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Nearly Night (Fastnacht Kuecheles…recipe and lore)

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This is a recipe that I post every year just before Lent. I usually post it on Shrove Tuesday–the traditional day these doughnuts are eaten–but thought I’d post it a day earlier in the event anyone would like to make them (and I hope you do). I was lucky enough to be brought up with food traditions on both sides of my family. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was Lebanese-American on my father’s side, well my mother’s side of the family is of German-French ancestry. The recipe below I received from one of my sisters, who learned it from our mother, who learned it from our grandmother, and so on.. The name of these doughnuts in German is fastnacht kuecheles and they are very similar to the French or New Orleans biegnet. They are traditionally eaten the day before Lent as a (now mostly symbolic) act of using up all the rich, luxurious, and fatty foods before spending the next 40 days in introspection (living lean). The names of the day may change from one tradition to another but they all basically mean the same thing. The English name is Shrove Tuesday…shrove is the past tense of shrive, loosely meaning to offer confession or penance. In French, Mardi Gras translates literally as Fat Tuesday…the last of the “fatty stuff” for 40 days. And Carnival, translates loosely as “farewell to meat,” or “farewell to flesh,” meaning goodbye to meat and/or carnal pleasures for a while. What I find interesting is something new I learned about the German version of these doughnuts, not so much the recipe itself but its etymology. I have been fascinated with languages my entire life but know almost nothing (fast nichts) about German. Anyhow, I always thought that the word for these doughnuts–fastnachts–meant fast night, or the night before the fast…Lent. And this still may be true. But when I did some electronic translating and broke the phrase into two words–fast nacht--I’ve come to see that it translates literally as almost night, likely making reference to the somber darkness that shrouds the next 40 days of the Christian Calendar. Unrelated but still related to this recipe, the word kuecheles, is likely a variation of küchle, meaning fritter. Anyhow, these are very simple to make and super-delicious. The one thing that’s not shown in the photos but is included in the recipes (and is the best part) is that they are tossed in powdered sugar while still warm. And I can still hear my mother’s voice from when I was a boy and tossing the kuecheles with eager anticipation (just as I do today)…”Joey,” she would yell while standing in front of her frying pan, “You’re getting sugar everywhere.” And I likely was.

Fastnacht Kuecheles

Makes about 3 dozen

 

1 cup water (room temperature)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons yeast
6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large circles about 1/4 inch thick, then cut the dough into diamonds 2-4 inches wide. Cover the diamonds with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a couple inches of vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy skillet. Carefully fry the fastnachts in batches, cooking them for a couple minutes on each side until they are puffed and golden-brown; drain on absorbent paper. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss a few at a time in a paper bag with confectionery sugar.

Urban Simplicity

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Bleu…how I felt and what I saw…and on starting over (in words and pictures)

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“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.”

~Lee Iacocca

So a couple things. One is….isn’t color incredibly beautiful? The way the light changes. Sometimes I forget this. There is the phrase, the blue hour (or l’heure bleue), that refers to that point of morning or evening when the sun is just about to rise, or in this case, has just set but there is still light in the sky. And the angle of the light radiating from the sun through the hemisphere creates this incredibly beautiful blue hue (yes, post uploading processing helps, but just a little). But I’m jumping ahead as I often do. Let me begin again.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the symbolic day when Jesus went into the dessert to meditate for forty days, and when Christians are supposed to metaphorically replicate this and look within themselves (to step into their own personal desert), to assess, to renew, to serve. I really enjoy this time of year (and that may sound odd because it is sort of morose),but I do. Introspection suits me. But I’m jumping ahead, again. Let me start over, again.

In the times in which we live, to be a chef one must be an extrovert, or at least a pretend extrovert. I fall into the latter category. I am nearly 100% INFJ but on the job I have to act as an extrovert’s extrovert…calling out orders all day, correcting, and even reprimanding, but also nourishing, complimenting, and encouraging. In short, it can and is exhausting some (most) days. And this is what I have been doing for more than half my life during this incarnation. Pretending to be an extrovert. Thus said, let me begin again.

I had such high hopes for the beginning of this Lenten season…high hopes of personal change. And then yesterday happened. I had an altercation with an employee that escalated to a yelling match dropping f-bombs left and right. I am no angel, I never said I was. Everyone has their buttons that can be pushed. And when this happens–when it’s over–I internalize it. Last night I barely slept. And today I could not and cannot appreciate the depth and breadth of this sacred and mystical time of Lent. But I can start over. Begin again. We all can, I suppose. Every day.

This morning I worked my first job, and then rode my bike to a very short shift at my second job. And when that was over I got on my bike and rode in no particular direction. Not too far, mind you, as it was cold. But I just rode. And when I stopped I was facing the scene in the bottom photo. It took my breath away. I’ve taken many photos from that spot, which is Hoyt Lake at Delaware park, but I was there at just the right time tonight. It looked almost mystical. When I walked to the edge of the lake the snow was so deep it was up to my thighs, and when I set up my tripod it was stunted because I stood on the snow but the tripod’s legs pushed down into it.

And as I stood there with my gloves off my fingers began to sting in the cold, my feet crunched in the cold snow, and my breath fogged up the camera view finder. But it was incredible; it was beautiful. For a few moments I just stood there. And at that moment nothing mattered or made sense to me. How silly, I thought to myself, it is that we humans treat each other (as an employee and I did yesterday as we yelled at each other in a heated argument)…even though we are interconnected.

So tomorrow I choose to start over. It is my choice, after all. Will things be perfect…nope. Will things be rectified with the employee in mention…doubtful. But I can begin again. Anew. Because in the finite time that we have on this planet in this current incarnation each day is like a little cross-section–a little slice–of our entire life. And I do not feel like wasting it. Standing in nearly the same spot, but trudging through snow while dragging my camera, tripod, and heavy bike, I took a few more photos, which really seemed to connect me to this time and place…to the present.

Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stood in the cold while looking at the same blue that countless people and generations have seen before me. The thing is, sometimes I can see it and sometimes I can’t. Tonight I did, and it was beautiful. Tomorrow I (and we) begin again. I just hope I don’t screw it up.

Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars, a few thoughts on Ash Wednesday/Lent, and things to be thankful for…

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So there I was anxious and rushing to get home from the community center on yet another single digit evening so I could make it to the opening time of an online class that began tonight, but then I had to stop for yet another traffic light (pictured above). Why, I thought, did I hit another light? Doesn’t the Universe know I am late? The traffic light, of course, seemed especially long. But I couldn’t help notice the sunset. Incredible. Here it was something like 9F and I was straddling my bike shivering a little but looking at that incredible sunset–the same sunset that if you live in the same hemisphere as me could view along with me–it made everything ok. At least for a few minutes. And I started thinking about how today was the beginning of Lent; Ash Wednesday. Symbolically representing Jesus going into the desert and fasting for forty days. Well, I am far from fasting, though I have given a few things up. But I don’t just give things up for the sake of doing so (but if you do I am not trying to pass judgment); I like to add something, such as additional prayer, meditation, yoga, etc. And also random acts of kindness. But as I stood there straddling my bike, and my fingers grew increasingly colder and I looked at that incredible sunset, I thought that–as a spiritual practice–I really should appreciate gratitude more. Just the little things. Because I have so much to be grateful for. And at that very moment I realized how grateful I was for that sunset on this very chilly night. So I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture with shivering fingers.The traffic light seemed to take ten minutes to change (though it was probably only two), and I did make it home just in time for the online class. While I watched it I ate dinner while my two pugs sat at my side and wood stove heated the room. I was, and am, thankful for that as well. But as I rode home this evening I also realized that it was nearly 7pm and there was still light in the sky, and that each day brings a little more light as we progress towards spring. The cold darkness of winter will end soon enough. And after riding through this very cold and snowy winter, this is something to truly be thankful for. I’d love to hear what you are thankful for at this point in your lives (because there is so much).


Urban Simplicity.

Things That can be Carried on a Bike (#471)

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Approximately 9 dozen fastnacht kuecheles on their way to our church for the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner.

Urban Simplicity.

A sort of churchy sort of environmental post (but not really, but maybe)

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Okay. So if you’ve been to this blog before then you know a few things about me. One, of course, is that I like to ride bikes, a lot. Another is that I like to bake bread. And likely another thing you know about me–though it may not come across quite as overtly–is that my spiritual life is very important to me. I am a deacon in my church and am in fact attending a part-time inter-faith seminary and, if all things go as planned (fingers crossed), I will be an ordained interfaith minister this coming June. The reason I mention this is that I recently came across this suggested carbon fast for Lent, which begins next week. But I’m jumping ahead as I sometimes do. I really believe that if you are on a spiritual path (or not) it is nearly almost impossible not to care for the planet. For me spirituality and environmentalism are inseparable, as is the care for our fellow humans…no matter what background, skin color, gender, or sexuality preference. We are, in my eyes, all one people. It’s for this reason I am proud to be a member of the denomination, The United Church of Christ (UCC), which is in fact one of the most liberal and progressive denominations, if not the most. Anyhow, as Lent approaches I have been thinking of what discipline I would take up (I am not in the mindset of just “giving something up” for the sake of giving it up, I’d rather add something in return, such as an activity or spiritual discipline that can enhance my inner life). Anyhow, I came across this carbon fast and thought it was a pretty good idea (though I do some of these things already). Here’s an excerpt from the post…

“During this year’s Lenten season, members of Honolulu’s Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ will leave their cars at home and instead walk, bike or use public transportation one day per week. They will pledge to start a garden or shop at local farmer’s markets more often this spring. They will wash the majority of their laundry in cold water, and advocate on behalf of energy conservation and renewable energy policies.”

Anyone, of course, can take this personal pledge. If you sign up you will get an email every day offering small suggestions to lower your carbon footprint on this planet that we all call home. Anyhow, in the event you missed the link, here it is again

Urban Simplicity.