Fastnacht Day

Any day where it’s acceptable to deep-fry a sweet dough and cover it in lots of sugar and then eat it is a good day in my book. Here’s how they do that in Central PA.

My Grandmas' Recipes

Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is known in Pennsylvania Dutch Country as FASTNACHT DAY. What I remember from my youth was my Grandma Losch deep-frying dozens of fastnachts, or doughnuts, that were truly without equal. People just knew to stop by her place on the day before Ash Wednesday to enjoy a homemade bit of sugary doughy goodness.

History holds that making fastnachts, or doughnuts, was a way to use up the last of the lard or sweets in the house before embarking upon Lent, the Christian season of purification and self-denial. See also, beignets, or any number of church-sponsored pancake suppers on the last night before Ash Wednesday.

While I can’t locate my grandma’s exact recipe for these fried delicacies, I do have one from the Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook (published by Culinary Arts Books in Gettysburg, PA) that is close.

If you want to cross-reference other sources…

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I’m really a dour matron

BY NOW, YOU MUST HAVE NOTICED everyone on Facebook posting side-by-side photos, their own selfie with an art portrait that the app chooses to resemble them. Like all Facebook trends, I was slow to adopt. I assume such quizzes are really designed to trick me into surrendering information about myself, or will cause malware to be added to my device. But, a couple of friends posted theirs and the portraits they were paired with were such good matches that I wondered if Google was actually generating a portrait-looking likeness based on the selfie submitted.

Intrigued, I downloaded Google’s Arts & Culture app, then took my picture and waited while it calculated. Here’s what it gave me:

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What? OK, I guess, whatever. I shared it on Facebook (otherwise, what’s the point?). My friends were quick to suggest that I looked nothing like this older, somewhat dour matron. One friend said, try again with a smile! So I did, and I got this:

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(No. If you think I look like this one, please get out a microfiber cloth and clean your glasses right now.)

I tried a few more times with different poses, but Google kept matching me with Mrs. Zeigler. And the more I look at her, I can’t really argue with the match: Unremarkable brown hair, blue eyes, resting “bitch” face (my down-turned mouth often makes people want to ask me why I’m sad), and most notably, jowls that have, after five decades, begun their inevitable surrender to gravity’s relentless pull.

I was curious about my doppelganger from another era. I was able to find more about her husband than I did about her – she is listed simply as the wife of John R. Zeigler, who was a Civil War Union Captain in Illinois. He left the war when he was injured in 1864. Both of their portraits were done at the artist’s Chicago studio in 1897, which is interesting, because her husband is listed as having died in 1896, at age 64.

If we assume she was around the same age as her husband, she’d have been around 60-65 at the time her portrait was painted; possibly younger if he married young, where “younger” = my age. Her eyes look a little sad to me, with a faraway gaze. She is a recent widow here, after all. She doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles one might expect of a woman her age (we have that in common). Also, no gray hair? I’d be mostly gray if I didn’t still color mine. I wonder if she allowed (asked?) the artist to take liberties here. My vanity manifests in my use of facial moisturizers and makeup and hair color; without access to such wondrous products of the modern era, perhaps hers surfaced as her likeness was being rendered in oil on canvas.

I suspect Mrs. Zeigler would have looked much different had she been painted with a smile on her face. My smiling selfie looks nothing like her resting gaze. If I ever have a portrait done, I want it to be of me laughing big and loud. And I want my wrinkles airbrushed and my hair brown.

Anyway, there you have it, and now Google has it, too. (Although the app does say they won’t use your photo for anything more than the portrait match.)

 

 

 

 

Me and greens

I HAVE A LOVE-HATE THING with greens.

It’s more hate than love, if I’m being honest. I tolerate them. And actually, it’s not just greens. It’s mostly all vegetables. Raw ones in particular. OK, fine, cooked ones, too. All the leafy greens. I eat them because I know I *ought* to, but they only taste good to me when I’m ravenous, and even then, if there are other attractive options, I won’t.

(This sounds a lot like how I feel about bananas. Do you sense a theme?)

Steve, being from the South, wants me to like cooked greens, but I just…can’t. I think they taste like lawn clippings smell. I didn’t grow up eating them and I can’t think of a good reason why I should start at age 50. But, at his behest, I tried them recently at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia, to see if somehow over the years my taste buds had forgotten about that time Little Meg tried them at Aunt Fanny’s Cabin in Georgia and, gagging and sputtering, dramatically spit them into a napkin. Turned out my taste buds hadn’t forgotten, and I didn’t spit them out because I’m a grown-up now, but I did make faces and he photographed me, amused at his Yankee girl’s reaction:

It’s January, and everyone in the whole world is rededicating him- or herself to healthy eating, and so am I. I’ve modified my diet to cut out all sugar (which isn’t a stretch for me) and wheat flour (which is), reducing dairy, and avoiding processed foods. It’s Whole 30-ish, and it works for me.

One easy way to check all of my self-imposed dietary boxes is to eat a nice green salad with delicious vegetables and added protein. I find salad to be a lot of work to consume. You chew and you chew and you chew some more and even after all that chewing your plate is still more than half full, as if the salad somehow regenerates itself each time you remove a forkful. I usually get tired of salad before I get full of salad. It requires too much effort.

Nevertheless, today at lunchtime I set about filling my plate with some baby arugula I had rescued yesterday from Steve’s fridge. But then I noticed the date on the bag:

arugula
BEST IF USED BY 01/01/2018

Something about me that kind of vexes Steve is my urge to purge his refrigerator of food that’s past its prime or its date. If the lettuce has started to liquefy, I know you’re not going to eat it, so I’m tossing it and I’m not asking for permission. Same with that mushy zucchini, and those leftovers you saved from a dinner three weeks ago. Run to the light on this. My threshold may be low, but in the name of food quality (and safety), I’ll take the criticism all day long.

Despite the date on the bag, the arugula looked ok, and I was really hungry. So I grabbed a handful and sorted through it with patience and precision. I noticed one small leaf that was starting to turn. I pulled it out. Same thing happened with the next couple of handfuls. After careful examination, I deemed these greens satisfactory for consumption and topped them with some grilled chicken and a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a generous shake of Greek dressing.

I was feeling proud of myself for not having automatically trashed the bag based on the date alone. I texted Steve:

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He replied:

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We feel the same way about most vegetables, as it turns out.

We are good for each other.