Getting Chunked Up With Martha! – Chunky Peanut, Chocolate and Cinnamon Cookies! -199 eggs, 155 1/2 cups of sugar, 149 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 189 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 62 recipes to go!

March 24, 2011

Martha's Chunky Peanut, Chocolate and Cinnamon Cookies

André's Chunky Peanut, Chocolate and Cinnamon Cookies

Okay, peanuts and chocolate are a match. I think Reese’s and M&Ms have proven that point, but adding cinnamon to the mix? Seriously? Well, don’t knock it till you try it, folks. This is a simple cookie recipe from Martha’s sacred tome that is a sure-hit-crowd-pleaser. Butter, flour, eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, roasted salted peanuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips come together with just a flash of cinnamon added to the mix beckoning tasters to ask, “What is the strange flavor I’m detecting?”. These crisp and thin cookies are a strangely delicious treat to bring to any festive occasion and are sure to be enjoyed by young and not-so-young alike.

So, there you go. Chunky Peanut, Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cinnamon.

I wish Martha was a bit more creative with her cookie titles. Some of them just sound so utilitarian. Well, that and they’re a mouthful to say. Chunky Peanut, Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cinnamon doesn’t exactly flow trippingly on the tongue. It’d be a lot easier just to call them Chunky Marthas or perhaps Sinful Peanut Blossoms. Get creative, Martha. I’m sure you have a writer on staff whose fingers you haven’t broken yet that can tap out a few creative titles.

Speaking of things that flow trippingly on the tongue, I’ve been recently reminiscing about a teacher I had in college at the school for ultra-serious actors. She was the voice and speech teacher and her name was a bit of an exercise in elocution itself. Betty-Ann Langsford Lee was a pip. I had not met anyone like her. That’s not to say I favored her. I didn’t. In fact, I despised her. I hated her affected speech that hovered somewhere between Providence, Rhode Island and Cornwall, England. I hated her pop psychiatry which she practiced with impunity on her poor students. I hated her complete disconnection from the reality that she was training students for a career on the stage. Rather, she viewed her job as that of a human wrecking ball with the mission to obliterate any confidence her students’ may have had to open their mouths and produce listenable sounds.

Ms. Langsford Lee was a tenured professor at the school, though. She wasn’t going anywhere. She was as constant as the bricks that lined the proscenium of the student stage. We were stuck with her and knew that in order to graduate we would have to spend two years with this haggard, painfully thin woman in  her solid, shoulder-padded, power suits and her never-changing European-bobbed head of shoulder-length ash blonde hair. Ms. Lee dressed in the unofficial uniform of semi-orgasmic, disinterested and dissatisfied female art critics.

On our first class she had us bend at the waste and hang our bodies like lifeless rag dolls. This was so that we could become accustomed to our breathing patterns. “Breath down deep. Absorb each breath into your anus!”-she’d say with perfect enunciation. Breath into my anus? I had just left NYC the year before and none of those crazy leather queens out there had ever said anything quite that kinky.

Ms. Langsford Lee didn’t like the way I spoke. She made that quite clear on the first day of class. She didn’t like that I had a fairly strong Southern drawl. She didn’t like that I had, what she thought, was a distinct whine to my voice. She announced to the class that my apparent whine had developed over time. It was probably my way to get what I wanted as a child. At that point in my life I had been on my own for almost six years. I really didn’t appreciate her baseless assumption that I was a whiny kid or that I was spoiled or ever got what I wanted. Her mind was made up, though. That’s who I was and she needed to break me of my idiotic Southern drawl and my nasal and needy whine.

Ms. Langsford-Lee was the epitome of what I think is wrong with most arts program instructors. Arts programs should be places that teach us to use our skills and better our craft. Many self-satisfied teachers, though see their students as subjects to dissect and dismantle in order to build them up again in their image. This rarely works. I wish I had a nickel for every talented young freshman who entered an arts program only to graduate a blubbery mess. These students may have had a real spark and confidence for performance when they enter these programs but after four years of constant and often cruel criticism at the hands of instructors who have no real stake in their development, they emerge full of self-doubt and fear. College is a costly endeavor. It costs an arm and a leg and many arts programs will take a bit of your soul, too if you let them.

Ms. Langsford Lee was a certified teacher of Linklater voice training.  Kristin Linklater is a Scottish vocal coach who wrote a groundbreaking book called Freeing the Natural Voice. In the book she makes some very good observations and offers some really good training advice. She noticed how an infant breathes as it lays in its crib. It breathes with its entire body. With every breath you can see the entirety of its little body expand and contract. When a tiny baby cries, the sound is often piercing. It can cut through a room, a restaurant or an aircraft like a knife. I’m sure many of you have noticed this before with some degree of annoyance. Another thing she noticed is that a healthy baby can loudly and unrelentingly cry for hours and never grow hoarse or lose its voice. Ms. Linklater then deduced that this “glorious” sound could only be produced if the infant was completely and utterly attached to its breath and its emotions. When the infant’s breath joins the infant’s emotions fueled by the infant’s need (i.e. I need to be fed. I need to be changed. I need to be held. etc…) the sound that follows is shattering. She then deduced that each of us was born with this natural connection to our breath and our emotions but over time we learned to control or suppress this connection. Honestly, who wants to hear an adult cry that loudly?

Ms. Linklater then developed a series of exercises to reestablish this connection with people who needed their breath and emotions to coexist harmoniously- actors. Many of the exercises focus on breathing and many of them are quite technical. For instance, the sounds our voices make that resonate with emotion are vowels. It’s hard to express anger or grief if you’re only making the “K” sound. Add a vowel, say an “Ah” sound and then you’re expressing some real emotion. I think this is why Shakespeare starts so many of his character’s lines with “O.” He was giving his characters a chance to express free and unbridled emotion.

Seriously, say the following- “Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?” and then say, “O, Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?”  There’s a real emotional difference between the two, isn’t there?

Anyhoo. Kristin Linklater did a lot of really good work around reestablishing the connection between breath and emotion. She never recommend that we breathe into our anuses. That was a little something extra Ms. Langsford Lee brought to the playpen.

That brings me to my complaint about how the Linklater method is used.  Kristin’s misstep, in my opinion, was in the creation of the Linklater training for certification. In this training program for professional vocal instructors, she encouraged her pupils to continue to explore those connections through experimentation. Experimentation on future students who are unaware they are functioning as emotionally fragile guinea pigs for their  teachers who are all too eager to make a new breakthrough in freeing the natural voice and getting published.  Much of this experimentation can be detrimental to a student’s psyche. You are, after all, talking about changing people’s breathing patterns and therefore you are messing with how they process emotions. Dangerous territory if you ask me. Territory that most vocal instructors should not tread on.

Betty-Ann treaded away, though like the proverbial bull in a china shop filled with emotionally fragile freshman. She often reduced students to tears followed by the writing of dark poetry and a first draft of their suicide note.

That said, I survived her class and actually learned a few things, too.

To this day I can still write fluently in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The IPA was developed over centuries by linguists who discovered that there is a limited number of sounds the human voice can create. Each of these sounds has been assigned an IPA symbol. Once someone masters IPA, they can then learn any dialect with a little practice. All they have to do is substitute the proper symbols in a word to understand how a Frenchman, for instance, pronounces the vowel “A” or how an Italian might approach the “O” sound.  I also kind of liked that I had learned a secret code which I could use to write notes to classmates which only we could decode.

Here’s an example of what IPA looks like. See if you can translate.

“AI bEIk tu mæni kukis”

translation- “I bake too many cookies.”

Other than that little trick, I didn’t learn much else from Ms. Langsford Lee.

I don’t really have much of a Southern drawl anymore. She won that battle, but I still have a bit of a whine to my voice. I guess it’s how I get what I want. I’m planning on whining my way to the top.

I never did successfully absorb a breath into my anus, though I imagine that trick would’ve opened doors. Doors that no one should walk through.

So, this post is for you, Ms. Langsford-Lee. I’m sure you are still feeding on the souls of the young. Bon Appetít!

After all, isn’t that what tenure is all about?

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