time. We share these eternal atoms. Your atoms have been my atoms and mine have been yours. Hitler’s atoms and Gandhi’s atoms float in and out of us and so does Jesus’ atoms. According to Unity, we can tap into the indwelling Christ on an atomic level by meditating on those divine particles and therefore become more divine ourselves.

I know this sounds ridiculous but honestly, there’s not a religion out there that doesn’t have some amount of foolishness attached to it. That said, I have many friends who are members of the Unity church. They aren’t stupid people. Most don’t really focus on the doctrine of the Unity church too much. The Unity doctrine is pretty loose anyway. I think my friends enjoy the sense of community and tapping into the divine strength inside of themselves. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable fiddling with my Jesus atoms with a group of strangers every Sunday but as many of my friends will tell you, I’m a heathen bastard.

I may be a heathen bastard, but I’m a heathen bastard that can play the hell out of a piano and the minister at Unity was willing to look the other way as long as I showed up for the service every Sunday. Church musicians and prostitutes are the only people who’ll work an organ for fifty dollars an hour.

Services were small at Unity. There really wasn’t a chapel, per se. A congregation of about twenty people met in a tiny carpeted space between a trophy store and a massage parlor in an old run-down strip mall. The minister and his wife were portly older folks with a quiet gentleness about them. The music for the services was dreadful. Simple standard hymns had clumsy lyric changes to reflect a kinder and more compassionate metaphysical Christian philosophy. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that warms the soul of me” replaced any reference to being saved or referring to oneself as a wretch. They had one particular tune I just hated. It was like a Bavarian waltz without the tuba and accordion. The lyrics were:

Something good is going to happen to me.

Happen to me

This very day.

Something good is going to happen to me.

My own in-dwelling Christ is paving my way.

My favorite part of Sunday service was the meditation. I was to play simple ambient chords during this five-to-ten minute quiet time. If you’ve ever listened to a program on public radio called Hearts of Space or received a massage at a day spa, there are musicians who make their living as Ambient Composers. They don’t really create music. They create moods. The mood is always somewhere between serene and stoned. There is generally no time signature or meter in ambient compositions. It’s really just a bunch of sounds pleasantly arranged like musical chairs in a Crate & Barrel window display. A turgid drone here,  a whale moaning there, throw in some wind chimes and a rain stick and you’ve got yourself an ambient composition. I found creating this kind of music mind-numbing and a bit pretentious. For fun, I’d use familiar chord structures minus tempo and meter  to create soothing meditation melodies. My favorite was the Flintstone’s theme song. I had the congregation unwittingly meditating to a very slow and peaceful “Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones…”. It was yabba-dabba-dreadful.

After almost six months of Sunday services, the church could no longer afford to keep me on. They asked if I could tithe my musical services to the church. In true heathen style, I told them that if I wanted to tithe my musicianship, I’d play at the nursing homes. Within a month of leaving the tiny church, or as I called it, Our Lady of the Strip Mall, I received a call from another larger Unity church. They had heard me play at the smaller church and were in need of a music director for their Sunday service and were willing to pay more than fifty an hour.

I started the very next Sunday. The church was simple enough with a few offices and a congregation of about a hundred people that assembled in a large meeting room. The minister was a petite woman in her mid-fifties with long strawberry-blonde hair down to her waist. She had a perpetual smile and a lovely and calm ministerial demeanor. She had a hint of the exotic, too. She had been a professional belly-dancer before her current role as a Unity minister. She had traveled the world with her husband who was a Russian folk-singer. Even though he was deceased, she’d show up every now and then at a service with her belly-dancing garb and dance around the church to old, scratchy recordings of her late husband’s booming bass vocalizations. It was a bit eerie and eccentric but I loved the wackiness of it all.

As music director for the church it was my responsibility to find soloists and readers for each Sunday service. Faced with a shortage of volunteers I decided to make an announcement, a call for talent. I encouraged folks to share their gifts with the congregation. If you could sing, write poetry, play an instrument, or flippantly I added, even perform interpretive dance, please sign up.

Before I left for the day I checked the sign up sheet. I was pleased to see that someone had volunteered for next Sunday’s service. It was one of the faithful Unity flock, Marion. Marion was a woman in her mid thirties who never missed a service. She was around 5’4″ and 285 lbs.. She wore thick coke-bottle glasses and a crew-cut. She seemed to have  a dozen too many teeth for her tiny jaw and so her mouth always hung open in something between a smile and a grimace. She loved the nature of the desert as evidenced by her seemingly endless array of black and grey T-shirts featuring images of wolves howling silhouetted in the moonlight, eagles flying over ice-capped mountains and rattlesnakes coiled at the base of the American flag.

I was pleased that Marion was going to perform. I had never heard her sing and I was looking forward to what she might do. Then I noticed the two words she’d written next to her name- Interpretive Dance. Oh no. I thought I was being funny when I mentioned this to the congregation. I didn’t think anyone would actually sign up to perform an interpretive dance. Then I tried to visualize what this husky woman might perform. I thought perhaps she’d do something inspired by one of the Native American tribes  she’d purchased her T-shirts from. That wouldn’t be so bad. It would speak to diversity and most Native American dance is a form of spiritual connectivity. Yes, that’s what she’s probably going to do. That’d be fine. I was happy with my rationalization and returned to my week without giving it a second thought.

Sunday arrived and Marion greeted me with a jam box. She already had the cassette cued to start playing. She instructed me to simply hit PLAY after she was introduced. She then disappeared into one of the back offices to prepare and warm up. About half-way through the service, the minister announced that the congregation was in for a special treat. Marion was going to be performing an interpretive dance. I hit PLAY on the Jam Box and the music blared from the oversized speakers. It was a track lifted from the Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere. Marion came bouncing into the church, her corpulent torso and limbs squeezed into leggings and a black leotard stretched to the point where you could make out the faint green hue of her panties and sports bra. Her face was covered in an ornate feathered mask, much like you’d find at a French Market trinket shop in New Orleans. She swayed from side to side to the beat of the music like a fleshy metronome. The congregation smiled uncomfortable smiles as she hopped from one foot to the other to a rhythm not exactly in time to that of the blaring cirque music. None of it made much sense but on some level, I guess, Marion thought she was displaying a certain artistry. The monotony of her movements, her persistent sway from one foot to the other lasted over eight minutes. It was strangely hypnotic. She was covered in sweat by the end. She had essentially performed costumed step aerobics for the entire congregation who in turn rewarded her with a smattering of polite but awkward applause. While none of us really enjoyed her performance, and many of us questioned her taste, we did admire her courage. She put herself out there and bravely, if not recklessly threw her Jesus atoms all over the place.

I’ve seen some terrible church performances in my time.

Most I categorize as Holy Crap.

Marion’s performance of Sweatin’ to the Holies has never been surpassed in its level of terribleness. For that, I will always be grateful. Witnessing that kind of awful is like catching a glimpse of Haley’s comet.

It set my Rex Reed atoms a-flutter.

One Response to “Martha’s Unpronounceable Cookie!- Chrusciki Leaves! -145 eggs, 102 1/2 cups of sugar, 104 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 125 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 94 recipes to go!”

  1. Mary Gemmell Says:

    Here I am laughing my buns off at 1:30 in the morning. This was really funny Andre’.

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