You’re a Good Apple, Martha! – Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies! -181 eggs, 140 3/4 cups of sugar, 133 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 170 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 74 recipes to go!

February 2, 2011


Martha's Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies

André's Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies

There were notes of apple, pear and cinnamon, although Andre said they only contained apples.  The bouquet of sweet honey-sugar coating filled my nostrils as the crunch of oats and savory apple was washed down with a glass of full-bodied, oaky California chard – the perfect companion to these delicious cookies.

That was my friend, Brenda’s assessment of Martha’s Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies. I adore oatmeal cookies and I adore Brenda so, as far as I’m concern, these two needed to meet each other. A simple cookie to make, I found my pantry missing one of the essential ingredients- applesauce. I did, however, have a fridge filled with apples. After giving a couple a quick peel and a whirl in the food processor with a bit of water, voila! Applesauce!

Rolled oats, flour, brown and granulated sugar, butter, egg, golden raisins, salt, baking powder and baking soda are added to the chunky applesauce and blended together into a sticky cookie dough. The dough is then scooped out with an inch-and-a-half diameter ice cream scoop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. After 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, you have a steamy batch of delicious oatmeal cookies. To give each cookie a bit of added sweetness, confectioner’s sugar, maple syrup and water are whisked together to make a delicious glaze.

This cookie tastes like comfort. Slightly more sophisticated than a run-of-the-mill oatmeal cookie, the taste of baked apple is unmistakable in every bite. Delightfully chewy with a crisp oatmeal crust, these cookies are addictive.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Portia- The Merchant of Venice ACT IV, Sc. 1- William Shakespeare

In 1987 at the corner of East 63rd Street and 5th Ave was a woman of indeterminate age, perhaps in her forties, maybe her fifties- if drugs were involved, possibly in her thirties. She was a stout and lumbering soul bundled in layers of brightly colored fabric which covered every inch of her body like a clown burka. Her apple-cheeks stuck out from under the kerchief wrapped around her skull and tied tightly under her chin. Her chin was a series of pink and fleshy folds that descended from her full and chapped lips. Several gapped teeth poked out from her prominent overbite and gripped her crusty lower lip lending her an expression of childish mischief. Her eyes were as dark as any I’ve ever seen. They were large and expressive yet glazed and fixed like two dark buttons barely still attached to a long forgotten rag doll.  Her brow was a single bushy and dark smear of wiry hair that stretched from over one eye to the other. Dark, oily and matted bangs crept out from underneath the colorful shroud of the kerchief. There was no trace of gray in her hair or her face, but rather she glowed. Her pink and rosy flesh spoke of a European heritage. Irish, I imagined, or perhaps even English.

I named the woman Portia, since I was never brave enough to ask her name. She was just one of the many homeless vagrants strewn throughout New York City in the eighties. Another of those poor, emotionally unstable and uninsured folk who were too-soon released from one of the many suburban behavioral hospitals with a bottle of pills and a pat on the back. They lived on the street, eating out of garbage cans, begging for change, washing themselves in public fountains and often freezing to death in the first Winter storm, thus making room for the next crop, their homeless heirs, less than eager to take their place in the city’s peripheral conscience.

Portia didn’t exist in my periphery. She was an ever-present entity during my time in the Big Apple back in the eighties. Her favorite place to hang out was just across the street from my apartment on the Upper East Side, a few blocks from the Plaza Hotel. I don’t want you to think I could actually afford my address. I lived in a basement apartment that was partitioned off to house several illegal tenants including myself. The building supervisor was a gentleman who went by the name of Brahma in his daily life, as Greg Garrison as a Playwright and as Benjamin Boswell in his frequent theatrical endeavors. He and his girlfriend, Tina shared their one-bathroom flat with eleven other tenants. Each of us paid $100 a week and lived in a tight closet-like space. My room didn’t have a bed. It had a hospital gurney nabbed from a rummage sale. I slept in it and tried not to think how many people died on it when it was still in service. We also shared this space with the building’s boiler which hissed and clanged at all hours of the day and night. At the far end of out abode was a tiny window just below the basement’s ceiling. It looked out onto the foot level of 5th Avenue. You could see really nice shoes walking by at all hours.  In the morning before we’d leave for the day, we’d ascend a small step ladder to peer out the window. If the shoes walking by were wet then it was raining. If they were white it was snowing. We joked that if they were running then we probably shouldn’t go out on a day like that anyway. One time I looked out the window and saw two unusual shoes just standing there motionless. One was a torn sneaker and the other was a fuzzy slipper. When I ascended the stairs to street level and walked out our decorative wrought iron door, there was Portia.

Her face was red with anger and perspiration. She screamed at the top of her lungs the excerpt from The Merchant of Venice I copied above. She squealed each word with articulate clarity and great passion. Busy and wealthy New Yorkers cut a wide berth around her making sure not to make eye contact. I was mesmerized. I knew the speech having studied the play in High School. She was terrific. From that point I took to calling her Portia.

She made eye contact with me after pausing to take a deep and much-needed breath. She then collapsed against the wall of my building and slid slowly down into a heap of colored fabric. I ran over to her and she brushed me away violently.

“Can’t you tell I need water, godammit to hell?!”

I told her not to move and that I’d be right back. I fumbled with my keys and reentered my building to fetch her a cup of water. When I reemerged she had righted herself to a leaning position. Her face lost some of its red glow. Supporting herself against the building with a mittened hand she thrust out the other with a forceful and dramatic gesture. I placed the cup in it and she downed the water in a series of loud guzzles. She then daintily handed the cup back to me and began vocalizing. She actually had quite a beautiful voice. With a great vocal heave she then launched back into Portia’s speech and I walked away feeling satisfied that I played an early-morning gopher to a sidewalk diva of the first order.

Over the next few months I saw her many, many times. Mostly in front of my apartment but also near my school and a few times outside my workplace on Broadway and 39th. Sometimes she was singing. Sometimes she was reciting Portia’s speech. Often she was simply napping in a corner and other times she was spewing vile profanities at the pedestrians.  I often imagined what brought her to this moment. How did she get here? Was she like me? Did she come to New York City to become a famous actor and somehow lost her way? How did she know Portia’s speech in its entirety? She had a lovely singing voice and her face, though raw and weathered, was not unpleasant to look at. What was her story? During my time in the big city I would often imagine Portia’s life and I let it serve as a warning to my ambition. Life is fragile. One false move and I could be performing on the street for an audience who doesn’t want to see me.

It’s been years since I thought about Portia. I did a production of The Merchant of Venice years ago. I played Launcelot Gobbo, the clown servant to Shylock. Shakespeare doesn’t give an actor much to go on as far as character descriptions or stage directions, therefore it was up to me to create the character from scratch. I thought it was interesting that Will named the character Launcelot Gobbo. Launcelot was the famous, noble, and foolish romantic from Arthur’s round table. Gobbo was an Elizabethan slang for one with mental retardation. I thought to myself, Noble and yet mentally defective… hmmmm. I then thought of Portia. I was able to quickly land on who the character was because I knew what he looked and sounded like. I also know what he wanted. More than anything, just like poor Portia’s cries on the crowded New York streets, he wanted mercy. He wanted someone to bless him and therefore bless themselves by showing a little kindness.

It’s been a long time since my early days in NYC and my taking a turn at Launcelot Gobbo to half-filled houses. My life is more simple, more dull, more grown-up now. I walk four short blocks to work where I sit at a desk and type away. Eight hours later I go home. I look out the window before leaving to see if it’s raining or snowing. If it is then I hop on the local bus. The route home takes me past the charity hospital on the cusp of downtown Kansas City. In front is the carved stone placard that hung above the entrance of the original hospital building, now long since torn down and forgotten. The placard reads:

THE QVALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAIN’D,

IT DROPPETH AS THE GENTLE RAIN FROM HEAVEN

VPON THE PLACE BENEATH. IT IS TWICE BLEST:

IT BLESSETH HIM THAT GIVES AND HIM THAT TAKES.

I smile every time I pass it. Twenty years later, on a local bus zooming along America’s heartland, Portia’s still there.

Still squealing for mercy.

Still crowding the periphery.

 

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3 Responses to “You’re a Good Apple, Martha! – Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies! -181 eggs, 140 3/4 cups of sugar, 133 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 170 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 74 recipes to go!”

  1. Emily Says:

    I really enjoyed this story. The cookies sound good, too. 🙂

  2. Chelsea Says:

    I love this Andre! I remember your Launcelot Gobbo as stellar and its good to finally find out about your inspiration. I guess you are and always have been a bit of a “noble fool,” a clown with heart!

  3. Scott Says:

    Andre, you are a wonderful storyteller.


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