Martha’s Fruit & Nut Cookies

André’s Fruit & Nut Cookies

If you are looking for a cookie with an impressive list of ingredients, then look no further than Martha’s Fruit & Nut Cookies. Flaked coconut, macadamia nuts, dried apricots, dates, and pistachios are the featured players in this sweet and simple drop cookie. They are dense and chewy and in spite of the extensive procurement of ingredients , they are a breeze to bake. The fruit and nuts are ground in a food processor and then combined with white and light brown sugar, flour, salt, butter, eggs, vanilla, and baking soda. They are then dropped onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and flattened with the palm of your hand. Bake them at 350• for 12-15 minutes and… Voila! Cookies!  Not just cookies, but delicious cookies! So, next time you’re looking to impress a group of friends with a sweet and unique cookie, give this one a try.

Lately it seems that every time I begin a post, I start off with an apology for my tardiness. 2012 was a difficult year. Between the wedding, the six-month job assignment, the changing of jobs, the remodeling, the weight loss, etc… I’ve run out of steam. I’ve been in a low-grade depression through most of the year but I’m doing what I can to pull myself out of it. Disciplining myself to write more will certainly help. Folks who read this blog have told me how much they enjoy my stories and hope that I get around to writing more of those and fewer essays. Being a people-pleaser, I will oblige.

As many of you know, I was briefly a clown in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth®. Many years before my adventures under the big top I’d formed a circus all my own, fated to perform only once… and what a performance it was. It was the sweltering Summer of 1977. The red, white, and blue paint that adorned the fire hydrants on every street from the previous year’s bicentennial celebration had begun to crack, fade, and peel away. My sister, Nicole, was seven years old. I was nine. Each Summer, dad would whisk our mother away to some exotic location like Montréal, Orlando, or Louisville to attend his company’s Life Insurance convention/Bacchanal. This would require kenneling us with whichever relative would have us. This worked best when they’d separate me and my three younger sisters into more manageable groups of two.

My dad had a sister, Dottie who’d married a gentleman from Mexico named Trinidad- Uncle Trinnie. They had two daughters, Penny and Rhonda, who were slightly older than myself. A few years after our visit that Summer, Aunt Dottie gave birth to their third child, a son named Trinnie Jr.. They also had a pet skunk named Pepper. The skunk, of course, had it’s scent glands removed. The same could not be said for Uncle Trinnie. He had an Old Spice addiction. Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie had just built their dream house only a few blocks away from their previous home in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. They had a spacious corner lot protected by a brick and wrought-iron fence. The house had three bedrooms and three bathrooms with an entire corner of the home devoted to my Aunt Dottie’s in-house business- a real Southern-style beauty parlor and gossip den. On a side note, my Aunt Dottie cut and styled my and my sisters’ hair whenever we came to visit. Having developed curly hair in my adolescence, Dottie decided to tease it with a hair-pick until it reached maximum volume. I went through most of my pubescent years with a thick mound of frizz on my head that resembled Nancy from the comic strip bearing the same name. Thanks to my Aunt Dottie’s beauty skills and her utter lack of aesthetic, I was indeed, a “Nancy” boy. I am quite certain this was why I began to lose my hair at the age of sixteen. It fell out in protest.

Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie welcomed my sister and me to their home. We set ourselves up in one of the bedrooms and played enthusiastically with the skunk, Pepper, until in thirty minutes time, we were bored out of our skulls. Penny would stop chatting on the phone with friends to check in on us from time-to-time. Rhonda and my sister would play dress-up, only stopping for me to critique the series of ensembles they’d change in five-minute intervals. Uncle Trinnie would be away at work and Dottie would be loudly cutting hair in the parlor. I sat there in the den listening to the drone of the television, the hum of the air conditioner, and the loud cackling of elderly women from Aunt Dottie’s house of beauty. In the face of two-weeks of utter boredom, I had an idea. The Muscular Dystrophy Association had been encouraging kids to put on backyard carnivals to help raise funds for the cause. This was before the fear of personal injury lawsuits put an end to having strangers over to your home.

The idea of a carnival didn’t seem like something I could really sink my teeth into, though. I found the notion a bit passé. We could, however, perform a backyard circus. Rhonda had an entire trunk filled with old dance recital costumes. Aunt Dottie had enough makeup and wigs for a busload of clowns, and for Christ’s sake, we had a freakin’ skunk! Brilliant!

I assembled Rhonda and my sister around me to relay the idea. They were inspired. A chance for them to wear heavy makeup, sequins and parade about in front of a paying and captive audience? Abso-freakin-lutely!

The show itself was promoted. Costume pieces were pulled out of every trunk and closet. Music was chosen, make-up applied, and tickets sold to every neighbor on the block who had the misfortune of being home that day.

In six hours we planned, marketed, and performed a circus complete with an exotic animal act. Truth be told, it wasn’t terrible and we raised nearly fifteen dollars for muscular dystrophy.

I’ve thought a lot about that Summer recently and years ago I co-wrote play about a group of kids putting on a circus in their backyard. It was called Circus Berzerkus.

I hadn’t seen Penny, Rhonda, Aunt Dottie, or Uncle Trinnie in many, many years until my most recent trip home. My sister, Nicole and I met up with Rhonda and Penny for a few drinks. Penny is a C.P.A. in her fifties with two grown boys of her own. She recently became a grandmother. One of her sons, Shane AKA- Suga Shane, a rising rap artist, with as many tattoos as there are naughty words in his lyrics, recently fathered an adorable little boy, who as of this moment, sports no tattoos or piercings.

Rhonda recently enjoyed her daughter’s marriage to the son and heir of the wealthy owners of the largest beer distribution company in the Southeast region. I was unable to attend the wedding which my sister described as “the most expensive and decadent wedding she’d ever attended.” Shortly after the wedding, Rhonda’s husband of twenty-five years had an intense and emotional mid-life crisis,  leaving Rhonda and their teenage son so he could pursue the life of a brooding middle-aged bachelor. Needless to say, we drank quite a bit that evening.

A few days later, my sister and I went to visit Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie. They still live in that same old house on a double corner lot in Metairie. The beauty parlor is still humming along and Dottie has seen to it that her hair remains unnaturally dark for a woman her age.  Uncle Trinnie, still smells of Old Spice or English Leather. His hair still remains pulled back in a tight pompadour, however, Dottie has allowed it to gray a bit. He looks distinguished, not unlike the world’s most interesting man from the Dos Equis commercials.

Trinnie Jr. , now a dad in his thirties was, as per usual, in jail.

These visits did not improve my low-grade depression. In fact, they may have turned up the volume on my personal grief-o-meter. I felt older. I looked around me and the faces from my youth had grown grayer, pained, and weathered.

Am I really that much older now?

Do I have another circus in me?

Maybe I need a pet skunk.


Martha’s Raspberry-Cream Sandwich Cookies

André’s Raspberry-Cream Sandwich Cookies

Besides my aversion to baking tuiles, a fussy little cookie with a water-like batter that requires spending a significant amount of time baking only three or four at a time, is my extreme dislike of baking sandwich cookies. Not only does one have to create a batter AND a filling, you have to bake twice as many to generate a substantial yield, followed by assembling them into their sandwiched form. They’re a lot of work and rarely are they worth the effort.  Martha’s Raspberry-Cream Sandwich Cookies are no exception. The cookie is a simple drop butter cookie flavored with vanilla bean. The filling is a combination of melted white chocolate and rendered raspberry purée. Natural raspberry flavor, while tart, is still quite subtle. These cookies were sweet- sweeter than I would prefer. The flavor of raspberry is lost in the sweetness of the white chocolate and the intense vanilla flavor of the cookie. Ultimately, the cookies disappoint. They promise the punch of berry flavor but deliver a slight nudge. Ah well… another cookie down.

This has been a helluva year. I lived in a tiny hotel room for six months of it, separated from my friends, my cats, my home, and my husband. I came back to a gazillion changes at work. I got married. Worked on a home renovation. I wrote a children’s book and two plays. Lost almost 30 lbs and took a gig playing piano for a group of raunchy drag queens.

The one thing I didn’t get to do much of was bake cookies or write on this blog. What’s even worse, I’m almost done.  Just a few more recipes and then… TA DA! Fin!

Today, I’m not going to post a story. I’m not going to write a poem.

Frankly, I’m stretched too thin to even think about that.

What I will do, though, is wish each and every one of you the happiest of holidays and a New Year filled with all the things that make you feel loved.

So, preheat your ovens to 350• and bake a batch of your favorite cookies.

Just not Martha’s Raspberry-Cream Sandwich Cookies.

Ho! Ho! HO!

Martha’s Chocolate Meringues

André’s Chocolate Meringues

Back in March of this year I attempted Martha’s Chocolate Meringues for a second time. The first time I tried to bake these little devils was about a year ago and they came out of the oven flat and mushy. It had been raining all that day and the humidity in my kitchen was too much for the meringues to properly dry. For those of you that have not baked a meringue before, let me share what I know about them with you. There is some lore that points to the first meringues being developed in the 15th century in the Swiss town of Meiringen and then further developed in Italy. The word, Meringue, itself is French, though and first appeared in English from a translation of a French cookbook in 1706. Meringues are simple ingredients combined in complicated ways. They are fussy when it comes to how they need to bake. Essentially, you are dehydrating them while warming them just enough to expand.  Whipped egg whites, sugar, flavoring, and usually an acid such as cream of tartar or in some instances, vinegar are added together to make the meringue base. There are three common methods for combining these ingredients divided as follows:

The French Method: Fine granulated sugar is simply beat into egg whites. This is the lightest and fluffiest type of meringue. It is also the most unstable.

The Swiss Method: Egg whites are slowly whisked over a bain-marie (hot water bath) to heat the egg whites. This makes for a denser and glossier meringue. This method is best for meringues for pies that will remain unbaked. The heat kills any potential bacteria that might play havoc with your digestive system.

The Italian Method: Boiled sugar syrup is added to the egg whites. This method makes for a very stiff meringue that holds it’s form. The heated syrup warms the egg whites and creates a very structural, dense meringue batter. This is the stuff you want to use for complicated meringues like macarons or baked Alaska.

Martha’s recipe was simple enough. It incorporated the French method and was easy to assemble. Whipped egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and cocoa were all combined and placed into a pastry bag with a star tip. Each tiny meringue is then piped out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and placed in 200˚ oven for several hours until completely dehydrated. The color of these confections, and they are truly confections as meringues have more of a candy consistency rather than that of a cookie, were a slight tan with a glossy finish. They are simply a lovely cookie that literally melt in your mouth delivering their chocolatey sweetness. The humidity gods smiled down on me this past March and I successfully baked almost four dozen of these for my husband, Dan to take to his coworkers as a little team-building pick-me-up.

It seems that every time recently I sit at this computer to start typing out one of these posts, I start off with an apology for being so remiss between posts. I’m not apologizing this time. Work took me away from an oven for six months and in the last month my mother-in-law suffered a fall requiring all in the family to scramble to make transitional living arrangements for her. I’m afraid this blog kept falling lower and lower on my list of priorities but that’s life, isn’t it?

Things have settled down. My mother-in-law is out of the hospital and is in rehabilitation right now. She is doing very well and getting stronger every day. Soon she’ll move to a new semi-independent living facility which we affectionately refer to as, “The Cruise Ship.” I’ve been back in Kansas City and have reunited with my stand mixer and my convection oven. I’m also pretty glad to see my husband, too. Oh, and the cats.

I don’t really feel like writing a story today. I’ve got something else on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of perfection lately. It all started with helping my husband and in-laws pack up their mother’s home. Everything had to be examined as we searched for bills and paperwork. We also ran across a lot of photos. Many laughs were had and a few tears were shed. Each photo was delightfully imperfect. Before the time of photoshop and digital cameras, there was a process to capturing images. Camera film was expensive to purchase and equally expensive to develop and so only the most important occasions were captured. First days of school, Easter, Christmas, Family reunions, Birthdays, etc… were always the subject matter. The images were often over-exposed, under-exposed, double-exposed, etc… . Eyes were closed, clothing choices were questionable, hair styles were atrocious. They were, as I mentioned, delightfully imperfect.

On a recent trip home, I witnessed my thirteen-year-old nephew playing with his iPhone. He was using an app. called Instagram which is much like a smaller and less complex version of photoshop for your phone. He was editing recent photos of himself. He played with the color to give himself a darker tan. He removed some offensive wisps of hair atop his head. He brightened the blues of the water behind him and shaded his chest to give the illusion of more developed pectoral muscles. By the time he was done, he created an image of a god-like heartthrob that Teen Beat magazine would be proud to feature on their November cover.  It was perfection. It was also a lie.

My basement flooded this weekend and I went through boxes of my old photos. I looked back at the images of myself as a teen, a tween, a child, a toddler, an infant. It was like a pictorial history of awkwardness. Every blemish was captured. Every bad hair day (yes, I wasn’t always bald) was immortalized. In not a single photo did I appear god-like. I never appeared tan. I was either pale as a sheet or red as a lobster. In many photos my eyes were closed. What I did notice, though, was that each imperfect detail, brought back a perfect memory. I remembered that ugly shirt and how much I loathed wearing it. I remembered that Summer when friends pressured me into bleaching my hair. I remembered the start of that school year when the brothers at my school made me cut it all off because it didn’t conform with school policy. I remembered the camera I brought to school that Fall semester to capture my fellow fifth-graders goofing off in front of my new Instamatic.

I then worried for my nephew. When he looked back, would he remember the reality or would the perfection alter that in some way? Did he edit out everything that would trigger an authentic memory? I then worried about all of us. Who was capturing those moments? How often are they hitting the delete button when something is less than perfect?

I visited my mother-in-law yesterday.

I sat in the cold semi-private room chatting away with her as her roommate sat a few feet away hacking violently into her oxygen mask.  My mother-in-law listened to my philosophical rant and then reminded me of the photo portrait of her I had framed for my husband a few Christmases ago. It was a wonderful portrait of her at age four that her parents had professionally taken in 1934. The photo was yellowed and ghostly. It was the image of a little farm girl from Illinois. Atop her round face was a head of thick blonde hair that had been hacked several different lengths. Little Rosemary, in preparation for this sitting decided to give herself a haircut the day before the photo was taken.  This happened over seventy-five years ago and yet she still remembers it vividly.  The photographer didn’t try to fix it or hide the fact that she had a less-than-perfect coif. It was an imperfect moment immortalized.

Perfection is overrated. Even more so, it doesn’t exist.

There are no perfect moments. We will never be our perfect selves. There are no perfect cookies. (Sorry, Martha.)

Perfection is something to strive for, but like Aesop’s Fox and the Grapes, it’s not to be achieved.

The perfection comes in how we remember our falling short of perfection. The best memories from my life have centered around the perfectly imperfect moments of my life.

That said, I really wished my mom had snapped a photo of my sister and I with feminine napkins glued to our socks as we attempted to skate across the kitchen with Mom’s magical “Foot Mops.”

I guess it wasn’t worth the cost of film and the embarrassment at the Eckerd’s Drug Store photo lab.

Martha’s Icebox Spirals & Bull’s-Eyes

André’s Icebox Spirals & Bull’s-Eyes

Every now and then Martha has a recipe that befuddles me. I first attempted to bake Icebox Spirals and Bull’s-Eyes almost a year-and-a-half ago. The buttery dough sat in the freezer and never really solidified to the point where it could be worked with. Finally, in frustration, I threw the oozy dough in the garbage and vowed to return to this recipe when I felt I could muster the time, strength and patience to deal with Martha’s sadistic instructions. The recipe is simple enough. No eccentric ingredients needed. Flour, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt are combined to make two doughs- one chocolate and one vanilla. The doughs are then frozen to solidify the butter just enough so the dough can be rolled out. Once the two doughs are flattened, the chocolate dough is place atop the vanilla, sealed together with a generous brushing of egg white. The two doughs are then rolled together into a cylinder and then sliced into discs that reveal the spiral pattern underneath.  Another portion of chocolate dough is rolled into a log and wrapped with a layer of the vanilla dough, again sealing these two together with egg white. Once sliced into discs they reveal the “Bull’s-Eye” pattern.  The difficulty of this recipe is the time one needs to dedicate to its completion. Each step in the process requires the dough be refrozen as the butter melts and becomes too pliable.  This recipe took a couple of days to be completed properly. The entire time I worked on these, I thought to myself, “These had better be some damn good cookies.” I baked a batch of these for friends around the new year and placed them in little gift bags. They were accepted appreciatively as they were really very pretty cookies. The only problem was they were without any real flavor. Ultimately pleasing to the eye but flat on the palate. One of the recipients placed them in her oven to bake a bit longer so that the sugar would burn just enough to add at least a bit of flavor to these beautifully bland cookies. So thanks, Martha. You’ve given me a cookie that actually tastes better burnt.

I know it’s been a while since my last post. I apologize. There’s a lot going on in my life right now. The details of which I’m not going to bore you with. Instead, I’ll pick up from my last post and bore you with the details of my recent wedding in April. I promise this will be the last post about the wedding and I’ll finish out this blog with the stories that I love to tell so much.

In May of 2011 I joined my sister and two of her kids in Orlando, FL for an exhausting week of theme parks and touristy endeavors. During that time I really bonded with my twelve-year-old nephew, Valerian.  I promised him that when he turned thirteen I’d take him to New York City.  Later that year, the State of New York passed same-sex marriage and my partner, Dan and I were instantly engaged. I asked Val to be my best man and he was thrilled to be part of our special day. I arranged to fly down for the Easter weekend to Baton Rouge to retrieve him and then fly to New York where we’d stay with my dear friends, Andy and Kathy in Astoria, Queens. It would be just Val and me and New York City for three days before the rest of the wedding party, including my intended, would arrive. The night before Val and I were to depart Baton Rouge en route to LGA, I received a text from American Airlines that my flight was cancelled and had been rescheduled for later the next day with a five-hour layover in Orlando. This would’ve put us at Andy’s and Kathy’s home at around 1:00 in the morning. This was an unacceptable solution. I whined. I complained. I yelled. I threw a fit. And finally, I booked another flight for the two with a connecting flight in Philadelphia. What I didn’t know is that our flight from Philly was a tiny puddle-jumper that seated just a handful of people. The winds were terrible. This was April, after all. The flight over the city in the tiny prop plane was bumpy as the plane swooped from side-to-side. Each sway of the plane was accompanied by “Dear God!” and “Sweet Jesus!” from the large African-American woman seated across from us. Each time she did this, Val and I would giggle to ourselves. Secretly, I was terrified. I’ve never enjoyed flying and am prone to motion sickness. Even though the flight was only forty minutes, it was the longest forty minutes I’d endured in a long time.

We arrived at Andy’s and Kathy’s safely and that evening I took Val on the train into Manhattan- Times Square to be specific. Val loved the trains. He loved watching the people. When I use the word, “loved”, I mean the teenager of the word. (i.e. no visible emotion shown- I have about forty photos of Val in the city with the exact same expression in each photo. To those without exposure to teen boys, this expression may appear to be one of disinterest or even disdain. This is merely a façade. Smiling is simply not part of a teen’s face’s repertoire and smiling is usually not reactivated until college.)

Once we arrived in Times Square, I guided him through the tunnels and corridors to the exit stairs leading up to the center of Times Square. I looked at his face as we emerged into a world of artificial light and noise. I remembered my first time in the big city. He was spellbound and for a moment, I shared that moment with him.

I’ve always loved New York. It’s vastness. It’s diversity. It’s energy. Over the next few days, Val and I simply explored. We visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in the Bowery under the advice of my friend, Andy. We walked through Chinatown and Little Italy. We explored the Village and Chelsea. We walked along the new High Line park looking over Jersey. We strolled through the financial district and South Street Seaport. We took the Staten Island Ferry and had dinner in a seedy little bar my the dock. We visited Strawberry Fields in Central Park and stood atop Rockefeller Center. We stood in line at TKTS and got tickets to see Phantom of the Opera. Val loved the grandness of the production and even though, it’s a bit of a cheesy musical, it was a good introduction of the size and scope known as Broadway.

We exhausted ourselves each day and at night we slept soundly. Soon it was time to move to the hotel in Manhattan and await for the wedding party to arrive. Val’s mom, sister, brother and Aunt set up camp at the Hampton Inn a block away from our hotel at the Hilton-Fashion District. Dan’s Best Gal, Juli soon arrived with her daughter, Sofia.  That evening we all walked down to Herald Square and Macy’s where unbeknownst to us, Madonna was making an appearance to sell her new perfume.  None of us saw her or even sampled her fragrance. I imagined it smelled like penicillin and Astroglide. My sister, Nicole, likes to shop. That’s a bit of an understatement for anyone who knows my sister. Specifically, she loves to shop bargain-discount and thrift stores. I have no doubt that I’ll be appearing on a reality show about hoarding in about twenty years from now as she is starting to show early symptoms. I’m not being mean. I’ve seen her closets.

The next day Dan and I headed off to the courthouse to get our marriage license. This must be the happiest place in NYC. People from all walks of life were there. Some wore the wedding attire dictated by their homeland culture. Other’s look like they just rolled out of bed. (Not a clean bed, mind you.) Dan and I took our number and waited. Thirty minutes later, we had our marriage license in hand. Now we simply had to get hitched and have my officiant, Andy sign and mail the document back to the recorders office. Dan and I cried a little as we left. Happy, happy tears, of course.

We then met up with the wedding party at the World Trade Center Memorial. There was a lot of waiting in line and some pretty stringent security scanning. It was a lovely tribute to all those who lost their lives on that tragic day. After an hour or so we exited to across the street so my sister could experience the shopping experience of Century 21. What is Century 21, you may ask? It is one of NYC’s best kept secrets. Five stories of discounted brand-name merchandise. We spent more time there than at the WTC memorial, wait-time in line included.  I hate shopping, but I obliged. My sister had purchased at Macy’s a pair of Bella Ballerina’s for my six-year-old niece, Reide. These are über-girly shoes that have pivots on the soles so a child with absolutely no ballet skills can still spin a clunky pirouette. They were cute but it was just too painful to watch her try to walk in them through the NYC streets. She’d have to hold guard rails with both hands in order to slowly guide herself up and down stairs. Uncle Dan, to remedy this situation, bought her practical walking shoes.

Once we conquered the vast crowds and the endless check-out line at Century 21, we all headed to South Street Seaport for lunch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.

We then headed back to the hotels for a little down time before having to meet up with Kathy and Andy at an Italian Restaurant in Chelsea for a wedding toast and pasta. Drinks were shared along with a few stories and then we were off again for a night of theatre. Dan, Juli, Nicole, Reide and Sofia headed off to the New Amsterdam theatre in Times Square to see Mary Poppins and my sister, Alyse, my nephews-Aidan and Val, and myself all headed to Union Square to see a performance art piece called Fuerza Bruta (Brute Force).  The show was basically a loud party where the audience stood the entire time while the performers danced, flew and swam in a flexible swimming pool that descended from the ceiling just above the audience’s heads. A few of the ladies wore open blouses sans bras. This made me a hero in my nephews’ eyes. After the show, my sister and I took my nephews and their erections to a microbrewery across the square for drinks and nibbles.  Dan then called me to meet him and our friends from Arizona, Jen and Zach at the Parker Meridian near Central Park South. We sat and drank, just the four of us, until the early AM hours.

The next morning, the morning of our wedding day mind you,  I realized I was without my messenger bag. The bag that had our marriage license, our itinerary, and everything we needed to guide us through the crazy week. I knew I had it with me in the hotel bar at the Parker Meridian. I called the hotel and they connected me with security. I was just about in tears when I asked if they had seen a green bag. The security man answered, “Why yes, we have. Are you Mr. du Broc?” “YES!” I screamed and then thanked him profusely. I arranged for the bag to be delivered to our friends’ room with plans to meet up with them around noon at the Plaza Hotel to retrieve it.  The destination wedding gods were on our side.

The entire wedding party set out for Central Park. We then assembled at the Plaza hotel to wait for Jen and Zach to arrive. The girls went to look for the fictional Eloise at her home in the Plaza Hotel. Aidan and Val went to explore FAO Schwartz and the Mac Store across the street. I sat at the fountain and thought about how, in a few hours, surrounded by friends and family, I’d be married to the man I love.

A few hours later, that’s exactly what happened. In the dark basement space of a popular Chelsea restaurant, friends- some of which I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years, gathered to celebrate our union. Andy stood before us as his wife sang, accompanied by a skilled guitarist, Here Comes the Sun. Dan and I were led down the aisle hand-in-hand with Reide and Sofia. The congregation, some with drinks already in hand, watched tearfully. The energy in the room was perfect. Dan and I exchanged vows. My sister, Alyse and Dan’s Best Gal, Juli each read a bit of poetry we’d secretly chose for each other. We cried. Quite a lot, to be honest. We laughed when Andy mispronounced Dan’s last name during the vows. We laughed a bit louder when I repeated the vows correcting Andy’s pronunciation. We were pronounced married. We kissed. Everyone applauded. We exited while Kathy sang Our Love is Here to Stay.

Everyone then ate too much. Drank too much. Shared stories. Danced. At one point, my dear friend and ex-roomie, Aaron blared a bit of New Orleans second-line jazz and a good old-fashioned second line march formed.  We then had a couple’s dance to the song Dan and I once cried our eyes out to when I first left Kansas City to return home to NYC. We didn’t know if we’d ever really see each other again. It was Joni Mitchell’s song Both Sides Now.  She sang it when she was a young soprano, but had recently rerecorded it. Time had not been kind to the soprano. She was now a raspy contralto and the song, once sweet and innocent, took on a different meaning altogether. It was now easy to hear the truth in a voice that had actually experienced life from both sides.  Dan and I held each other as we swayed back and forth. We looked about the room. Husband held wife. Mother held child. Father held daughter. All of us swayed to the music and wept a little. Moments like these are precious and rare. Life is uncertain. The only certainty is that it will bring hardship and change. Hold each other while we can. Celebrate the love today for who knows what tomorrow brings.

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

Martha’s Sand Tarts

André’s Sand Tarts

In the coldest Winter month of January this year, Dan and I were invited to attend a house party at a friend’s home just a few blocks from my house. I was burned-out on Christmas cookies and was looking to bake something a bit more ironic. Martha’s Sand Tarts seemed like a good choice. Basically a simple shortbread with the addition of flavors one would associate with a Snickerdoodle, these cookies were a fun choice.  Each one is given an embellishment of three, sliced, blanched almonds to give them the look of a sand dollar. Personally, I don’t think sand dollars look all that appetizing, but to each his own, I suppose.

They were received graciously and appreciatively. The irony wasn’t lost either, although, honestly, the joke wasn’t that clever.  This was to be one of the last three cookies I’d bake before leaving for six months to work in Bloomington, Indiana without my partner, my cats, or sadly, an oven.

In my last post I left off with being without a space in NYC for my impending nuptials and worried that once I found an available space it would be far beyond what our budget would allow. I turned to the good book for answers. Of course, I’m referring to Facebook. I sent out a desperate plea to my friends in the Big Apple to help me find the perfect space to sign my life away. My friend and former roommate, Aaron, came through. Aaron is one of the most dynamic personalities I count among my friends. I met him when he was barely twenty years old in Baton Rouge and he has been the little brother I never wanted ever since.

Among Aaron’s many diverse talents- from wig-making to musicianship, from being a certified beautician to being a celebrated NYC drag queen- one can’t help but be charmed by his fierce charisma. As a result, he’s invited everywhere, even places he’s not suppose to go. For instance, he and I had only known each other a month or two when my youngest sister was married in the grandest way- a full Catholic mass followed by a large and decadent reception in one of LSU’s grand halls. Aaron got wind of where I’d be that evening, and since he’d helped cater another event earlier that evening, he showed up at my sister’s reception in his caterer’s uniform with a bottle of Dom Perignon he’d absconded with from the other party. In a surreal moment, I turned to see him doing the samba with my over-served Aunt Renée from Nicaragua. Later that evening, as my sister and her new husband entered the Limo that was to whisk them away to their honeymoon, Aaron was there presenting them with a bottle of Dom and giving them each a hug and a kiss. I remember my sister giving me a confused but appreciative look. I just shrugged. Everyone in my family had no idea of who this tiny little terror was but they all found him ridiculously charming.

If anyone of my friends could solve the dilemma of finding a perfect and affordable venue in NYC, it would be Aaron. Elmo’s Restaurant and Lounge is a popular hangout in the heart of gay NYC- Chelsea.  They had recently updated the basement into an event space. Aaron, on my behalf, spoke with the coordinator at Elmo’s and after sending my friend, Kathy, to take a few photos and give me her impression of the room, I was able to book the room at a very reasonable rate. The room was very different from the space we originally wanted. Instead of dark woods and brass fixtures reminiscent of an older and more distinguished New York, we ended up in a dark room with psychedelic wallpaper, shiny black surfaces, and glowing mod furniture reminiscent of Autin Power’s bedroom. Everyone loved the space, though. NYC event space- Check!

Rings!? We’ll need rings! I left this responsibility to Dan. When we first met, he worked the jewelry counter at Sak’s Fifth Avenue as a David Yurman specialist.  We knew that we’d want something by David since his company was responsible for sending Dan and me on our first, and most romantic, vacation together to Scottsdale, AZ. We went to the jewelers to check out the designs and get fitted. I have tiny, stubby, hobbit-like fingers. I knew that whatever we chose would have to be special ordered because men’s fingers are not suppose to be so tiny. If I’d known I’d have grown up with such tiny fingers I probably would’ve become a proctologist. Ah well, live and learn. We ended up choosing matching sterling silver bands encircled with an etched design inspired by a Japanese artist’s interpretation of ocean waves. They were thick bands, and weighty. I love my wedding band, and I know it’s suppose to serve as a symbol of our union. It does. In a very weighty way, it does.  Rings- Check!

You can’t have a wedding without a cake. Back in Jersey City, there was a German bakery  I adored. Goehrig’s Bakery is located under an overpass in West Jersey City, and while its storefront might not be impressive, the confections within are stellar. What they are able to do with flour and sugar almost makes diabetes seem worth it. Because neither Dan nor myself could make a trip out to NYC before the wedding to do various tastings and check out our event space, we had to, not unlike Blanche DuBois, rely on the kindness of strangers. Of course, that landed Blanche in the nuthouse, but we didn’t really have many options so we took our chances.  After scanning through the cakes on their website, I fell in love with one particular simple tiered cake covered in smooth, white fondant, embellished with marzipan fruits in muted Spring colors.  A fruit cake! The potentially offensive irony wasn’t lost on me.  Dan thought the cake was lovely, too. We ordered a two-tier version to serve 50 people to be delivered on our wedding day.  The cake, however, did arrive on time and at the right location. The colors that were so muted in the photo, were actually quite bright. It looked a bit more Carmen Miranda and less Martha Stewart. It was, however, delicious, with one tier being vanilla with Italian cream and another layer of chocolate with dulce de leche cream. Everyone raved. We debated having a cake for the Kansas City reception but we both thought one wedding cake was enough. We opted instead to have a friend  who has a side-business baking cupcakes, provide a variety of her favorites for the KC reception. They were amazing! Cake!- Check!

You can’t have a wedding without flowers… or so I’ve heard. You also need a minister or an officiant… oh, and music… and if you have flowers, you need someone to carry them… preferably someone short… and cute… and female… and what about a honeymoon? And… and… and…

There was a lot of thought put into these details. And a lot of bourbon consumed.  In the officiant department, my friend and former roommate, Andy, a tall and imposing gentleman of nearly albino whiteness was asked to go online and become a minister and register with the State of New York as an officiant in order to perform our ceremony. Just a little over a year ago, I did the same for him when he took his lovely bride in Alamo Park in San Francisco in front of the famed row of brightly painted Victorian mansions known affectionately as the “Painted Ladies”.  Andy was a packaged deal. His sister, also a New Yorker, volunteered to provide the flowers for the ceremony and his wife, a professional chanteuse, provided the music. Aaron, once again stepped up, volunteering to DJ the reception as his drag persona, Millie Shayntwrite. Officiant, Music, and Flower for NYC- Check!

Dan’s brother is a skilled florist with a terrific eye for color and composition stepped up to provide the flowers for our KC reception. Beautiful bowls of bright tulips adorned every table at the reception. It was his gift to us and they were absolutely stunning. Music for the reception in KC was provided by a friend I met through work. Mark is probably one of the best jazz pianists I’ve met outside of New Orleans and his work is always impeccable. He provided the perfect trio to keep the party humming.  Music and Flowers for KC- Check!

Now we needed flower girls to lead Dan and me down the aisle in Austin Power’s bedroom. My niece, Reide and Dan’s Best Gal’s daughter, Sofia, were the perfect choices.  Incidentally, they were the only ones designated with coordinating wardrobes. To quote Sofia, “Dan gets a new husband and I get a new dress. Yay!” Flower Girls- Check!

Someone is going to have to photograph all of this for posterity! I have a photographer friend who lives in NYC I’ve known since high school. He and his wife relocated from New Orleans to NYC after Katrina destroyed the grand, old theatre she managed downtown. She was able to land the coveted position of general manager of the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem and suddenly, they were both New Yorkers. Mason stepped in and did a lovely job photographing our wedding in a space completely devoid of light.  The photographer for Kansas City was a co-worker who has a photography business on the side. He, too, did a lovely job.  Photographers!- Check!

And speaking of photographers, here’s a little pictorial of all the details mentioned above.  Check back on my next posting (soon to come) which will explain how all this wedding madness went down.  Until then, beat this heat by baking some cookies.  (Don’t question my logic.)

Martha’s Coconut Macaroons

André’s Coconut Macaroons

My partner, Dan, and I have a tradition we started a few Christmases ago. (Is he really writing about Christmas on the last day in May?… Yeah- I’m that far behind on my posts. Don’t judge. I’ve been out of town and far away from all the things that make me want to write – and I have no oven!) It started when, on the evening of Christmas, after spending that morning cooking an elaborate brunch for Dan’s family, we decided to go out to eat at one of the only restaurants open on Christmas day. (AKA Chinese) We found one flashing “OPEN” neon sign in Midtown Kansas City and stepped inside where we were delightfully surprised to see our friend, Pam sitting with her entire family. Pam is Jewish and as is the custom among Jews on Christmas day, they headed out for Egg Foo Young and Fried Rice. They opened their table up to join them and Pam’s brother-in-law poured us a series of stiff drinks from one of the multiple bottles of liquor he’d sneaked in from his liquor store across the street. We drank, laughed and celebrated with many smiles and hugs and a great deal of inappropriate humor. We had so much fun that evening, we decided we’d make it our Christmas tradition each year to celebrate the birth of Christ with our Jewish friends over barbecued spareribs and Sweet & Sour Pork.

This past Christmas I wanted to bake them a ‘Thank You’ cookie. Coconut Macaroons are a staple in Jewish households, especially during Pesach. It’s free of the levened-flour-demons (I know very little about Jewish kitchen etiquette)  and are pretty dang delicious, not to mention, easy to make. Flaked coconut is combined with sugar, vanilla and egg white. The mixture is then formed into small haystacks and placed on a silpat-lined cookie sheet and baked at a low temperature until golden. You can add cocoa powder, or in my case, chocolate chips for a little extra zip to these tasty treats. Martha’s recipe happens to yield a ton. I had a surplus, enough to send several bags home with Pam’s family as well as some to share with Dan’s Mom and brother at the customary Christmas morning brunch. Not a typical Christmas cookie, granted, but a delicious and flavorful treat for those hoping to keep Christmas kosher.

I have been more than remiss in posting to this blog. In fact, it’s been well over three months since my last posting. That said, I’ve had a lot on my plate lately other than cookies. This past April 14th, Dan and I joined many of our friends at a New York City restaurant and bar where we were married among familiar smiles and a lot of happy tears.  Yup, we got ourselves one of those new fangled gay marriages everyone on Fox News has been complaining about. It was a wonderful event and an evening that Dan and I will never forget. Planning a distant wedding from a hotel room in Bloomington, Indiana presented some challenges, and I have to admit there is really nothing about preparing for a wedding I enjoyed. When all was said and done, though, it was beautiful. A friend of mine wisely instructed me to take a quiet moment in the middle of the chaos to simply take it all in. The mood, the space, the food, the drinks, the friends we hadn’t seen in years, and all the good will pouring out of everyone’s hearts and into ours were left us speechless.

It all started last year when New York announced they would extend marriage to same-sex couples. Dan and I had always told each other that if the bill passed in a State where we actually knew people then we’d get hitched. We were having drinks with friends at a restaurant and lounge in midtown Kansas City when the announcement was made. The establishment was gay owned and operated and serviced mostly gay or gay-friendly clientele. The mass of people at the bar erupted in loud applause punctuated with squeals of happiness. I looked over at Dan, and without a word, we knew we were, from that moment, engaged.

That’s when the work began… and planning a wedding is Work! (note the capital W)

We each had to choose our best “men”.  Dan has a friend he’s known since second grade name Juli and after nearly a decade estranged, they managed to reconnect at a Wichita class reunion and picked up exactly where they left off as best of friends. She was Dan’s obvious choice. We couldn’t really call her a Maid of Honor, because she is married and “maids” are traditionally not. We really couldn’t call her a “Matron of Honor” because friends don’t call friends “Matrons”. At least, not if they want to remain friends.  We opted instead for the title, “Best Gal.”  It seemed to do the trick. Dan’s Best Gal- Check!

After a little thought, I had an idea. I rang my sister, Nicole to see if she’s be okay with me asking my nephew, Val, to serve as my best man. Val and I had bonded during a recent trip to Orlando where we both became very close. I couldn’t think of a better person to serve as my best man. I’d promised him while we were in Orlando that I’d find a way to take him to New York City when he turned thirteen and now we had the perfect opportunity to make that happen. My sister, of course said yes and Val was thrilled that he’d get to go to NYC for the wedding. My Best Man- Check!

Now we needed a venue. Well, actually we’d need two venues. We wanted to share this moment with our friends in Kansas City, but we didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to make the rather expensive journey to NYC. Instead, we’d have a large reception in Kansas City the week after the wedding in NYC.  Dan and I, both being in our forties, didn’t feel that gifts were appropriate or needed. We did, however, think this would be a good opportunity to raise funds for our favorite charity; the same charity, by the way, that this blog was initially created for.  The chairman of AIDS Walk Kansas City is a delightful and impish fellow who has always greeted me with a smile and a hug. I told him of our plans to direct all wedding gifts to his charity and he mentioned Hotel Phillips as the perfect location for our Kansas City reception as they were a community partner with AIDS Walk-Kansas City. I’d attended a weekend work retreat there as part of some psycho-team-building exercise for work. I thought the tiny art deco boutique hotel was a lovely choice, with its dark wood interiors and brass fixtures.  I arranged to meet with the event planner there to discuss budget and logistics. Reception space in Kansas City- Check!

Now we needed a place to actually get hitched in NYC. I dreaded even looking into this. New York has a reputation for being ridiculously expensive. I knew of a place in midtown called Bill’s Gay 90s. No, it’s not a gay bar. It is a drinking establishment (bar & grill) that’s been functioning as such in the same location since the 1890s.  I loved the dark panel wood walls and the brass fixtures and the old, old carpets and even older wait staff.  The price seemed surprisingly reasonable, too and a verbal agreement was made to have the wedding at Bill’s. Space in New York City- Check!

My friend, Anne, was the first person to start referring to me as a word monkey. She was my business partner and art director for over a year at the office. She’s also a dear friend. I officiated her recent marriage to her husband, Sal. Anne had expressed a desire to create the invitations for the NYC wedding and the Kansas City reception.  By this point I wasn’t going to refuse anything free of charge. Not only that, she would work directly with the printer to make sure it was exactly as it should be. She sent Dan and me a few initial designs and we were blown away. Simply beautiful and so much more personal than what we’d expected. Invitations- Check!

Just before we were to have the invitations printed we ran into a snag. The event space in NYC was not returning my calls. I needed confirmation beyond a verbal agreement. I was becoming frantic and a bit annoyed. Finally, days before I was to have the invitations printed, a representative of the space called me and told me that after functioning as a bar and restaurant for 110 years in the same space in Midtown Manhattan, they were currently embroiled in a landlord dispute and could not honor my request to have my wedding there. Suspicious? Of course. Angry? You bet!

So, I was back to square one. I needed to find a space in NYC that could work with my budget and would have an opening in their schedule. Time to lean on a few friends. Time to end this post and pick it up with part 2.  Look for it soon. (I mean it! I’m getting back into the swing of posting regularly.)

Martha's Pfeffernüssen

André's Pfeffernüssen

Apparently, Fröehliche Weihnachten is a traditional German Christmas greeting, and nothing says German Christmas cookie like Pfeffernüssen. Literally translated as Pepper Cookie, Pfeffernüssen is a spicy treat for those who love gingery holiday sweets.  I think it’s odd that a country, like Germany, with such a troubled past takes the altruistic nature of Christmas so seriously. That said, they make some damn good desserts. I baked up a batch of these to be served at a Holiday party for my partner’s co-workers. They were thoroughly enjoyed.

Pfeffernüssen consists of a simple batter with a lot of spice. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ground cloves, brown sugar, black-strap molasses, and a healthy dose of black pepper go into these German confections. They are combined with flour, baking soda, salt, butter, powdered sugar and egg to make a thick and goopy dark brown batter. The batter is then chilled until stiff. The pliable batter is then scooped out in heaping tablespoons and rolled into balls and placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and baked until crisp on the edges and cake-like in the center. The still-warm cookies are rolled in powdered sugar and left to cool on a wire rack. The cookies are good for about three days. The flavors really meld on the second day and the flavor is unbelievable. The sweetness is complemented by the gingery, peppery burn. I will definitely be baking these as part of my holiday repertoire in the future.

It’s been awhile since I posted last. For those of you just joining the blog, I am living in a hotel room in Bloomington, Indiana during a six-month rotation with my work. It’s proving to have its challenges. One of which is my inability to bake anything due to my lack of access to an oven. Another challenge is dealing with the amount of alone time, much of it spent with my thoughts, meditating on my goals, my desires, my innermost plans for the future.  It’s funny that this disconnection from everyone else has afforded me the opportunity to reconnect to myself.

Bloomington is a strange town mostly filled with people in transition. It’s a college town and the students outnumber the actual populace significantly. With 60,000 undergrads at the university, the town springs to life while school is in session and then slumps into hibernation while the students are away. Located less than an hour away from the metropolis of Indianapolis, Bloomington suffers a bit of the neglected child syndrome in comparison. That said, Indianapolis itself suffers the same inferiority complex in comparison to it’s much bigger sister, Chicago. I’ve met a number of locals here and, for the most part, they are nice enough for all practical purposes. I’ve never seen so many bumper stickers that reference the apparently impending rapture. My favorite was, “I BRAKE FOR THE RAPTURE”. This made me giggle because logically  it stands to reason that we all will. But why the bumper sticker? Will God be pulling folks over to check license and registration? Perhaps proof of insurance?  Many of the folks here can’t wait until the rapture comes. I’ve been in Indiana for almost two months now, and I have to say, I see their point.

Here at the hotel, I recently discovered that the night shift is run by a team of mennonites, most of which are in the same family.  This entire time, I thought they just had bad fashion sense, what with the floor-length denim skirts and all, but now I know it’s a mennonite squad watching over me while I sleep. It’s strange, but this actually makes me feel a bit safer.

I’ve never really spent much time with mennonites or amish folk. I did, however, hang out with the Radical Faeries back in 2000. I’d recently broken up with my partner of three-and-a-half years followed by a whirlwind romance with a fiercely attractive slack-rope walker and juggler named David. He and I had worked on a production of Waiting for Godot for Swine Palace in Baton Rouge. Our exciting and aggressive romance ended just as the curtain came down on our final performance and he scooted off back to his partner in New Orleans. During our time together David spoke fondly of the Radical Faerie retreat on Short Mountain in Tennessee just outside of Mufreesboro. The Radical Faeries were an international troupe of gay hippies in the sixties who decided to drop out of society and dedicate themselves to communal, rural living. They’re a bit like the gay amish and are scattered all across the globe.

Feeling rejected and sad with two free weeks before I had to start production on the company’s next show, I packed up my truck and headed off to Tennessee to spend a week with the Faeries.  The map was hand-drawn and the road, once on the mountain, was treacherous. Dirt paths carved into the side of the mountain with no guard rails and only one lane winded over steep, foggy cliffs. I white-knuckled it up the imposing inclines and bumpy terrain until a small, eroding, pink sign offered a simple arrow pointing to the right. This was the landmark I was looking for.  I pulled onto an even bumpier dirt road and followed it up the mountain until I came to a small enclave of parked vehicles. I parked, grabbed my backpack and began the hike down the side of the mountain through the overgrown trail, down to the small, strange village of the Radical Faeries. A circle of tin-roofed shacks around a larger “lodge” was nestled on a patch of flat and verdant land on the side of this smokey mountain. It was late May and warm. Between my car and the campground, I had been bitten by at least thirty mosquitos.

I was greeted by an impish man in his late forties in a white tank top and a colorful orange-tinted sarong who introduced himself as Gonzo, a resident and the chief cook of the merry band of Faeries. One of the rules of the Radical Faeries is that no one can use their real name. If you were to really drop out of society then you had to shed your name for one of your choosing. I, having just finished Godot, so I introduced myself as Estragon, Go-Go for short.  I told Gonzo that Dido (David) had sent me and then presented him with five pounds of coffee as a contribution to the tribe. Gonzo then directed me to where I could pitch my tent and told me to come to the lodge when I was ready to meet the rest of the gang.  The popular Faerie May-Day festival had concluded the previous weekend and so there were only a handful of Faeries currently in the compound.

I set up my tent, unpacked and then headed back to lodge where a group of men, most of which were completely naked (clothing is optional among Radical Faeries) sat in a circle around an enormous Hookah taking long drags on the hoses followed by violent coughing spurts. The air was putrid with the unmistakeable aroma of burning hemp. Each glassy-eyed member of the group looked up with crooked smiles. I sat and joined them, feeling a bit self-conscious for being clothed in simple jeans and a t-shirt. I felt I should at least be wearing mardi gras beads or perhaps a turban. One gent in the circle reached over with a red pen and marked my forehead with a Hindu bindi of sorts.  Not sure why, but he seemed pleased with his work. As the hose made its way to me, I inhaled deeply and fell into a gelatinous, giggly mass. That’s when he appeared in the doorway. Silhouetted by the dimming light of the late afternoon, his slender build gleamed like a bronze and abstract object d’art. He joined the circle and squatted next to me, barefoot and smelling of sandalwood. He introduced himself as Antler, a fitting name since he, in fact, had two large deer antlers affixed to his head into screws surgically implanted onto either side of his long and white-blonde mohawk.  Every inch of his body from his ankles to his neck was covered in large, raised spiral scars burned into his skin by, what I imagine, was a long and painful series of brands with a glowing hot wire.  His earlobes and nipples were pierced with twigs still sporting green leaves and he wore a tiny loincloth fashioned from a possum hide. He was truly a living work of strange and fascinating art.

He looked at me with his sparkling, deep blue eyes and smiled with perfect white teeth that spoke of his youth as the son of a pastor in rural Alabama. He took a long toke on the hose as it was passed his way and began to share his story with me. I listened mesmerized by the wafts of smoke encircling above his horned brow. He told of the time when his father caught him at age nine, playing with his mother’s makeup. He was dragged to the church where this embarrassing moment was shared with the entire congregation who then held a three-day exorcism to rid him of the effeminate demon who’d possessed his soul. He smiled but there was a deep sadness behind the grinning façade. At the age of sixteen he ran away from home and worked the streets and bars of Memphis as a young hustler where just before his eighteenth birthday he’d been beaten within an inch of his life. He noticed that the scar on his arm from where he’d been stabbed and stitched had formed a pattern. After finding a new home among the Faeries, he began to extend that pattern by branding his skin with fire until every inch of his body transformed that painful reminder into a compelling and eerily beautiful work of art in flesh.

He, in fact, was very much like that scar. He had used all the ugliness of his life to recreate himself as a modern day satyr, thumbing his nose at the rest of the world and becoming something remarkable. He spoke of all of this in a slow and sad Southern drawl and I, unaware that most of the circle had disbanded having heard these stories before, hung on his every word. I took his scarred hand and kissed it gently, thanking him for sharing his story with me. He then leaned over and kissed me passionately wrapping himself around me.

Much of my time with the Radical Faeries is a bit of a blur for obvious reasons, but I will never forget the young man who called himself Antler. I’d like to think that there are still reports among Appalachians every now and then of the crazy satyr man who lives on the side of the mountain. Scarred and sad, antlers at his defense, a demon not to be exorcised but left to roam free to become something unique.