Cat Got Your Tongue, Martha?- Langues-de-Chat! -209 eggs, 157 cups of sugar, 153 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 192 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 59 recipes to go!

April 4, 2011

Martha's Langues-de-Chat

André's Langues-de-Chat

Leave it to the dark humor of the French to name a cookie after a dismembered feline appendage. Langues de Chat or Cat Tongues  are a thin and crisp butter cookie that’s slightly sturdier than a tuile but still quite delicate. This cookie was originally developed to be served with ice cream, hence the name. You use the cookie paddle like a cat’s tongue to lap up the cream.

Very easy to make, Langues de Chat is a simple flour, sugar, egg white, butter, salt and vanilla batter that is piped onto a parchment-lined sheet into it’s paddle shape and baked until golden and crisp. Ultra thin cookies like these have to be watched carefully as they bake. Since every oven is slightly different and distributes heat differently, I found myself having to keep a careful eye on these. Just as they began to brown at the edges I removed them from the oven. While they looked precisely as they should, I found them far too pliable and undercooked. Once cooled I returned them to the oven to bake again, much like you have to do with biscotti. This allowed them to crisp up beautifully.

To add a bit of fancy to these, you could give them a simple dip in melted chocolate and corn syrup and a sprinkling of toasted nuts. In that case, however, I’d change the name of the cookie to Langues de Chat Malade- Tongues of  Diseased Cats. If you were French you’d think this was hysterical.

I served these light and delicate cookies with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce at a dinner party for a few friends. They were a hit. Of course, sardines are probably delicious with ice cream and chocolate sauce, too.

At the age of seventeen I was living in gay exile at my grandmother’s house in a sprawling subdivision in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and enrolled in my Junior year of High School at a Catholic school for boys (AKA- training camp for future overpriced doctors and lawyers.) I had been working a series of menial minimum-wage jobs. I spent a few months slinging fries at McDonalds, a few months slinging biscuits at Kentucky Fried Chicken and a few months slinging myself around the local children’s theatre. I didn’t have much in my pockets to show for all that slinging, though. That’s why I was so intrigued when my friend, Brad told me about a gig he landed working for a private courier firm.  Courier is just a fancy way of saying Carrier. All Brad had to do was make a nightly run to pick up large plastic bags filled with cancelled checks and computer disks and run them to the tiny local airport where a pilot was waiting by his small aircraft to transport the checks and disks to the regional office in New Orleans. This was before digital imaging so all of this processing had to be done manually. For this simple act of carrying, Brad was paid $80.00 a night.

I had an old beater of a Toyota pick-up and no curfew. I had a good driving record and was fairly reliable. I could be a carrier!

Brad introduced me to the owner of the little courier business. He was a dumpy, middle-aged man with a red, chubby, mustached face and a comb-over that defied physics. His breathing was heavy and quite audible. I’m not entirely sure I know what hypertension is, but I believe it probably looks a bit like this poor guy. After a brief interview he told me to hop in his car and he would bring me around to the banks that would be on my route to meet the managers. I usually wouldn’t get into a vehicle with strange hypertensive men but for $80 a night, I was willing to make an exception.

There were three banking centers on my route. Simple enough. I was to arrive no earlier than 9:00 P.M. and no later than 10:00 P.M. at each one. I was to collect the bags of data that would need to make the nightly journey to New Orleans. I was to deliver them in person to the pilot waiting outside the cargo hangar at the Baton Rouge Municipal Airport no later than 11:00 P.M.. I’d be paid every Monday. My weekly check would be $400! In 1985 this was a tremendous amount of money for a seventeen-year old. During the Summers when I worked at McDonald’s full-time at $3.25 per hour, I was only bringing in $130 a week. For two hours an evening, I was earning serious money and I couldn’t have been happier.

In the first couple of weeks I learned to arrive a little early to spend some time hanging out with the other couriers on the route. One in particular, Wayne, was a hoot. He was a skinny, lisping, effeminate man-boy who worked on the weekends as a female impersonator at one of the local clubs of which I was too young to get in. He was a funny and strange young man whose defiant and wicked sense of humor kept me in stitches while waiting for the colorful bags of paper to emerge from behind the locked doors of the bank. Wayne and I would sometimes sneak off from the truck-bay and smoke a bit of weed in the bushes outside of the bank. Drug testing hadn’t become a common practice among employers back in the mid-eighties.

Wayne invited me to his apartment in Spanish Town, the oldest and mostly gay-occupied section of Baton Rouge. He showed me his closet of sequined dresses and fancy shoes. He proudly displayed his wigs. He had his Cher, his Diana Ross and, of course, his Liza Minelli. After a few shots of bitter yet sweet Tuaca, he convinced me to don a dress and a wig and go bar-hopping with him. That evening I learned no one cards a man in a dress. I also learned that heels are a bitch and I should never do drag without a girdle. I looked like a cross between Shelly Winters and Aunt Bea but I had the time of my life.

I loved my new, funny friend like a brotherly sister… or a sisterly brother. Wayne never let me miss a chance to capitalize on my youth. Although Wayne was only six years older than myself, it had been a hard six years. He was from one of the small rural villages that grew on the banks of one of the many bayous along the Atchafalaya Basin. His simple Christian family didn’t quite know what to make of their fiercely independent and frighteningly exotic young boy. He didn’t know what to make  of them either. One day, he simply had enough. He dropped out of high school, packed up his dresses, wigs and sewing machine and headed to Baton Rouge to reinvent himself in his own image… and on occasion, Cher’s.

One evening, he rode with me on my route to the airport. He and I had smoked a little weed along the way which made us a bit jelly-headed and philosophical. He gave me a bit of advice that has always stuck with me, though.

“André…” -he said, “there is one person you’ll spend your every hour with. Asleep or awake, you’re all you really have. Life is not short. It’s long. Very long. It’ll feel unbearably long until you like the person you are.”

I could tell this was a constant struggle for Wayne. He was a square peg in a city of round holes. No matter how hard he tried, like me, he’d never find a perfect fit.

By the time we reached the airport hangar, we were back to our usual giggly banter. Wayne knew the pilot. He had delivered to him before. Before I knew it, Wayne had convinced him to let me fly to New Orleans with him in the tiny two-seater prop-plane. I didn’t want to. I was afraid. Wayne wouldn’t take no for an answer and the pilot was intrigued by the chance to show off a little. I finally gave in and began to climb into the tiny cockpit. The trip would take exactly an hour to get to New Orleans and back. Wayne said he would wait with my truck at the little donut shop around the corner. As the tiny plane’s engine roared and the pilot thrust the aircraft into the dark night, I could see Wayne flashing the headlights of my little blue truck on the ground below. It was his way of saying “Have a fun trip.” After we reached altitude the pilot let me control the aircraft. I’m sure the FAA would’ve had a shit-fit had they known that the safety of the skies above Southern Louisiana had been compromised by a seventeen-year old under the influence of an illegal substance. As we saw the lights of The New Orleans International Airport emerge on the edge of the swampy Lake Ponchatrain, I relinquished control back to the pilot. It was one of the most thrilling evenings of my life and the memory still makes me a bit lightheaded.

A few weeks after that incredible evening my courier career came to an abrupt end when I was sideswiped by a drunk driver while making a run to the airport. Even though the accident was not my fault, I could not complete the run that evening and therefore was fired. Wayne and I went our separate ways. He had begun dating an older gentleman with a “generous” spirit and we stopped making time to see each other.

Years later I ran into Wayne during a visit back to Baton Rouge. I didn’t recognize him at first. He had grown quite heavy and swollen. He apologized for his appearance. It was a reaction to the steroids he’d been prescribed to deal with an infection, he said with slight embarrassment. I knew he was dealing with something more serious than an infection.

Wayne passed away a few years later. I didn’t get the news until many, many months after he was gone.

I thought of the night he gave me the chance to fly.

How he was truly one of the first people who gave me permission to be myself… and occasionally Cher.

I still catch myself remembering something inappropriate he’d said and before I know it, I’m giggling uncontrollably.

Thank you, Miss Wayne.


3 Responses to “Cat Got Your Tongue, Martha?- Langues-de-Chat! -209 eggs, 157 cups of sugar, 153 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 192 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 59 recipes to go!”

  1. Emily Says:

    Wow. What a story…

  2. Eri Says:

    You have a wonderful ability to take us up with you–and keep us there, whether we’re laughing (tongues of a diseased cat…yeah the French would definitely find it hilarious!) or getting weepy thinking of Wayne. You’re one hell of a writer!

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