I See Through You, Martha!- Lacy Nut Cookies! -209 eggs, 161 1/4 cups of sugar, 159 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 196 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 55 recipes to go!

April 28, 2011

Martha's Lacy Nut Cookies

André's Lacy Nut Cookies

Know your enemy in the kitchen. Mine is called a tuille. I’ve written about these sugary devils in many, many posts now. Martha seems to have an affinity for them. This is probably due to the fact she has a kitchen staff who’ve nothing better to do than spend half their day baking Madame Stewart dozens of these French candy-like cookies.  I, having no kitchen staff besides three curious cats and a boyfriend who knows to stay out of the kitchen while I’m baking, find the construction of tuilles to be a tedious and time-consuming process. That said, I am pushing my way through Martha’s sadistic cookie book and am determined to emerge triumphant, if not slightly jaded.

Lacy Nut Cookies are just that- cookies with plenty of nuts that have the look of edible lace. How is this achieved? In a typical tuille batter butter, sugar, and scants amount of flour, salt and nuts are combined. A tiny amount is spooned onto a silpat (a heat-resistant silicone mat that protects your cookie sheet) and baked at a low heat. As it bakes the batter spreads out into a paper-thin disc which has to be watched carefully lest it go from golden and delicious to black and inedible in a matter of seconds.  Most tuilles are shaped after they are allowed to cool slightly. Not Lacy Nut Cookies, though. These remain in their large, crispy disc-shape like a crunchy lace doily. These particular tuilles are a bit sturdier than most tuilles due to a higher flour content. I baked these for my partner, Dan to take to his workplace and share with his co-workers. It’s my covert way of managing his career. Ascending the ranks through sugary bribes is not below me. They were immediately devoured. They are sweet and nutty bits of crisp, toffee-like goodness with a distinct caramel flavor and a salty, satisfying finish.

So, I can now scratch another damned tuille off my list. Take that, Martha!

The Storm pt. 2

It was the week before Christmas. I had just arrived at my desk job as a corporate drone in Kansas Citywhen I received the call from my youngest sister. She was crying. Her voice cracked and her breath heaved as she told me my grandmother had passed away. I was prepared for this news. My last conversation with grandma left me with the weak promise that she’d try to hold on until I could make my way to Baton Rouge during the holiday break. She couldn’t. Mom called me a few moments later. She was surprisingly calm. There was a sadness to her voice but sadness would have to wait until the notifications were sent, the obituary written, the funeral home contacted, the arrangements made, the dress chosen, and all the tedious but necessary details tended to, keeping her personal grief very low on the list of priorities. Funeral preparations are, in fact, tiny mercies the departed leave behind. There’s so much that needs our attention, we don’t have the luxury of time to wallow in the loss. There’s plenty of time to wallow later and mom wasn’t going to allow herself to go there until her duties as a devoted daughter had been met.

With Christmas just days away, the decision had been made to conduct the service after the holiday. The wake would be held on December 26th and the funeral would be conducted on December 27th. Both of these events would be conducted at a tiny funeral home in Metairie, Louisiana. Grandma would have preferred a proper church funeral and service, but in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there just weren’t any Catholic churches in good repair available. We, like so many others, simply had to make do.

Mom relayed all this information to me in a rushed phone call. I interrupted her to ask how she was. “How the hell do you think I am?” she replied. “I just lost my mama. I’ve gotta’ go.” and she hung up. I had never heard mom so distracted and so abrupt. I knew she was hurting but she was making a valiant effort to keep it together.

I immediately booked a flight to New Orleans leaving the day after Christmas and reserved a rental car at the airport. There was no need to inform my employer of my plans since my absence was of no consequence during the holiday break. I didn’t bother booking a flight for my partner, Dan. He and I had been together for a little over a year at that point but he’d never met any of my family and my grandmother’s funeral didn’t seem like the best time to introduce the Kelly clan to André’s “lifestyle choice” in boyfriend form.

Christmas came and went. We celebrated somberly at our loft with Dan’s brother and Mom joining us for a simple brunch followed by the exchanging of gifts. That evening I packed for the next four days. Dan helped and we exchanged a lot of hugs and quite a few tears while we laid out my suit and dress shoes.

I left early the next morning and arrived around 10:00 A.M. at the New Orleans International Airport where so many displaced victims of the flood received shelter and medical attention under the care of volunteers and the National Guard. The moment I stepped off the plane I could smell the stench that hung in the heavy, humid air. It was death still wafting through the corridors and terminals of the small airport. The odor of swamp water still clung to the terrazzo floors, stinging my nostrils and turning my stomach.

I retrieved my rental car and began the ten minute drive to the tiny funeral home. From atop Interstate 10, I could see the familiar landscape of low-lying rooftops in a field of tiny ranch homes that lined every roadway in Metairie.  It was as though the entire landscape had been painted blue. Large plastic tarpaulins spread across every roof keeping the elements from creeping through their shingle-less and unprotected canopy. The lush green of unkempt lawns and shrubbery that once thrived in the tropical and humid climate was now brown and burned, poisoned by the brackish waters that spilled into the tiny suburb from  Lake Pontchartrain.

Taking my exit from the interstate, I came to a light and noticed the leaflets and signs posted on every street pole and stapled to every surface. They read: DRY WALL REPAIR, FAMILY PHOTOS RESTORED, DEMOLITION, LANDSCAPING, ROOF REPAIR, GOD SAVE US!, HAVE YOU SEEN _____?

I noticed a couple of fast food chains on the way to the funeral home. Signs out front read, “$3500 Sign-on bonus.” or “Starting Salary $15.00/hr!” The city had been emptied of its people. Particularly of its working class. There was no one left to flip burgers or man the drive-thru. Businesses trying to survive were starving for employees.

Every tree, every surface, every building was twisted or altered in some grotesque way. I felt sick and so very sad. I decided to drive a little deeper into the neighborhood turning around to head closer to the Lake. I zoomed along the virtually empty streets towards the grander homes that boasted their status as lakefront properties. I saw them leaning out of the soggy, dead earth surrounded by rotting brush and brown, twisted palm trees. I could see the rusty water-lines marking where the flood had crested. First block of houses, the line was a few feet above the ground. Second block a few feet higher, Third and fourth blocks were mostly two-story homes with the water-line just below their rooftops.

I noticed the spray-painted diamond-shaped insignias on each house. These were markers left by FEMA workers and National Guard servicemen. The mark indicated the home had been checked. The number on the top part of the diamond-shaped insignia indicated how many bodies were found on the premises. I could barely digest that thought. In the fifth block these marks were easily fifteen feet up the side of the home. This is where the rescue boat had pulled alongside the structure. These were the homes where people, died from the heat. Hopelessly trapped, these poor souls baked to death in their attics.

I drove further. Medians are referred to as “Neutral Grounds” by the locals of  New Orleans. This is a throw-back to when the French Provencials of the Vieux Carré (The French Quarter) would meet with the rival Americans of Uptown along the median on Canal Boulevard. The median had been declared a neutral ground where business transactions  between the rival groups could happen without fear of aggression or gunplay.  The name simply stuck. I noticed the neutral ground was now littered with broken boat hulls and other flotsam that spilled over from the great lake. I drove a little further and reached a barrier with two armed guards standing watch. I was still four blocks from the Lake but was told I could go no further. Houses were still being checked. Bodies were still being found. Debris was still being cleared. It was a disaster area and therefore unsafe for civilians.  A row of my favorite restaurants was just beyond the protected border. I could see from a distance they were gone. No evidence they had ever stood there. They were now part of Lake Pontchartrain. I turned around and headed back to the funeral home, swerving through the street to avoid the large chunks of debris still not cleared away. I noticed a dozen-or-so silver trailers parked in front of tiny ranch homes courtesy of FEMA. I thought of the poor families inside of them. What must they have gone through? How does one start over? Where do they find their strength?

These were the thoughts running through my mind as I pulled up at the funeral home. I parked and walked towards the glass door along the side of the building. The home was typical of most structures in this part of Metairie. The city of Metairie was essentially built on the white-flight that occurred during the seventies as the Anglos fled from New Orleans to escape their kids being exposed to the evils of desegregation. This is the town that birthed the political neo-nazi, David Duke, after all. As I approached the door, I noticed two large refrigerated semi-trailers parked out back. I knew what was in them. Rather, I should say “who” was in them. The morgues of the few operational hospitals of the New Orleans metro area were full and the surplus of corpses now spilled over to these makeshift trailers irreverently parked throughout the city. I tried not to think about it but, of course, did.

I entered into the lobby and was greeted by the funeral home director. I was the first to arrive. The wake wasn’t scheduled to begin until 2:00 P.M. and it was just a little past noon. He took me to the room where my grandmother laid in state. I approached her small particleboard casket covered in simple grey felt. I noticed the few flower arrangements including the ones I had ordered from Kansas City. I paused to read each card. Then took a breath and turned to face grandma.

“Hello, grandma.”- I whispered.

I pulled up a metal folding chair next to her and began to speak in hushed tones to her. She, as always, listened.

(To be continued)


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