Saturday, May 23, 2009

John Cage Cookies Recipe

Last week my Juilliard students performed at school for the final time before graduation on Friday, and my childhood friend, Eva, was memorialized in a Zen Buddhist ceremony in upstate New York. I made 101 John Cage cookies for both events (101 being, also and coincidentally, the title of a John Cage score). My students have not only been learning Merce Cunningham's dance technique, but I have been exposing them to some of the many collaborating artists in Merce's work, the musicians, visual artists, and other significant players who are part of this long history. John Cage was Merce's long-time partner, the musical director of the Cunningham Dance Company until his death in 1992, a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, a macrobiotic, and a wicked cook. As Eva was a student of Zen, too, making John's recipe seemed appropriate for both events, however disparate they were in mood: the yin, the yang, the black the white, the sorrowful, the joyous, the noisy, the silent.

I am offering this recipe to you, my gifted students, in the hope that when, and if, you make these cookies, it will bring back memories from this year. I know that when I make them again, I will think of all of you.

I will remember our first class, your nervous faces, your apprehensive comments, and I will remember how those same faces warmed as you took on the movement, as the movement became yours, as you grew comfortable with these new ideas of space and time and imperfection. You showed me how the material was enriching your dance experience, and you came to me when you had difficulty understanding something. I will remember watching in awe as you accomplished near impossible feats of physicality, goosebumps covering my skin when you applied a correction, and it helped you jump higher, or stand straighter, or focus your direction with clarity. I will see your gorgeous limbs slicing up the space, this way, that way, focus up, turn, turn, hang in the air, rebound. I will remember learning from you, too, watching you work out a particular movement riddle, or asking a question I needed to research. Your choices were sometimes heroic, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes confident, sometimes funny, always right.

You gave me a wonderful gift in our final class. I will hear your sweet voices, laughing and crying through your dancing, your excitement at moving on to real adulthood mixed with that heavy nostalgia of giving up your youth. I will have a clear image of you all, your boldness and fragility mixed in some perfect concoction where utter freedom and openness is the result, where the real dance lives.

Thank you, Class of 2009, for a spectacular year. Now, go make some John Cage cookies!

John Cage Cookies

(Adapted, said Merce, by John Cage, from a macrobiotic cookbook, and graciously shared by Laura Kuhn, director and co-founder of the John Cage Trust, and loyal friend to Merce and John)

1 cup whole wheat flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground oats (I grind both the almonds and the oats in a food processor)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup almond oil
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use the seeds from the inside of one whole vanilla bean, instead)

1/2 cup pure fruit jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix together the wet ingredients.  Fold all together.  Roll into small balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Make a well in the center of each with your thumb, then add a small dollop of pure fruit jam.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown, turning the cookie sheet back to front halfway through to ensure even cooking.

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