Log On with Martha!- Pecan Logs! -232 eggs, 175 cups of sugar, 177 sticks of Butter, and 219 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 40 recipes to go!

August 6, 2011

Martha's Pecan Logs

André's Pecan Logs

Straight from Martha’s chapter on Crumbly & Sandy cookies comes a cookie fan favorite with a new shape. Most Americans are familiar with Pecan Sandies available in most supermarkets’ cookie aisles. Martha’s Pecan Logs are certainly a fair replica of this favorite cookie with a new heftier shape. Easy to make, Pecan Logs are a simple doughy batter of flour, salt, butter, confectioner’s sugar, baking powder, baking soda, egg, vanilla and toasted pecan bits. Like most cookie recipes, the dry ingredients are whisked together and the wet ingredients are beaten with the sugar until light and fluffy. Pecans are roasted on a clean cookie sheet in the oven until the air is scented with their freshly released oils. The dry and wet ingredients are combined with half of the pecan pieces and the sticky dough is then put in the fridge to stiffen up a bit. Once cooled, the dough is rolled into two-inch logs (@ 1 Tbsp of batter at a time) which are then rolled in the remaining chopped pecans. Bake until golden brown at the edges and enjoy.

These are really delicious cookies. Very crumbly in texture with a distinct buttery flavor but only mildly sweet. The big surprise is the salty after-bite. Almost two teaspoons of coarse sea salt  is called for in the recipe adding an unexpected pop of flavor with each cookie. The pecans are fragrant and delicious lending a slightly smokey flavor to these treats. I baked a couple of dozen for my partner’s coworkers who, as always, devoured them appreciatively returning the empty tupperware with a happy post-it note of thanks.

Sic Trasit Gloria Mundi

-Latin for “So passes the glory of the world.”

Staging A Confederacy of Dunces (pt. 2)

I had agreed to return to Baton Rouge from Dallas to begin work on the monumental task of creating the music for one of Louisiana’s most treasured pieces of literature, A Confederacy of Dunces. Upon arriving back in my home turf of Baton Rouge I quickly located a small, dilapidated duplex in a tiny downtown neighborhood of drug addicts and grad students called Beauregard Town. My current boyfriend was an overly-effeminate, alcoholic poet who clung to me like codependent Velcro even though I had tried to shake free of him for almost two years. He was like a far less clever Oscar Wilde. More Wilde than Oscar, really. With him comfortably nestled in the apartment with a bottle of vodka and a notebook for his poorly metered children’s poetry I set off to meet with the director, BK to discuss what Confederacy should sound like.

I had done a bit of research. The music of the mid-sixties in New Orleans was, as it is today, eclectic. Influenced by R&B, African rhythms, Zydeco, Cajun, Dixieland, Pop and Rock, the Crescent city buzzed to so many sounds, so many tempos, so many varied rhythms. I was excited to dive in. BK listened as I played some of my collected research on a cassette recorder I’d brought with me and his face lit up with each tune. He then paused and offered up a thought. The main character, Ignatius J. Reilly was at his very core, a medievalist. He was a morbidly obese philosopher guided by the principles of such archaic philosophers as Boethius. BK then reached into his attaché and retrieved an enormous manuscript. It was the script his wife had adapted. He read the first passage. It was Ignatius alone in his room reading aloud from one of his many Big Chief notepads. It was an indictment against modern society. Iggy Piggy had written quite of few of these in the course of the book with an entire chapter dedicated to his incomprehensible ramblings but this one was a pip. Ignatius bathed in a pool of light, standing atop his bed, wearing his large flannel shirt and green hunting cap, wiping sweat and donut crumbs from his mustache would loudly expound the following diatribe punctuating it here and there with a mad strum on his tuneless lute.

With the breakdown of the medieval system, the gods of chaos, lunacy and bad taste gained ascendency. There appeared in the West, winds of change which spelled evil days ahead. The luminous years of Abelard, Thomas Becket and Everyman dimmed into dross. For Fortuna’s wheel had turned on humanity, crushing its collarbone, smashing its skull, twisting its torso, sorrowing its soul…”

It was obvious there was another musical element needed juxtaposed against the vibrant noise of New Orleans. It needed the sounds in Ignatius’ head: merry minstrels, gregorian monks and the epic sounds of medieval Christianity. So much of Confederacy can be described as the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, if Walter were an obese medieval philosopher who at thirty still lived with his mother and wrestled daily with his pyloric valve.

The audience would need to live in Ignatius’ head for at least half of the play and the music would have to let them do just that. I knew what approach I was going to take. When Ignatius takes a job as a clerk at Levy Pants, his senile coworker, Miss Trixie refers to him a Gloria, a former office worker who had long since left the company. I thought it would be ironic that Ignatius’ moments of inspiration be accompanied by a large chorale of the cast singing the word “Gloria!” which could always then morph into Jim Morrison’s Gloria as reality set in. I also liked the idea of the goddess, Fortuna standing high above everything with her wheel of chance. She spin the wheel and chant Sic transit gloria mundi. As Ignatius continues to lose his grip on reality she could morph into a game show hostess not unlike a celestial Vanna White. These were the kind of unexpected touches that make for exciting theatre.

BK then showed me the cast list. With music in mind, he’d cast several musicians who, when not on stage, would join me in the wings. There was a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer. Just enough instrumentation to capture the styles and sounds I wanted.

Rehearsals began. The cast, mostly made of local performers from Baton Rouge and New Orleans were unaccustomed to BK’s directing technique. He didn’t start with blocking out scenes and he never gave out compliments. He put the cast through several physically and mentally grueling exercises in order to capture ideas for tableaus and interesting bits of stage business. He also yelled a lot and hurled quite a few insults at less experienced cast members. This created a good bit of tension from day one. At the end of the first week three cast members dropped out and two were fired.

One older cast member had a particularly interesting relationship with the book. She was cast as Ignatius’ mother, Irene. A decade or so before this, she hosted a local television show and actually interviewed Thelma Toole, the author’s mother. During the interview she confessed to Mrs. Toole that she had been enrolled at Dominican while John Kennedy Toole taught there. She was one of his students and thought he was just wonderful. Thelma’s face lit up when she learned her interviewer’s maiden name.  She squealed, “Why you’re who he modeled Myrna from, darling!” Myrna Minkoff was Ignatius’ distant friend who lived in New York City after leaving Louisiana. She was a militant feminist and quite active in the sexual revolution of the sixties, sleeping with as many men as she could while reporting to a blustering Ignatius in longwinded letters detailing her sexual exploits. While the actress was honored she was linked to the book, she wasn’t necessarily flattered by the comparison.

Dawn was hired to design the sets and costumes for the production. She was a seasoned installation artist and a one-woman army. Confederacy has multiple locations and it would be impossible to create individual environments to capture each of these places with any degree of authenticity. Like me, Dawn would create an environment that bridged the gap between Ignatius’ phyche and the deteriorating city of New Orleans. Two large rolling scaffolds and one smaller scaffolded bed would make up the entire set. They were like large medieval floats from the guild parades that rolled the cobbled streets on feast days of yore. They were manipulated by the cast who would transition from flashy colored prints of the sixties to long purple robes with stark masks and dunces caps like strange costumed mardi gras revelers.

The production was extraordinary. Pieces came together bit by bit. There were some really terrific performances. Particularly from the actor portraying Ignatius who was invited to model for a permanent statue of Ignatius waiting for his mother in front of the old D.H. Holmes on Canal Street. (The statue stands there to this day.) We enjoyed a successful run in Baton Rouge and a group of producers extended our run with performances at the Orpheum theatre in New Orleans where we sold out a week-long run in the 2,000 seat theatre.  By popular demand we revived the show the very next year with a mostly new cast save our original Ignatius. I spruced up the score a bit and played the role of Dorian Green, a flamboyant New Orleans queen of the the first order which I played like a far less intelligent Truman Capote.

As difficult as it was to pull this show together, it was probably the piece of theatre in my career I most enjoyed working on. It stretched me as a creative. It stretched my thinking, my creativity and my ability. I know this is probably not the most interesting subject to read about, but I wanted to put it down in print so I’d remember I used to be creative. hehe.

Here’s a couple of photos of actor John “Spud” McConnell as Ignatius and the statue of Ignatius he modeled for on Canal Street.

One Response to “Log On with Martha!- Pecan Logs! -232 eggs, 175 cups of sugar, 177 sticks of Butter, and 219 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 40 recipes to go!”

  1. Chelsea Says:

    Wow! Thanks for writing that Andre! Confederacy was the first show I did with Barry. He made me be the stage manager for the revival. I think? that or AD? anyway, I was there. And I had almost forgotten most of it. You brought back a lot of memories…including of how incredibly talented you are! Fantastic description of the old man, by the way! Love it!

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