It’s a Snap, Martha!- Brandy Snaps! -209 eggs, 159 cups of sugar, 156 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 195 1/3 cups of flour used so far- 56 recipes to go!

April 24, 2011

Marthas Brandy Snaps

Andrés Brandy Snaps

If you’ve been reading along as I’ve baked through the last 119 cookie recipes, you’d know that I can’t stand baking Martha’s tuille cookies. What’s a tuille? They are paper-thin French cookies. The word, Tuille means Tile since they somewhat resemble the clay tiles that line the roofs across France. Why do I hate baking them? Because they are time-consuming little devils. Preparing the batter is simple enough. Butter, sugar, eggs, and small amounts of flour and salt are combined with whatever spices are called for according to the recipe. The time factor is an issue when it comes to baking them, though.

Tuilles usually start with a teaspoon of batter on a parchment-lined cookie sheet which is usually baked at a medium heat for ten or fifteen minutes. As it bakes, the batter spreads out into a thin disk which has to be watched carefully as it could go from golden brown deliciousness to black and burnt in seconds. Usually you can only bake three at a time. Once they emerge from the oven they have to cool just slightly and in the tiny window of time between when they are cool enough to handle but still warm and pliable, you must shape as the recipe indicates. In this instance, tubes. Luckily I had a few cannoli molds I had purchased a year ago in Brooklyn. They were the perfect size and shape to form the tuille tubes for Martha’s Brandy Snaps. I think the reason you have to shape tuilles lies in the fact that if you left them as flat discs they resemble novelty plastic vomit from the joke shop and that’s just not an appetizing thought.

How were they? I baked a batch of these rolled beauties for a friend of mine at work who just got married and still was able to make the time to be the first contributor to my AIDS Walk fund this year, bless her. I placed them on her desk with the suggestion that she serve them with ice cream. This was her response:

Brandy snaps don’t contain brandy or taste anything like brandy, really, which in my opinion, is a good thing. They DO, however, taste GINGERY and a little caramelly, which in my opinion, is a GREAT thing. I followed your wise advice and served the brandy snaps with French vanilla ice cream. The cookies were a wonderful golden-crispy complement to the vanilla.


So, there you have it. Brandy Snaps make for happy ice cream and even happier co-workers.

What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The rivers have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

– Louisiana 1927 by Randy Newman

The Storm (pt. 1)
In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, we lost my grandmother, Margurite Burst Kelly- mother of seven, grandmother to twenty-two, and great-grandmother to a tribe of Irish Catholics. She did not perish in the flood waters or strangle in the red tape that followed. In fact, she did not pass away until months later. Nonetheless, we lost her during Katrina.

Growing up in Southern Louisiana, the question was never “if” but “when” the city would flood. The gumbo pot of New Orleans had always sat below sea level protected by barriers of decaying dirt and cement from the lazy Mississippi river and the vast, brackish Lake Ponchartrain. Every person in the Parishes of Southern Louisiana knew that one day our luck would run out. In late August, 2005 the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi were dealt a deadly blow by Hurricane Katrina.
I wasn’t in Louisiana when the storm hit. I was living with my partner, Dan in my still relatively new home of Kansas City and like the rest of the nation, watched helplessly as Katrina approached and ravaged the coastline. My mother was just as helpless, having left my parent’s newly-finished home in Baton Rouge to visit my sister in Indianapolis after the birth of my youngest niece. From many miles away she nervously watched the disaster play out on the airwaves. Most of my extended family lived in Southern Louisiana with many in the metro New Orleans area, including my ninety-four year old grandmother who only weeks before the storm, had entered into a nursing home in Metairie, just outside of Orleans Parish. In the days that followed the storm, communications throughout the area were seriously imparred. Cell phones and landlines were not operational. Getting in touch with loved ones in the Southern Delta was virtually impossible. Viewing the unbelievably tragic images broadcast across every news station of bodies floating down streets with all too familiar names didn’t help ease the tension.
One-by-one relatives began to show up on my parent’s doorstep with the few belongings they could grab before evacuating their homes. Every room of my parent’s new home was filled with displaced aunts, uncles and cousins unable to return to their homes. Twenty-five in all stayed  for weeks until it was deemed safe to return to their damaged and soggy streets.
The question on everyone’s mind was, “Where’s grandma?”
Grandma had lived for almost ten years with my uncle and his wife in Metairie after selling her home in Baton Rouge, where she and grandpa had retired in order to be closer to my mom. Grandma had always been an energetic, smiling and positive  force in my life, having lived with her during my later teen years. She finally began to wind down at the age of ninety-four just about the time my Uncle separated from my aunt, a registered nurse who knew how to care for grandma.  Grandma, who had always been a strong-willed and sharp individual began to decline into a scared and feeble version of herself.  My Uncle was not equipped to manage her care alone. After many conversations and pained debates among her children, grandma was admitted into the care of a nursing home where she could receive more comprehensive attention. Unfortunately this decision was made only a few weeks before the storm.
Like I said, we lost grandma. Literally lost her. No one knew where she was. As the flood waters poured in from the breached levees, the elderly residents of the nursing home were extracted and moved to safer facilities. But where? Communications were down and the frenzy of moving so many patients was compounded by the impossibility of notifying worried relatives as to where their loved ones had been relocated. While I didn’t have much luck reaching my dad in Baton Rouge, I was able to talk with my mom in Indianapolis. She sounded awful. I am sure she was terribly panicked but all I could hear in her voice was exhaustion and a very deep, deep sadness. I offered what comfort I could and we shared quite a few tears. After each conversation we’d hang up only to call each other two hours later to see if we’d heard anything.  Nothing. Not a word. The waiting for news was excruciating. We’d flick through the channels as the news cameras followed urban refugees in the leaky Superdome then cut away to the masses of people lined up outside of the New Orleans Convention Center begging for food, water and medical attention. It was all too much.
It was almost a week after Katrina had left New Orleans devastated and gasping for breath, when one of my cousins had successfully located my grandmother. She’d been relocated to a small nursing home in Northern Louisiana near the city of Monroe.
As the flood waters poured into the metro New Orleans area, nursing home workers loaded their patients onto a bus and headed North searching for shelter. Over the next eight hours they stopped at each town looking for rooms. There were none available. They finally descended on Jonesboro, in Northern Louisiana. There they found a nursing home facility that had not been occupied in years. There was no equipment, no medicine, and no staff other than the ones who traveled with the now scared, confused and dehydrated elderly patients.
Mom, who managed to return to Baton Rouge from Indianapolis was able to assist in finally getting grandma moved to a nursing home in Baton Rouge in November.
I had picked up a few coloring books from the toy store where I worked nights after my daytime job as an administrative assistant for a local corporation. I told my mom I had planned to send them her way to give to grandma. Grandma always loved to keep her hands busy, between her sewing, crocheting, and ceramics I, like so many of the grandchildren had amassed quite a collection of Grandma Kelly originals. Mom told me not to send them. Grandma, she said, was far too weak to enjoy them. I had never known my grandmother to be weak. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear what mom was telling me.
Upon grandma’s arrival in Baton Rouge, the doctors had bad news. Due to her lack of circulation, one of her toes had atrophied and would have to be removed. In her weakened state, grandma survived the surgery and returned to her room at the nursing home where she lay reciting her prayers over-and-over. She was preparing for the inevitable.
My youngest sister had flown from Indianapolis to Baton Rouge with her newborn daughter. This would be the last great-grandchild grandma would ever meet. My sister sent me a photo of herself holding the infant with grandma laying in her nursing home bed in the background. The photo made me angry. The look of joy on my sister’s face juxtaposed against grandma’s glazed and confused stare in the background brought up a sickening and furious wave of emotion in me. I called my sister and yelled at her for sending me the photo. After I hung up I wept. I had no idea that grandma was fading so quickly. The very next day, I called my mom who was always at grandma’s side and asked her to let me speak with grandma.
“Grandma?”- I said.
“Yeah, Darlin’?” – her voice crackled.
“How are you?” – I asked.
“Not so good, sweetie.” – she mumbled.
“Will you wait for me?”- I begged.
“I’ll try.” – she sighed.
(Part 2 to follow)

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