Raking In the Cookies With Martha!- Chocolate Ginger Leaves & Acorns! -217 eggs, 166 cups of sugar, 164 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 202 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 50 recipes to go!

June 9, 2011


Martha's Chocolate Ginger Leaves & Acorns

André's Chocolate Ginger "Leaves & Acorns" - or AIDS Ribbons

So, it was the during the sign-up drive for AIDS Walk when I faced the dilemma that there were almost no more cut-out cookies left to bake from Martha’s book. I needed a dark cookie to make proper AIDS ribbons and there was only one chocolate cut-out cookie left, Chocolate Ginger Leaves & Acorns. Dare I not use a leaf or acorn cookie cutout? Dare I make such a defiant move? Would Martha be offended? Would she send her baking minions to wreak havoc on my humble galley kitchen? Ah, screw it, I thought. It’s for a good cause and I’m sure they’ll taste the same. Besides Chocolate Ginger Leaves & Acorns are a treat for the Fall and I’m hoping to be done with my stint in cookie baking hell by then.  Chocolate Ginger Leaves & Acorns are a simple and chocolaty sugar cookie with grated ginger added to the mix lending them an extra spicy bite. My friend, Juli provided me with this really terrific Dutch processed cocoa powder from a store in Wichita, KS called The Spice Merchant. I don’t know where they get this stuff but it is magical. Very dark and unbelievably chocolaty. The recipe calls for a sprinkling of sanding sugar atop each cookie to enhance the sweetness and provide a bit of sparkle. I decided to whip up a batch of royal icing with some leftover meringue powder I had in the cupboard and tint it with deep red food coloring paste. Once I piped out the red ribbons atop these dark and gingery cookies, I sprinkled each with a bit of red sanding sugar. I tripled the recipe to make sure I had enough to last the three days of the sign-up campaign. I ended up with seven dozen cookies and throbbing lower back pain from awkwardly bending over to pipe out red ribbons eighty-four times.

How were they received?

I think people liked them. Most assumed we had them made at a bakery. There were none left at the end of the three days and they did entice people to stop and listen to our AIDS Walk spiel. So, I guess they were a success.

I have been remarkably busy lately and every time I think things are about to slow down, somebody steps on the gas.

I recently hosted a gang of teenage boys at my house. Before you call the authorities, hear me out. My nephew, Aidan just graduated from my alma mater, Catholic High in Baton Rouge along with four of his friends/band mates. Earlier in his Senior year he had formed a band called Squirt Gun Warriors. It’s a bit of a punkish Ska band consisting of a lead singer/trumpeter, keyboardist, drummer, guitarist (my nephew) and bassist. The lead singer’s parents gifted their son with an eleven-seat tour van for his graduation. (Incidentally, for my graduation I received approximately $250 total from all of my relatives and I thought I was rich. Boy, have times changed. Does my saying this make me officially bitter and old?)

I received less than twenty-four hours notice from my nephew that the band was going to be stopping in Kansas City during this first leg of their Summer Tour. My nephew asked if he and his friends could crash at my place for two nights. My partner, Dan and I reluctantly obliged. Over the course of the past two days I got to know this group of boys and renew my commitment to remaining childless.

Having taught high school for six years, there’s not much teenagers can do that will surprise me. That said, I’ve never had to feed them before. Teenagers can eat their weight in junk food, spend hours playing video games and watching DVD’s, wash it all down with a two-litter of sugary orange soda and not gain a freakin’ ounce. I should probably hate them but honestly, I envy this time in their life. They are free. Probably the most free they’ll be in their lives. The possibilities are endless and the consequences few. They are not limited by the confines of wisdom. Everything seems like a good idea and they certainly have the energy to pursue whatever they fancy with complete and spontaneous abandon. Why not? They are performing with a net. Should they stumble and fall, they have concerned parents, aunts and uncles with cash reserves to swoop in and catch them.

The boys were looking for a source of cheap entertainment after they awoke around noon. Having enjoyed a healthy breakfast of Dr. Pepper, fruit pastries and red velvet cake, they were ready to start their day. I took them swimming at my gym which is attached to a fairly ritzy hotel near my workplace. Neck-deep in the water I listened to their jokes (most were variations of the same naughty jokes I told as a teen). In typical teen fashion, they asked questions out of politeness and then drifted away before I could answer.

One of the questions was, “Did you ever play in a band?” The answer was yes. Two, to be exact.

When I was fourteen years old, the Summer after graduating from eighth grade, I played keyboards for a band called Belinda Toro and Destiny. I was part of the Destiny crew. Belinda Toro was a squat and fairly unattractive sixth grader with a large head of what I would describe as Jesus hair teased down to its roots. Despite her awkward appearance, she had an enormous voice developed from years of mimicking her favorite female vocalists, Lorreta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt and Patsy Cline. She wasn’t so much a singer as she was a yodeler. Her mother contacted all of us to form a band around her “astonishingly talented daughter.” The band, Destiny consisted of myself, a used car salesman/bassist named Doogie, Belinda’s Brother, Pete on the drums and her other twenty-year-old brother, Trey on backup vocals and tambourine. We were dreadful. We’d play at bowling alleys and festivals where Belinda would yodel out popular tunes of the day mixed with country standards. She wore tight-fitting, bedazzled, pink pleather creations her mother fashioned for her. She looked like a yodeling glazed ham.

Rehearsals were held in Belinda’s tiny home tucked away at the end of  a small cul-de-sac in an obscure suburb of Baton Rouge. Belinda’s mother, in true Mama Rose fashion, chose all the music we’d rehearse lest we select something that wasn’t “on brand” for her prodigy daughter. The sheet music was rarely, if ever in the correct key. I was the only one in the band that knew how to transpose so most of the rehearsals consisted of me scribbling out new charts for the bassist. Belinda would then yodel her way through them like a small calf stuck on an electric fence. Her older brother, Trey would emotionally vocalize his way through all the male parts of Total Eclipse of the Heart or You’re the One That I Want  which was just creepy when sung between a bearded twenty-year-old and his twelve-year-old sister.

Family fights would often break out between Pete and Trey. Belinda would then start crying, her mother would start screaming which would wake her large Italian husband in the TV room to come in and violently pull the two apart while cursing a blue streak. It was nice to see someone else’s family screaming at each other for a change.

The bassist, Doogie was my transportation to-and-from the rehearsals and the handful of gigs Belinda’s mom was somehow able to secure. He was a quiet, strange and twitchy married man in his early twenties. One night after a particularly unsuccessful rehearsal he drove me home. Slowing down, just before arriving at my parent’s house, he parked the car in the dark gravel lot of a local public park. He then unzipped his pants and exposed himself to me with a suggestive wink and a chuckle.  It was the first time I had seen an adult erect penis and I was disgusted. I hopped out of the car, slammed the car door and walked the rest of the way home in the dark. I quit the band the next day with no excuses given. Doogie had suspiciously quit that day, too. So that was it for the band ironically named, Destiny. Incidentally, Belinda still sings, still wears pleather and works the night shift as a local hospital administrator in Baton Rouge.

I didn’t play in another band until my late twenties.

I had met Jake Rabalais when I was music directing a production of The Rocky Horror Show for a local theatre company. During the first band rehearsal I was stuck in the unfortunate position of having to fire almost the entire band. After the first hour of rehearsal it was apparent that the musicians’ confidence in their ability didn’t match…well… their ability.

I had to quickly find a handful of talented studio musicians who could step in and play the hell out of Richard O’Brien’s ridiculously simple score. I stopped at the local music store and asked around. The guitar instructor there was interested in making a little extra cash and he was a terrific reader, not a common skill among guitarists. I hired him on the spot. His name was Jake and was from Lake Charles, Louisiana just on the Texas border. He was an excellent guitarist. The best I have ever had the privilege to work with. He was professional and competent. He was, however, a terrible stoner and poor communicator. He spoke in the common stoner/musician slang circa 1972. He’d often utter inane phrases like, “That was a stone groove.” or “Way to handle that axe, brother key man, doobie-doobie-du-broc.”

After Rocky Horror closed, he invited me to join his band which played an array of contemporary jazz selections at a local and well-attended club every Saturday night. The name of the band was, of course, The Jake Rabalais Group. We were good. Damn good, actually. The band consisted of Jake on guitar and lead vocals, myself on keys and backup vocals, Smithy on drums, Kyle on Bass, and three female vocalists who rotated in and out of the band and Jake’s groovy water bed.

Rehearsals consisted of the band getting high or snorting coke in one room while I wrote out vocal parts for singers in the other. When the vocal charts were ready, I’d bring in the ladies to teach them their parts and get them singing tightly. When that was done, the rest of the band would join in. The drummer, Smithy was fond of cocaine and his ability to discern pitch discrepancies, a skill most drummers don’t possess. When he heard a wrong note being sung or played he’s make a loud, obnoxious buzzing sound through his nose that could cut through glass. It was like being on a game show where no one was the winner. I distinctly remember him doing this one evening and it pissed me off so much that I threw a glass at his head, smashing it against the wall. His wife sat in the corner laughing and eating her hair. Smithy would often bring his crazed wife to rehearsals so she could smoke and snort along with the rest of the crew. She was a trichotillomaniac. That’s the official diagnosis for a person who compulsively pulls out their hair. She went a step further, though. She ate whatever she harvested. She’d been treated for several intestinal blockages over the course of their fifteen year marriage. Needless to say, she was fond of hats and diuretics.

I lasted about a year with the band before stepping away from the insanity. Far too many drugs and bad choices were pervading the gigs. Drum solos became longer and longer. Audiences were becoming less-and-less impressed with Jake’s cocky demeanor. So was I.

Jake still calls me every couple of months from Las Vegas where he teaches guitar at the local community college. I’ll pick up the phone and immediately hear a raspy deep voice yelling in a drunken cadence, “Doobie-doobie-doo, the key man with the plan. How the hell are ya, brutha?”

It’s a sweet reminder of how much fun it was to make music with friends.

I hope my nephew gets those phone calls when he’s in his forties, too.

Perhaps he’ll remember how sweet I was to let him and his friends stay at my house that Summer of 2011.

This may have earned me a visit from him to my nursing home.

Maybe he’ll bring me Dr. Pepper and Red Velvet Cake.

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