Tag Archives: Lent

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


“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.

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


“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…

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Thoughts on the Parable of the Leaven…a story within a story

So if you’ve been to this blog before you know that I like bread. A lot. I enjoy eating it, of course, but I also enjoy making it. I’ve often said that bread makes itself, that we merely provide the correct conditions and guide it along; I am really fascinated by its process. I’m also really interested in the history of bread and roles it has played throughout civilization and especially religion. Bread is in fact mentioned hundreds of times in the old and new testaments. But what I’d like to touch on here is the Parable of the Leaven (sometimes called the Parable of the Yeast). This is mentioned in both the Gospel of Matthew 13:33, and in the Gospel of Luke 13:20-21.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”

But before I go any further let me say this (as I’ve said on a few occasions)…I read the bible as almost entirely metaphor. I believe there are stories and teachings in it that can aid us even today in 2013 if we look close enough, but sometimes it is a difficult process…I know it is for me. I am not here to try to preach or tell you what this means, just simply to say what I feel (because I can guess, but I do not know what it means…I can only guess and translate it to my life).

This said, lets look at the word parable. It comes from the Greek, parabolē, which we’ve interpreted as a sort of story or analogy. But it’s original meaning is a bit different. The word parabolē is actually a phrase; two words, meaning to “throw” or “toss” (bolē) “next to” (para), so loosely this can be taken as the story or meaning is next to or within the story. Hmmm…

Now lets look at the leaven itself (this is where it gets really interesting). But first I have to say a few things about yeast. It is a naturally occurring living organism; a form of fungus, actually. It is relatively dormant until provided the correct conditions. Mainly, the correct temperature, moisture, and food (the carbs and sugars in flour). When it has these three conditions it eats. More specifically it feasts, and on a biblical scale (yes, I see the pun here). As it feasts it gives off gases (don’t we all), mainly carbon dioxide but also ethyl alcohol. As these are released they form pockets of air or gas in the dough, and as the yeast continues to eat and give off gas these pockets or bubbles grow, sort of inflating the bread. This is how it rises. But ok, enough about the science of it, back to the leavan…the biblical kind.

In biblical times yeast did not look like the spoonful above. It would have been more like the spoonful in the first picture (which today we call a sponge, starter, poolish, or preferment), or the next picture of the ball of dough (which today is sometimes called a biga or in French, pâte fermentée ). Commercial yeast–as pictured in the spoon above–was not available in biblical times (it’s not like they had a supermarket to go to), in fact it was only invented in the last 120 years or so and was likely not readily available for decades after.
Now here’s the fun stuff. The English word leaven comes from the French levain. The French phrase for sourdough is pain au levain (bread with [natural] leaven). This is also where we get the word for the region of the Eastern Mediterranean (where of course, most of the biblical stories originated), the Levant, which means “rising” in French and is used thus because the sun rises in the east. But the word goes back further; it comes from the Latin word levāmen, which in addition to “raise,” it can also mean , relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. Knowing this–and the meaning of the word parable–offers an entirely different view of this particular parable for me. Lets read it again.
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Some translations say that the woman mixed a “small amount” of yeast (or leaven) into a large amount of dough. And this is what is often cited when this parable is discussed. But look at the parable again, only this time where it mentions yeast (leaven) replace it with whichever of the original meanings you like…relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. And she worked it all through the dough.
Wow.
While you’re thinking about that, I’m going to keep typing. I wanted to try this for myself. While I do consider bread making a form of solace for me I wasn’t sure how to mix solace into the dough, so I used yeast instead. And as the parable insinuated, I used a small amount  and let it work (itself) throughout the dough. And in this case, the word yeast could be replaced with faith, I suppose. A small amount of faith, solace, relief, etc can go a long way, and in fact, can work their way through us, sort of creating a heaven-on-earth (ok, now I’m stretching it…but I got you to think).
Anyhow, I did use a really small amount of yeast to make the loaf of bread pictured…I used 1/24th of my usual amount (which was 1/8th teaspoon opposed to 3 teaspoons). It rose, as I knew it would, it just took longer. I mixed it before bed and let it rise over night. After waking and preheating the oven, it probably fermented and rose for about 10 hours…sort of like a sourdough (but not really). Anyhow, there it is below, before risen and after.
I’m going stop now because this is starting to make my head hurt a little. But I can’t halt without one more observation. I really love how Jesus’ parables are spoken in such basic terms and using analogies of such common things of his day. But there is always more within (within us and within the parable). What if the women in the story was our creator and we were the dough…Mother Universe kneading a small amount of consolation, relief, and solace into us and she/he (our genderless Source) wants it to grow and raise (leaven) us up to be full of compassion for one another. What it it’s already within us and we just need to acknowledge it…to allow it to foster (ferment) and grow (rise). Just a thought. Now the difficult part is to let it happen. And that may be the story (each of our own personal stories) thrown next to the story or the story within. At least it’s something to think about.
100% Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 cups water, divided
4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes roate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Lent (bread recipe)

100% Whole Wheat Bread (made with four ingredients)

To read the entire post regarding making whole wheat bread with just four basic ingredients, click here.

Makes 2 loaves

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
————————
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups water
————————
3 teaspoons instant yeast
3 teaspoons kosher salt

In one bowl make a preferment by combining 2 cups of whole wheat flour with 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of instant yeast. Begin the autolyse in another bowl by combining 4 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups water. Stir each bowl just enough to combine the ingredients, taking care not to get yeast into the bowl with the autolyse. Cover both bowls and allow to rest and ferment for 30-90 minutes, during which time the preferment will begin it’s job multiplying yeast and fermenting flour, and the autolyse will soak the grain, swelling the gluten.

After an hour or so, combine the ingredients from both bowls into the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt and remaining 3 teaspoons of yeast (add the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl). Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover it loosely, and allow to ferment for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Deflate the dough and allow it to ferment an additional 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it into 2 or 3 pieces. Shape into loaves and place into lightly oiled pans (or shape and place them on baking sheets). Loosely cover the loaves with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 30-60 minutes, or until double in size and when gently touched with a fingertip an indentation remains.

Bake the breads for about 30-40 minutes, adding steam to the oven a few times (either with ice cubes or a spray bottle) and rotating the breads every ten minutes. The breads are done when they are dark brown and sound hollow when tapped upon. Remove the breads from their pans and allow them to cook on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.


Fastnacht Kuecheles

This is a recipe I received from one of my sisters, who received it from our mother, who learned it from our grandmother, who undoubtedly learned it from her mother, and so on. I can still vividly recall the image of my mother’s dough rising in a ceramic bowl covered in a towel on the radiator in our kitchen, and the yeasty aroma of rising sweet dough permeating the air (they are also tossed in powdered sugar just before you eat them…as these were later). It is a type of fried doughnut very similar to the French Beignet (but most nationalities have a version of this, I assume), and it’s traditionally eaten on this day each year, fastnacht (fast night), or the night before the beginning of Lent. Iy’s a day when Christians are supposed to use of all the fats and other rich foods in the house to prepare themselves to live lean and turn inward for the next 40 days. This is also why in some areas of the world this day is called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or Carnival (loosely, farewell to flesh); in English it’s of course a little more reserved (some may say boring) as Shrove Tuesday. These are simple to make and are a treat any time of the year, but not if you are trying to live lean, literally or metaphorically. To see previous posts and an article I wrote (with additional recipes), click here, here, or here.

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.

The Day Before Lent

 
 The cartoon was found here…click it to read it.
As most know, this Tuesday is the day before Lent. In some parts of the country and other parts of the world this day is known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday…the the day Christians are expected to use up any sweets, meats, and other rich foods (hence the word fat) and to welcome the next forty days as a “lean time,” or more specifically one of introspection. Another, less popular name (I believe) for this day is Shrove Tuesday. This is the name I had grown up knowing it as. And one of the popular foods that we ate (and I continue to eat) on this day are fastnacht kuecheles, or fast-night doughnuts. I assume that this is the original German name for the evening before Ash Wednesday; fast-night or fastnacht. They use up many traditional fats in the pantry…sugar, butter, eggs, and to top it off they are deep-fried, and yes they are delicious. Interestingly, they are basically the same doughnut that in New Orleans you would call a beignet. To read a previous post on this subject, or an article that was published in ArtVoice last year at this time, click here and here. The following recipe was given to me by my sister, who recieved it from our mother, who learned to make them at the hands of her mother. They’re simple to make (fun, too)…but the best part is how good they taste.
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.


Friday Night Fish Fry

Some readers of this blog may already know that I cook professionally; I’m the chef of a private women’s club. Normally, I don’t present photos or recipes from my work life on this blog because this is about my (sometimes inept) attempts of simplicity in my personal life; but like many people, my work and personal life often mesh.

Anyhow, it is Lent and Friday night fish fry is a common tradition in the area in which I live. Last night we had a traditional Lenten fish fry where I fried about 90 pieces of fish, which is really not that many compared to some restaurants. Nonetheless, it’s such a simple meal, yet a truly delicious one. And when done correctly (and eaten in moderation, of course), deep-fried fish, I think, can be a healthy meal as well.

Hot, clean fat, and superbly fresh fish are really key. Take a look at these photos (click them on for a larger view); even now my mouth waters when I see them.

Click here for a basic recipe for beer battered haddock, and click here if you need instruction on deep-frying.

Lent


I came across this quote recently and thought I’d share it. It’s by Bernard Dupaigne, Professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle), and author of The History of Bread; the quote is from his book.

“Bread is an object of unparalleled worship and decorum. It embodies the full cycle of life and seasons, from the death of the wheat kernel in the oven to the resurrection as a stalk, from its ordeal in the mill to its journey through the oven and its offering at the table. Bread is part of all major events in many lives, from birth, to betrothal and marriage, to death and resurrection.”

Tuesday’s Food


Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnival…whatever you call it, it’s this coming Tuesday. It of course refers to the day before Lent. During this time Christians are expected to use up whatever rich or fattening foods are in the house (the words “food” and “house,” I think, can be used literally or metaphorically…or both) in order to live lean and introspective lives for the next forty days…to look and search within. I hope I’m up to it.

Click here to see an article I wrote about some of the traditional baked goods for Shrove/Fat Tuesday in Artvoice.

Fastnacht Kuecheles (Beignets)

Yield: 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.

King Cake

(Adapted from Cajun Chef Ryan Boudreaux’s website)

1/2 warm water
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk beaten

Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl, set aside for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to become active. Transfer the yeast mixture to the bowl of an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Add the milk, egg yolks, melted butter, and sugar; stir to combine the liquids and dissolve the sugar. Add the flour, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest. 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. Remove the dough from the bowl, flattening it on a floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon, then roll it into a tube shape (if you are going to bake a little plastic baby in the dough this is when to add it). Twist the dough for a curled spiral, then curl it into a circle, pinching the ends together. Place the dough on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rise for about 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 350F. Brush the dough with the beaten milk-egg mixture, and bake it for 20-30 minutes. Remove the dough from the oven and transfer it to a cooling rack; all it to cool for 30 minutes. Decorate the cake with colored icings and sugars, using traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and gold.

Blueberry Sour Cream Pancakes

Yield: about 15 pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries
butter for cooking

Combine all ingredients except blueberries in large bowl. Mix with a whisk until well mixed. Gently stir in blueberries with a spoon. Heat a skillet with a small amount of butter. When the butter begins to bubble add the pancake batter in portions (about 1/4 cup for each pancake). Cook the pancakes until bubbles appear, then turn them over and cook until light brown. Serve warm with butter and real maple syrup.