Bite-Sized Martha!- Chocolate Pistachio Cookies! -220 eggs, 166 3/4 cups of sugar, 164 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 202 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 49 recipes to go!

June 12, 2011

Martha's Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

André's Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

I have two friends whose birthdays are very close to one another. Zoe is the administrative assistant for our group at my workplace and an avid follower of this blog. She’s also one of the kindest, sweetest and most thoughtful people in our corporate landscape. She definitely deserved cookies. Belle is a friend of my parter, Dan and partner to one of Dan’s co-workers. She is from Russia and has one of the wickedest senses of humor I’ve ever encountered. Even though English is her second language, she apparently managed to learn all the four-letter words first. She is smart and funny and extremely well-read. Most of us have a little editor in our brain that tells us when and when not to say what’s on our mind. Belle’s little brain-editor was apparently abducted back in the old country leaving her to spout some of the most inappropriate thoughts I’ve ever heard expressed. Most people can laugh off Belle’s outbursts since it’s kind of charming to hear that level of filth with delivered with such a thick accent. It’s a bit like hearing a parrot squawk out profanities learned from it’s owner.

These two women deserved cookies and I certainly wasn’t going to disappoint. Last year, for Belle’s birthday, I prepared a chocolaty cookie named after the famed actress, Sarah Bernhardt. Belle loved them since they were reminiscent of the chocolate confections of her mother country. Scanning through Martha’s book, I found a cookie quite similar to the Sarah Bernhardt Cookies. In fact, they were identical with one exception. A Sarah Bernhardt Cookie is simply a small almond macaroon with a chocolate truffle on top. The entire cookie is then dipped in melted chocolate. Chocolate Pistachio Cookies are simply two, very small pistachio macaroons with a layer of chocolate truffle sandwiched between them and then dipped in melted chocolate with a sprinkling of slivered or crushed pistachios on top.

Zoe and Belle loved them. At Belle’s party, there were two other Russian ladies who thought these were the best chocolates they’d had in a long time. No one acknowledged them as a cookie. I don’t blame them. They really aren’t cookies. They are candy, tiny bits of sweet and salty macaroons filled with rich and buttery chocolate truffle and submerged in a thick chocolate coating. When I explained that they were from Martha’s cookie book, the Russian ladies just looked confused. “These are not cookies,” they scoffed and returned to finishing off the entire tin. This is a recipe I will definitely make in the future. People loved them and even though making them was quite a process, the result was well-worth the effort. After all, there aren’t that many things that can make Russian women smile.

I heard a lotta songs say: “Where you goin’, my son?”
Now I know they’re for real
Boy, you never stop to think how fast the years run
And the things they steal
Now it seems I always knew
Why I do the things I do
And the things I never did…

The tables hadn’t turned
I hadn’t learned
How little time it takes
And everybody breaks
And daddies make mistakes ……

– Lyrics to Fathers & Sons by Stephen Schwartz from the musical, Working.

I was a sickly kid. At least that’s the impression my dad has always had of me. To this day, whenever I speak to him of having a cold or a toothache, he’ll immediately balk, “What the hell’s the matter with you now?!” As a child, I battled a handful of ailments and conditions. Today, listening to my sisters go on about my nieces’ and nephews’ allergies and illnesses, I have to say that my ailments were quite minor in comparison.

One unusual condition I had as a child was a skin disorder called Ichthyosis. Ichthyosis Vulgaris to be precise. Sounds charming, n’est pas? The condition  takes its name from the ancient Greek for fish. A person with Ichthyosis experiences flaking or cracking of the skin. The level of this disorder can vary greatly. In rare cases it can develop into a disorder called Ichthyosis Harlequin where the skin cracks in large patches across the face giving the effect of a disturbing, clown-like appearance. In most cases of Ichthyosis, like mine, the skin begins to resemble scales on a fish, hence the Greek name. I had a pretty bad case of it that lasted throughout my childhood. The palms of my hands and the base of my feet were the only two areas of my body affected.

Needless to say, a child who randomly bleeds from his hands and feet in a Catholic household gets a lot of raised eyebrows from the relatives.

I hated it. It felt as though the skin around my feet and hands was always tightening until it split leaving yet another long and bleeding scar across the surface that stung, burned and itched. I spent much of my childhood walking on the outside rim of my feet in a kind-of ridiculous bowlegged stance. I am positive this is why I developed one flat foot and one arched foot. I didn’t like shaking hands with people because the pressure of a grasp was painful and could split my skin apart causing me to bleed.

My father didn’t believe in doctors. Well, that’s not entirely true. He didn’t believe in spending money, to be more precise. My condition would require a specialist and specialists were expensive. This was before HMOs and PPOs and specialists were only for people who had the cash to pay for their expertise. Dad resisted sending me to see a dermatologist for years. When the condition finally became unbearable and walking almost impossible, he conceded to allow mom to take me to see a dermatologist. The doctor prescribed a balm to be applied to my hands and feet every evening. The balm was expensive and my dad begrudgingly agreed for mom to purchase it. My dad took some sort of perverse pleasure in telling me how much my condition was costing our family which only added to the shame of being the kid with fish skin.

Each evening, after the balm was applied, I’d have to sleep with clean socks on my hands and feet. I hated it. Summers in Louisiana, when the condition was worse due to all the time spent in chlorinated pools, were very hot. Trying to sleep in the warm evenings with socks on my hands and feet was nearly impossible. I would often pull them off during the course of the night and then spend the morning wincing as my father violently thrashed about the kitchen going on about how wasteful I was.

My father has always resented me. I’m not saying that because I feel sorry for myself or feel the need to pull a Christina Crawford. I’m merely stating a fact. My father does not and never has liked me. I’ve made my peace with that fact.  I’ve written about my father many times. He’s from a small Cajun, French-speaking village in Southern Louisiana. It’s a culture where men dominate the family, making all the decisions and call all the shots. Members of the household: wives, kids, pets, etc… are possessions, no different than a car, a horse, or a plow. They are there to be implemented, used to accomplish the goals of the head of household. If one of the implements is broken, then it is defective and if it can’t be discarded, it’s held in contempt.

I was broken. I was a seven-year-old who could barely walk and tended to bleed all over the place. I was an embarrassing inconvenience and an unneeded expense. I was, however, good for conversation starters during family gatherings or when neighbors or friends paid a visit. My dad would march me out and have me show my hands and feet like a side-shoe attraction. I was, after all, fish boy. Dad would then dramatically feign how difficult his road had been dealing with my “handicap.” Dad began referring to my condition as a handicap when a friend of his told him that I could probably receive free tuition for college if he could prove my condition hindered my ability to be mobile. Of course, by my teen years the condition had waned. This didn’t stop my dad from trying to drag me down to the social services office in my senior year of high school with instructions to limp a little and look like I was suffering. I refused to brand myself for the rest of my life as being handicapped knowing that such a misuse of the system was wrong and dishonest. This decision resulted in a rift between my dad and myself that has never closed.

My dad is a staunch republican. He doesn’t believe in hand-outs to the poor. He believes that the government should shut down every federally-funded social program. Yet, he has a daughter who lives off of social security due to her having a bipolar disorder. After Katrina, when FEMA was supplying free goods to the masses: tarps, nails, lumber, tools, etc…, my dad stood in line with the other “democrats”, as he called them, even though his house and land had sustained no damage whatsoever. He was quite proud of his savvy to swindle money away from the government, taking advantage of the very programs he adamantly swears should be eliminated. When I pointed this conflict of interest out to him, he dismissed me as being politically naive.

My father and I are very different people. There are probably very few instances of two people so vastly different from one another coexisting in the same family. He doesn’t “get” me and I don’t “get” him. We never will. I spent a great deal of my life being angry with him. Honestly, far too much of my life. Far too much is sacrificed on the altar of anger and I needlessly squandered far too much of my youth and personal relationships being pointlessly angry at this man. Now, I simply try to understand why he is the way he is. What makes him tick. Why he’s resented me my entire existence and why I wasted so much of my life resenting him.

He’s an old man now. His temper is still quick and his opinions many but he’s slowed down quite a bit and, unlike my childhood, he’s finally reached a level of financial stability that allows him to enjoy life a bit more. He still obsesses on money and endlessly regurgitates Fox News rhetoric that makes my skin crawl but he has mellowed into his role of granddad and patriarch.

Do I love him?

No. Not really.

Does he love me?

No. Not really.

Do I forgive him?

Of course. What other choice do I have?

I don’t forget, though.

I can’t.

My body won’t let me.

All I have to do is look at the palms of my hands.

They are riddled with hundreds of deep lines.

Lines that once split and bled.

I’m a palmist and each line has a story…

not of the future, …

but of the past.

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