Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Tag: beignets

Let It Rise

by lyzpfister

There’s been a lot of yeast dough in my life lately. First there were Fasnet’s cakes, then I made donuts. Ok. So there were two instances of yeast dough in my life. But two yeast doughs within weeks of each other is more yeast dough than usually makes an appearance.

There’s something incredibly soothing about yeast dough. It takes time. And I think we spend far too little time taking time. What I mean is, I read this book called Momo, by Michael Ende (yes, yes, the very same Neverending Story mastermind) when I was living in New York, spending a lot of time regularly hyperventilating about how there wasn’t enough time.

Momo is a book about time and how humans construct it cleverly disguised as a children’s story. The sweeper tells Momo, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you.”

I read that and I thought, Oh my God. Momo knows my life.

There’s this moment in the book where the grey men, bankers of time, visit each of the townspeople and convince them to put their spare time in a savings account. And when the people wonder how to save time, the grey men tell them, you know how to save time – spend 15 minutes less on each haircut you give or don’t drive all the way to the nursing home to eat with your mother –

I read that and I thought, My life is full of grey men.

I began to see them everywhere – they’d been invisible before, but now I felt them tapping against my elbow as I angrily stormed along the subway platform when I missed my train. I smelled the acrid smoke from their perpetually burning cigars as I stressed myself around a sales floor. I felt their cold hands on my chest as I started ten different projects without being able to sit still and finish any one. They whispered, Save time, save time, save time.

Like the people in the town, it seemed as though the more time I saved, the less I seemed to have.

I started kneading around this time. Rolling into dough required time. Although I had begun to cease thinking about time as a rule. Kneading dough is like breathing with your fingers. Your body slows to the tempo of your hands, and your breaths slow your beating heart. The dough demands you.

We ate a lot of bread those months. A lot of pizza and pasta and naan. I don’t know if it was the dough that cured me. The dough or the Momo or the yoga I started doing around then as well. But all three things taught me pliability and presence. That you must be where you are and yet flexible enough to change where you thought you’d be.

Every time I knead dough now, I think of that time, then, when I couldn’t let time be, but tried to mold it – the one thing you shouldn’t try to shape. Yes, time is fluid – but we don’t shape time by trying to control it. Time shifts when we are fully present in it. “Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem as eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it.”

Sweet Yeast Dough

500 g flour
20 g fresh yeast
¼ L milk
80-100 g butter
50-80 g sugar
1-2 eggs
pinch of salt

I’m sorry for the lack of specifics. But you should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not good at that sort of thing. This recipe was scrawled on a piece of paper by my aunt, who had gotten the recipe from another aunt, and who probably changed things around as she made the dough. So here goes: Make a well in the center of the flour, pour in half the milk, the yeast, and a bit of sugar, and stir into a rough dough. Cover with a towel and let rise for half an hour. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead into a smooth dough. Place in a clean bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Your dough is now ready to use – to make the Fasnet’s cakes I talked about in my last post, briefly knead the dough again and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut into diamonds and fry in a pan of hot oil (about 1 inch deep – you can test for “hotness” by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil – if the oil bubbles, it’s hot enough), about 25 seconds per side. This is a highly subjective number – you might need far less or more, depending on the thickness of your dough. Rule of thumb – when it starts turning brown, flip it – it will brown more as it cools. To make donuts, check out this recipe: hot pink donuts (the one I used…), and to find a less vague recipe for yeast dough: search the internet.

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In Berlin, They Call Berliners Pancakes

by lyzpfister

Well, it’s edible, says my grandfather, as he pops a hot beignet into his mouth and then quickly shakes the heat of it from his fingers. This means that it is actually very good. My grandfather is Schwabisch, where the phrase nichts g’sagt ist Lob g’nug, meaning nothing said is praise enough, is, in fact, nearly the highest form of praise. As far as I can tell, the most generous expression of delight is: Man kann’s essen, which means, you can eat it.

My brother and my grandfather and I are standing in the kitchen, deep-frying Fasnet’s cakes, the south-German name for beignets. We’ve developed an assembly-line of sorts – I’m rolling out dough and cutting it into diamonds, my grandfather is manning the deep-fryer, and my brother is dusting the cakes, blistering with hot oil, in powdered sugar. We’ve developed an unhurried camaraderie, mock-criticizing each others’ methods, telling old jokes, jostling against each other with batches of dough, making faces, taking pictures. The kitchen is warm and smells sweet.

This picture freezes in my mind. My grandfather grins at me in a half-laugh and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Well, what do you think about that? His eyes are wrinkled into crescents, his eyebrows lifted like a mischievous child’s as he swings a bottle of Oettinger Pils up to his mouth. And then his back is to me as he flips the Fasnet cakes in the deep-fryer. My brother catches the hot cakes on a plate of sugar and the powdered sugar he dusts onto them melts.

Fasnet (aka Fasnacht, aka Carnival) is mainly celebrated in the southern, Catholic parts of Germany. In Berlin, there were a handful of people who looked at me with confusion. They’d never heard of it.

In Burladingen, however, people belong to Fasnet clubs (called Vereins) which supposedly exist solely to march in the parades and plan parties during the two weeks or so that Fasnet is celebrated. However, upon further inquiry, it turns out that the clubs meet at least once a month or so throughout the year to talk about next year’s plans, or reminisce about the last year’s Fasnet, or drink beer.

Each club has a traditional costume which members spend vast sums to purchase and which they are only allowed to wear during the parades. In the weeks ambling up to Fat Tuesday, a loose affiliation of neighboring towns hosts these parades, sometimes a parade a day, especially as the specter of Lent looms nearer. The costumes are elaborate, hand-sewn with hand-carved masks of wood, specially suited to each individual’s face. When you join a Verein, you’re in for life. I guess this means people don’t move from town to town very often, I tell my cousin. She looks at me with mock horror, Don’t even suggest it!

Hidden behind their masks, the paraders dive into the bystanders. Witches with apple-red cheeks and stringy black hair made from horse tails hurl themselves at attractive young women and bind their feet together with those plastic ties that get tighter as you squirm and can only be removed with a pair of scissors. They fling the girls over their shoulders and run a good portion of the parade route with them before letting them go. We later learned that most of the witches are actually teenage boys, the girls they “kidnap,” their classmates, and the Fasnet parade a coy ritual of flirtation.

Marching bands playing purposefully off-key trumpet down the street. The cats from Gammerdingen hop and the bells across their chests jingle in beat. A rogue bear grabs a bystander by the foot and won’t let go. A tree grabs my aunt and kisses her.

Every time a new group walks past, they shout Nari! to us and we answer back, Naro! The snow, which had fallen that morning, is still piled along the sidewalks. The witches flick it at us with their brooms.

My grandfather doesn’t go to the parades anymore. While we stand out in the cold, watching the devilment unfold, he works in the church. He is home by the time we come back, shivering and laughing, candy in our pockets. Most of my family has come down for the parade, and so we set up the living room table for coffee. People have brought cakes, my brother and I place our beignets from the night before on the table.

So you made the cakes after all, my aunt says as she slips a beignet from the stack. When did you have time?

Last night, I say, after you left.

Last night! She exclaims, and my brother and grandfather and I laugh. Because we’re remembering how we’d said goodnight to my aunt and an uncle late at night after an evening spent cooking pizza together, watching a few rounds of ice crushing, and learning to knit. We were tired and full and ready for bed. But the dough we’d made earlier in the day and forgotten about was still sitting out on the counter. These have to be made tonight, my grandfather said as he tried to send my brother and I to bed. To bed! We laughed – We’d never let you stay up to make these all yourself.

So we three stayed up, cracked open another round of Oettigners, and set to work rolling out dough, heating up oil, dusting with sugar.